Smart and Still Failing? Maybe…

Intelligence is not to make no mistakes, but quickly to see how to make them good.

–Bertolt Brecht

This is part 3 of this series.  You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.  It was also based off of this article which I found at

And so we finally reach the final five items on the list.  Without any further ado, here they are:

15. Distractibility and Lack of Attention

Absolutely a killer.¬† Those who lack concentration aren’t able to complete many of the tasks they’d like to, simply because they don’t stick to them long enough.¬† Lacking attention can also affect people in two separate ways.¬† One isn’t so bad, but the other is what really makes people fail.

If you lack attention in the way that you need to take a break and do something else before you come back to your current project, that’s not always a bad thing.¬† I think that people naturally need breaks so that they don’t burn out.¬† Working on a project for 10 hours a day isn’t healthy, and on top of taking up practically all of the time you have to yourself, your work output won’t be as strong as it would be if you had taken a break.¬† So in that sense, distractibility can be a good thing.

But if your distractibility and lack of attention causes you to hop from one project to another and never go back, it can be a serious problem.¬† The inability to finish what you’ve started will squash most, if not all of your dreams before they’ve even begun.¬† Success requires persistence, and without it you’re dead in the water.

If lack of attention is something you have, or you’d even like to improve it a little bit, even if it’s not a serious problem, you might want to check out an article I wrote to help on the topic.

16. Spreading oneself too thin or too thick

This can actually be a side affect of lack of attention, as I mentioned above.

This is such a delicate balance that it’s difficult to say where you should draw the line when taking on many tasks at once.¬† Focusing on too many tasks at once means that you’re not devoting your attention to any task fully and thus you aren’t giving your all.¬† It’s often much better to focus on one task at a time (Even if you perform multiple tasks throughout the day, which most of us do.) than to try and do several at once.

To be honest though, if you’re spreading yourself too thin, you probably already know it.¬† The amount of stress that builds up in such a short period of time is astronomical if you’re trying to do more than you’re capable of.¬† If you find this happening to you, cut a few of those non-essential tasks until you’ve finished the more important ones, then go back.¬† You might think this will slow you down, but in actuality it will probably up your productivity rather than reduce it.

Knowing if you’re not doing enough can be tricky because often the things you do in business are only effective over time.¬† I often find myself doing a bunch of things in order to further those endeavours I want to become better at, only to get frustrated when they’re not giving me immediate feedback.¬† Then I try to do even more, which of course is unnecessary and ultimately ends up stressing me out more than if I had just waited.¬† Many of the tasks required to succeed in business require you to just keep doing them.¬† To be persistent.¬† And then a year down the road you start reaping the benefits of the seeds you’ve sewn.

That said, you always have the option to do your research, and you always have the option of re-evaluating what you’re doing after a year.¬† If you’re not doing enough, waiting for that amount of time will let you know definitively whether or not you’re on track with the amount of work you’re doing.¬† From there you just adjust and wait it out again.¬† It’s a long process, but it does eventually lead to success.

If you’re not in a position to wait for a year to see the result of your current labour, then research is the way to go.¬† Find out what it is required of someone successful in your field.¬† Find out what they do on a daily basis and strive to do the same.¬† People failing to replicate success is usually because, unlike the people they’re replicating, they’re not persistent in their efforts.¬† If you stick with a tried and true method, you’re that much more likely to succeed.

17. Inability to delay gratification

This can be a problem if you can’t surpass that desire to reap the benefit of your labour a year or maybe even two years down the road, which is often the case for the more difficult things in life.¬† Learning a language, honing a skill, building a business– These are all things that require persistence over time.¬† Often you’ll feel as if you’re accomplishing nothing, when in fact you’re always making progress towards your goal each time you practice/spend time working on your desired goal.

If you can’t get past that feeling of accomplishing nothing (Because as I said, you are accomplishing something, it just feels like your progress is slow.) then if you’re anything like most people, you’ll quit before you reach what you wanted in the first place.

If you still can’t manage to soldier through those tasks you don’t want, you might want to try making small, winnable games out of them.¬† The article mentioned not being able to bring yourself away from small tasks with instant gratification– the truth is that you don’t need to.¬† You just need to turn your big task into small, winnable tasks and you’ll find yourself wanting to do them.

I’ll give you an example from my own life:¬† I read Khatzumoto’s blog way back when he first posted about Timeboxing and doing the dishes, and how he hated doing the dishes.¬† He explained¬† that through Timeboxing and making doing the dishes a small, winnable game, he was able to slowly eat away at all the dishes he always had piled up and now has a clean kitchen.

It sounded great when I read it, but I never applied it to my own life until almost two years later.¬† I just didn’t think I needed it.¬† Getting a timer and setting times for everything sounded way too complicated.

But anyway, I’m getting off track.¬† This isn’t about me, it’s about you.¬† So, doing the dishes.

Basically, in order to turn what is potentially a large task (Doing an enormous pile of dishes) into small, winnable games, you break the task up by timing yourself every time you do it.  You give yourself a set amount of time to do dishes, and when the time is up you stop, no matter how many are left.

So instead of looking at the dishes and thinking ‘My God, that’s a lot of dishes that need to be done.’ you would instead just think ‘Well I only have to do dishes for 10 minutes.¬† Then I’m done!¬† That’s not so bad.’¬† And it’s not so bad.¬† Knowing that no matter what, you’re only ‘losing’ ten minutes of your free time to dishes, you’re a lot more apt to get started on them.

Furthermore, what seems to be a natural human reaction to setting a time like this and being done as soon as the time is up is that you start to race yourself.  How many dishes can you get done in 10 minutes?  It becomes a game.  A game that you always win. As soon as that 10 minutes is up, instead of being upset that there are still more dishes in the sink, you think to yourself: I did it!  I washed dishes for those 10 minutes and look how much I got done!

The side affect is that you are a lot more likely to then later on in the day, take another 10 minutes out to win at doing the dishes than you were to get up and do 20 minutes of dish washing all at once.

I’m going to write a whole article about this fairly soon, but that’s timeboxing in a nutshell.¬† It works.¬† Try it.¬† If you’re having problems with those big tasks because you’re not very good at delaying gratification, this is your way around it.

18. The inability to see the forest for the trees

I love that quote.

As this is really just the same thing as number 6 on the list (Lack of Product Orientation.) I shall refer you to it, which is over here in part 2.

19. Lack of balance between critical, analytical thinking and creative, synthetic thinking

Despite the complicated name, this one is pretty straight forward.  You need to be able to know when you need to think up a new, creative solution to something, or if you need to think of your problem critically in order to seek out problem areas/successful areas and optimize.

Critical, analytical thinking is refinement, creative, synthetic thinking is innovation.¬† Knowing which to use in which situation is an important step towards success.¬† While this is a vital skill, it’s one that is also provided with common sense.¬† I’m going to go ahead and assume that if you’re still reading, you probably have a great deal of common sense, as those without commons sense don’t usually read articles like this one.

20. Too little or too much self-confidence

Lacking self-confidence can definitely get you into a lot of trouble when you’re moving towards your goals.¬† If you don’t think you can succeed, the sad truth is that you probably won’t.¬† But when you’re confident in your abilities, others also become confident in your abilities, and it becomes much, much easier to move towards and achieve your goals, even when they’re huge.

I don’t know if I necessarily believe in being too self-confident, but the list makes a good point.¬† However, I believe that it’s talking not about self-confidence, but about arrogance.¬† There’s a definite difference.¬† While you can be extremely self-confident in your ability to succeed, being arrogant will cause you to ignore many of your flaws and the hurdles in your path and instead try to plow through them.¬† Being self-confident is about being cognisant of your flaws, and knowing that you’re going to find away to improve upon them– not ignore them.

And that, as they say, is that.¬† The list in it’s entirety is a beast now that I’ve gone through it, but hopefully that makes a lot of the points a little more clear for you.¬† I find it’s not much use to just point out the failure points of many smart people without expanding upon them.

If you’re going to surpass many of the things on this list, you need to know exactly why they’re causing you to fail and how to get around them.¬† I hope I’ve been able to open that door for you, at least a little wider than it was when you first read the list.

One Response to “Smart and Still Failing? Maybe…”

  1. the Success Ladder says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this. Please keep up the good work.

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