There is no failure only feedback

The next time you “fail”, remember what you learned about strategies and find out how you’re running them. Go ahead and tweak it. When you realise you can control and look at failure as feedback, you’re less likely to give up at your first challenge

In the Far East, there is a tree known as “Chinese Bamboo”.

It’s not just another tree – there is something very different about it.

While other trees will grow at their own, steady pace, the Chinese Bamboo won’t come out of the ground for the first four years.

Yes – that’s four years. You’ll never notice it; it’s as if the tree doesn’t exist.

You might even laugh at the caretaker who is so lovingly taking care of an invisible tree.

But – during year five, something magical happens. The caretaker’s efforts pay off big time.

Within five weeks, the humble Chinese bamboo grows to 90 feet.

People who go the mile work in a similar way. You’ll see them put their heads down, working their hours away on an “insane” concept. No results.


Where I grew up, one of the worst insults you could hit someone with was telling them they failed at something.

It was such a big deal.

boy sitting at the bottom of a brick wall

In my school, unless you got a distinction (75% or more), you were looked upon as a “failure”.

There was a ranking system, and while I think it inculcated a competitive drive in me, I also had my moments of stress if I couldn’t make it to the top 10 in class.

Thankfully, my parents were more open-minded and supportive and that pushed me to achieve more.

Still, with such environmental conditioning, the message was loud and clear – if you ever want to achieve something in life, you just cannot FAIL.


In reality, what we observe is very different to what we think about what we observe.

Let’s say you want to go for a run in the evening. You feel guilty because throughout the day, you have had junk food and want to make up for it.

Good intention.

As evening approaches, you decide it’s time to get out of the house for a run. However, by now you’re feeling sluggish from eating that bag of salted thinly-cut hot chips which sounded like such a delicious idea then.

Nevertheless, you don’t want to “fail” at this goal and really want to go for a run.

But your body has resigned. In the end, you stay back in your pyjamas and skip the exercise. Naturally, you sulk and feel bad about it.

eating chips

So here’s a question for you...

What is a more resourceful way to think about this?

  • That you failed…
  • That your strategy to eat junk food before a run failed, and you could always change that…


According to NLP, a strategy is a series of internal and external experiences which consistently produces an outcome.

We use strategy for everything: Driving, eating, baking a cake, communicating, marketing, decision-making, making wealth, being poor, feeling helpless, feeling elated, feeling failure… everything.

For you to be reading this, you ran a strategy to achieve that outcome. You still are running one.

In the example of going for a run, you can simple change the strategy with eating more healthy foods during the day to avoid feeling sluggish.



This is known as "strategy elicitation" in NLP.

In case of feeling like failure, you may say something like, “Every time I feel that particular feeling of not getting things done, I feel like I’ve failed.”

Ask: “So how do you fail? What is it about that particular feeling?”

Then verbally answer that question – notice the modalities (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, Auditory Digital) that you use when you talk about it.

What’s the purpose of this? Awareness is 95% of the journey.

When you understand how you “do failure”, you know how to change that strategy (the sequence of internal and external experience using modalities) and scratch it for something new.

When you change your strategy this way, you can’t keep running it because it is now disrupted. You will be running a new one that is more empowering.


  1. Know your outcome

  2. Take action

  3. Demonstrate sensory acuity (this means you acknowledge that your current strategy doesn’t work well)

  4. Be behaviourally flexible (this is flexibility and openness to create a new strategy)

  5. Know that your physiology creates psychology  (you cannot “do” a physiology of feeling slack and going for a run – match your outcome with your body language)



In the above example from my school-days, you were either awarded a distinction (Success) or you weren’t (Fail).

But there’s a problem with that outlook. It discards any grey shades of life. Life experiences cannot be all black or white.

If you’re not so good at something, there is always an opportunity to make it better by absorbing new information, learning new skills, practising more and so on.

Not the end of the world.

Because life is grey. Your experiences cannot (and should not) be neatly stacked into the “black pile” and the “white pile”.

And you’re allowed to pick and choose a shade that’s more toward the black-end of the spectrum or vice-versa, if you wish.

Why? Because it’s so much more freeing, empowering, and boosts chances of success.

Failure is only feedback

So the next time you “fail”, remember what you learned about strategies and find out how you’re running them. Go ahead and tweak it.

When you realise you can control and look at failure as feedback, you’re less likely to give up at your first challenge.

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