5 Failure Hacks


You’ve messed up, you’ve made a mistake, and you have failed.  So now what?  Are there things that you can do to hack failure and get back on track?

The following failure hacks are things that successful people do when everything goes wrong.

If you apply these hacks you’ll be able to get through a failure faster and come out smarter on the other side.

Remember the goal is not to avoid failure.  The real goal is to learn and to learn fast and learn what you need to learn so that you can be successful.

Here are Five Failure Hacks:

  1. Stop
  2. Be curious
  3. Fail fast
  4. Learn fast
  5. Try again

Hack #1:   Stop = Avoid denial – Be accountable

The most common emotional response to failure is denial.  We simple don’t accept that something is wrong. Frankly, most of time we find comfort in our denial. We can rationalize that life is just difficult and other people seem to have all of the luck.  There are many reasons that we create to keep us comfortable in denial.

Why do we live in denial?   In Psychology today, Carl Alasko Ph.D. said it this way.

“Denying those facts allows you to keep moving rather than stopping and facing the painful restrictions and demands of reality.”

Some denial can be life threating.  Unhealthy behavior, such as addiction, risk-taking, or overeating are threats to your body.  Other threats such as and abusive relationship, a job that exploits you, a boss that torments you are mentally threating.

Unfortunately, most people won’t recognize the harmful situation of denial until they are deeply mired in the tar of failure.  And even then, if they do recognize the full situation, they can still avoid the pain and the truth by not fully accepting their failure. 

The effects of denial are vividly apparent when persons are lost in the wilderness.  The mantra for overcoming the effects of denial in a survival situation are revealed in this acronym.  STOP.

‘S’- This is for stop. Take a deep breath and sit down. The first step is to simply acknowledge, that you are lost. No more denial.  This act will kick in the rational part of the mind. 

‘T’- This is for think. Don’t do anything at all until you assess your situation.

‘O’- This is for observe. This should be done in conjunction with the thinking stage. What do you see around you that could help? What’s the terrain like? How about the weather?

‘P’- This is for plan — survival plan. Once you’ve observed the terrain, thought about all the possible scenarios, and generally accepted your situation, it’s time for the plan. First take care of immediate issues like injuries, a storm on the horizon, etc.

Once you recognize the effects of denial then you need to be accountable for the choices you made that placed you a position where denial became your security blanket.

According to Linda Galindo, a consultant specializing in individual and leadership accountability and author of the 85% Solution:

“If your mind-set is that you’re at least 85% responsible for your success—and that just 15% depends on the way the wind blows—you’ll likely be successful.  If you blame your problems and failures—big or small, personal or professional—on other people, circumstances beyond your control, or just plain bad luck, you may be doomed to fail.”

Galindo then outlines a three-step process to be accountable:

1.  Responsibility

Responsibility is not something you do—it’s a way of thinking and being.

2. Self-empowerment

By empowering yourself, you take the actions—and the risks—to achieve a result and get what you want.

3. Personal accountability

Unlike responsibility (the “before”) and self-empowerment (the “during”), personal accountability is the “after”. It’s a willingness to answer for the outcomes of your choices, actions, and behaviors.

We shouldn’t confuse moving forward with moving in the right direction.  The most liberating moment in your life is when you stop blaming, stop the denial and become accountable for your life and more importantly how you have set up your life for better things and success.  If you can realize the full measure of your accountability for your life, then you have the power to make a change.


Hack #2:  Be curious = Ask why – Seek pattern recognition – Embrace new behaviors

According to Roger S. Gil a mental health clinician that specializes in marriage and family therapy:

“The key to recognize and address denial is to pay attention to recurring negative themes. Recurring negative themes (e.g. a series of harmful relationships, negative side effects related to an addictive behavior, etc.) are good red flags for denial. Chances are that we are either creating an environment that is conducive to the negative outcome we don’t want or fooling ourselves into thinking that we have control over a situation that we really are helpless to affect. If you see a recurring theme, know that you’re probably denying a truth.”

Psychiatrist and addiction expert Judson Brewer has conducted research in the area of behavior sciences and proposes that curiosity is a key factor in changing your behavior.

His research suggests that “instead of fighting our brains, or trying to force ourselves to pay attention, we instead tapped into this natural, reward-based learning process? What if instead we just got really curious about what was happening in our momentary experience? As we learn to see more and more clearly the results of our actions, we let go of old habits and form new ones.

 Mindfulness is just about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. This willingness to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away as quickly as possible. And this willingness to turn toward our experience is supported by curiosity, which is naturally rewarding.”

Hack #3:  Fail fast- when you try new things try the hard part first 

Astro Teller is an entrepreneur, inventor, and author.  He worked as the “Captain of Moonshots” for X -formerly called Google X.

He reveals the secret of their success.  “We spend most of our time breaking things and trying to prove that we’re wrong. That’s it, that’s the secret. Run at all the hardest parts of the problem first. The only way to get people to work on big, risky things — audacious ideas — and have them run at all the hardest parts of the problem first, [and you do this by making] that the path of least resistance for them.” And Google X does this by making it safe to fail.

According to Teller: “Teams kill their ideas as soon as the evidence is on the table because they’re rewarded for it. They get applause from their peers. Hugs and high fives from their manager, me in particular. They get promoted for it. We have bonused every single person on teams that ended their projects”

This supports the observations of Tim Harford the author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, “Google fails a lot, but they learn fast.  Google values failure in the following ways:

1) Discerning why you failed and applying that to future projects; and

2) Speed to fail fast and early before investing more than necessary or damaging your brand.

 Seth Godin is an author, entrepreneur, and public speaker and he put it this way:  “If you accept the fact that the person who fails the most wins you can then accept that the act of putting good effort into something that fails is actually a key part of your job.”

Hack #4:  Learn Fast = Be an active learner

There are three key attributes of how successful people learn from their failures.

Frist, successful people have learned when to pivot from their failures.  If you can’t do that, then you are stuck in a loop and you will fail again. They know when to give up and when to go forward. They know how to properly interpret a failure based upon what they know and have learned about themselves or their pursuit in life, and they make changes based upon new understandings. See my blog “Should you give up” and the example of Richard Branson.

Second, they know what to learn to be successful. If you can evaluate and process a failure event you can see what you lacked in terms of knowledge, skills or attitudes that contributed to your failure.  Once you realize this, you know what you need to do to learn to avoid future failures.

Lastly, successful people know how they learn best. The higher the stakes the sharper our mind becomes.  Successful people know how to process information and they know how their mind works best in learning mode.  They also have awareness of the patterns within systems, people and within themselves. They construct targeted – on the fly – learning strategies for success.  In other words they are active learners and they don’t waste time learning things that don’t help them overcome a failure.

You can become an active learner by following these steps.


  • Recognize your thinking processes in terms of the kind of learner you are. Are you more visual or auditory or tactical learner?
  • Develop a self-regulation system: plan how to proceed with a learning task, monitoring your performance on an ongoing basis, and evaluating your learning efficiency.
  • Understand the similarity between the current learning task and previous ones, know the strategies required for successful learning, and anticipate success as a result of knowing how to learn.
  • Articulate how you learn best. Be aware of the strategies that led you to success outcomes and recognize the value of using them again.


Hack #5:  Try Again:  Find the courage and value of failure

John C. Maxwell is a leadership expert and author.  In his book Failing Forward he outlines numerous examples that show how perceiving and responding to failure determines whether you will be an average or an achieving person.

Maxwell’s Failing Forward is a 15-step method to achieving success through and with failure. I won’t go over all 15 steps here but here are a few steps.

 Step #2.  Learn a new definition of failure.  Here Maxwell is trying to help us understand that failure is a good and powerful learning mechanism.

Step #4. Take action and remove fear.  One of the biggest problems is the stunning effect failure can have upon us. We should not wallow in failure too long. In fact the longer you take to recover, the longer it will take you to be successful.

Step #8.  Change your responses to failure by accepting responsibility. The blame game is a game that winners don’t play.


Tim Harford is an English economist and journalist.  In this book Adapt he outlines three principles for productive failure:

 Frist, Try new things.

“Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches, on the grounds that failure is common.”

Then Experiment where failure is survivable.

“Look for experimental approaches where there’s lots to learn – projects with small downsides but bigger upsides. Too often we take on projects where the cost of failure is prohibitive, and just hope for the best.”

Lastly, Recognize when you haven’t succeeded.

“This third principle is the easiest to state and the hardest to stick to: But you must understand when you’ve failed.”


Every successful person has failed. In an October 2016 article in Forbes, Kevin Kruse declared we should be “A Failure Pioneer”.  He said:  “Where does courage and determination come from, and can they be learned? Make a list of entrepreneurs you admire and who have made a difference to the world. They could be living or dead. The chances are they all have one outstanding quality in common: they are failure pioneers.”

Take FailCon founder Cass Phillipps. She helps entrepreneurs learn from their own and others’ failures. The company’s motto is “Embrace your mistakes. Build your success.” Picking yourself up off the ground after yet another setback gets tiring after a while. FailCon aims to turn failure into a process for instant learning and review. As Mauri says, ‘The take home message here: learn fast, fail cheap and remember that failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s a stepping stone to success.”

In an interview with Hack The Entrepreneur, Seth Godin gave this advice in how to view failure.

“Failures don’t even affect me anymore. They brush off me so much easier. Things that would have wiped me out and devastated me for a day or two days or a week or a month even, don’t even bother me anymore.  It’s a part of the process. It’s a part of the process of getting good at something, of mastering something, of building a business. It’s making mistakes and dealing with the failure and knowing that that is part of your job.”

After a year of research while writing my book The Value of Failure I came to this conclusion about failure.

Failure means nothing unless you can learn from it.

Remember, any failure can shake you to the core.  How we overcome a failure is what makes the difference.  Conversely, most of us have had some level of success or positive affirmation. Knowing what each means, success and failure, not only determines your direction in life but can make you happy.   

These failure hacks will give you insight into how you can learn from your failures and push forward.  If you can learn, you can hack failure.   


Shane Lester-

Author of the new book: Hacking Failure

“This book will change everything you thought you knew about failure.”

Learn more about Shane and his blog: Learning From Your Failures



Facebook – @hackingfailure




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