Failure Immunization Tool and Log

A tool for transforming unintended results into opportunities for learning, insight, and fresh opportunities.

1. I create a document (Google docs or anything handy) to record output from the failure immunization tool. 

2. When I experience an unwanted/unexpected/unanticipated outcome (aka failure) I click here to take a closer look at what happened.

3. Then paste the results into the document.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Goalodicy or Failure Immunity?

Is the willingness to fail faster and more often the surest path to success?

Listen to Audio

My Facebook Page Failure

A marketing challenge built into having a Patreon page like I Hate Happiness is finding ways to let people know about it.

One way I tried was an I Hate Happiness Facebook page.

I posted my signature post, which explains why I hate happiness in three short cartoons, and began inviting friends to “like” my page. I got some nice comments and “likes” from people on their  initial visit, so I continued to post every couple of days.

Then the visits trickled off. Hey, I’ve been there. You get a notification that someone has invited you to like a page, then, occasionally, if you spend enough time coming back on your own, the Facebook algorithm will send you another alert. Otherwise: cue crickets sound effect.

After a few weeks, ten out of ten alerts I received were reminders from Facebook to post more content and to boost my posts by buying ads.

Since my “goal” was to encourage people to “follow” my I Hate Happiness Patreon page to receive free updates (where potential patronage was  only a click away), while Facebook’s goal was to get me to post more and  buy ads to keep people scrolling on Facebook, I recognized my failure  and moved on.

Taking the Antidote

In response to the initial invitation, one friend commented about a book her psychotherapist had recommended: Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Two chapters from the book, “Goal Crazy: When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work” and “The Museum of Failure: The Case for Embracing Your Errors” reminded me that I haven’t written about failure.

So, while I failed to control the future by having people click from my Facebook page to my Patreon page, I’m embracing my error  by writing this post and trying out a Failure Immunization Tool.

Identity Crisis

For as long as I can remember, my adult relatives and parents’ friends would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. In my earliest years, I’d shrug and say “I don’t know.” They’d laugh and say  “well, you still have plenty of time to figure that out.”

During high school, they’d ask “are you going to college?” then “where are you going to college?”

During college, they’d ask “what’s your major?”

After I graduated, they’d ask “what do you do for a living?”

My takeaway was that if you didn’t have a carved-in-stone goal you weren’t a fully-formed person. And if you did have a  carved-in-stone goal, the only way you could fail was not measuring up.

Goalodicy: The Unintended Consequences of Goal Pursuit

A new word I discovered in The Antidote was coined by business professor D. Christopher Kayes. It’s not in the dictionary yet, but it’s entry might look like this:

goalodicy |gōlˈädəsē|

noun (pl. goalodicies)

1. the obsessive pursuit of goals to the point of self-destruction

2. the effort to maintain belief in the face of contradictory evidence

Example: If you suffer from goalodicy then you will find yourself so obsessed by the future goal that you ignore the practical  realities of your situation.

Origin early 21st century from theodicy, the effort to maintain belief in a benevolent deity, despite the prevalence of evil in the world.

When I was 12, my goalodicy was to be the youngest  novelist on the New York Times Bestseller list. When I was 18, I read an article in Writer’s Digest that said a screenplay rejection slip was  worth ten times what a book rejection slip was worth. Then, when I  started to receive recognition in college for my plays, I focused on writing plays that could be adapted as films, and when I heard how much money small scale musicals like The Fantasticks earned in royalties over time, I joined a musical theater workshop.

I failed to take into account that Peter Benchley was barely scraping by before he sold Jaws, and the film rights that had fueled the paperback success had been picked up on a whim. For every Prelude to a Kiss that moved from Off Broadway to the screen, there were countless shows that didn’t (not to mention countless plays that never made it Off Broadway). And when it came to small-scale musicals that raked in revenue over the years like The Fantasticks there was…well, The Fantasticks.

The Under-Reporting of Failure

To be fair, it was far easier for me to find stories about people who had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Would we know that Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, to his  brother, if his work didn’t sell for millions today? Would we know that J.K. Rowling was as poor as a person could be in the UK without being homeless if she hadn’t become one of its wealthiest citizens?

Do the majority of painters who never sell a work become world famous after their deaths? Do the majority of poor people in the  UK become billionaires? What percentage do?

Depression

When my early novels failed to reach the bestseller list,  and my first plays failed to be picked up as films, and my small-scale musicals failed to arouse interest, maybe because the small-scale The Fantasticks had closed and Disney’s lavish The Lion King was selling out, I began to fear that I was in the Van Gogh class of  genius (who would go unrecognized during my lifetime) instead of the  J.K. Rowling rags to riches kind.

And like Van Gogh, I discovered that I had all the earmarks of clinical depression.

On an episode of Dan Harris’s Ten Percent Happier podcast,  psychology professor Barbara Frederickson said that one view of sadness and depression is that it helps us disengage from goals that we’re not making any progress on. When we have a goal, and we’re really not getting anywhere with it, being sad about it can help us detach from that goal and then maybe in another emotional state we’ll find a  different goal.

But how can I avoid falling into one case of goalodicy after another?

Growing a Growth Mindset

According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, I followed  the predictable path from goalodicy to depression because I had a “fixed mindset.”  I was born with a certain set of innate abilities. To measure these, I  was given an IQ (intelligence quotient) test to determine where I ranked against every other member of my age group. I remember putting plastic squares in square holes but not when I did it. Maybe first grade? Second  grade? The test was used to determine my educational track in the public school system.

I had a couple problems with my fixed mindset. The first was that when I failed it was because I lacked the talent to succeed. The second: the fixed mindset has been completely discredited by the discovery of neuroplasticity, which is how my brain now works, and has  all along.

With my new and improved growth mindset, failing indicates when I’ve reached the current limit of my abilities or my current understanding of how my actions will play out in the world. And if I pay attention, instead of pointing out why I’m a loser, failing points  out where I need to learn or change.

Failure Immunity

To explore a well-being habit for embracing failure, I looked to the “Failure Immunity” chapter of Designing Your Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett who say that keeping track of what I try and how I fail “is a great way to succeed sooner (in the big, important  things) by failing more often (at the small, low-exposure learning  experiences).”

When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work

I begin by writing down what I expected/anticipated/wanted to happen…

I wanted people to click from my Facebook I Hate Happiness page and “follow” my Patreon page to receive free updates (where potential patronage was only a click away)

…and what actually happened…

After a few weeks, ten out of ten alerts I received  were reminders from Facebook to post more content and to boost my posts by buying ads.

The Flavors of Failure

Next I investigate the flavor of the failure.

Screw-Ups are simple errors about things that I normally get right, so I don’t really need to learn anything from them.

Weaknesses are failures that happen because of  mistakes that I make over and over. I’ve worked at correcting them  already, and have improved as far as I think I’m going to.

Growth Opportunities are the failures that didn’t  have to happen, or at least don’t have to happen the next time. The  cause of these failures are identifiable, and a fix is available. I want  to direct my attention here, rather than getting distracted by the low  return on spending too much time on the other failure types.

Asking the Right Question

Screw-Ups: The best response here is to acknowledge  I screwed up, apologize as needed, and move on. If my screw-up occurred  because a colleague screwed-up, I should find a tactful,  non-threatening way to share the raw information in a reassuring way.  What’s a skillful way to acknowledge the screw-up?

Weaknesses: Some failures are just part of my makeup, and my best strategy is to find a way to avoid running into the same situation again and again. If someone else’s weakness impacts mine,  my best strategy is to set appropriate boundaries. What boundaries might I set to lessen the chance that this will happen again?

Growth Opportunities: What is there to learn here?  What went wrong (the critical failure factor)? What could be done differently next time (the critical success factor)?

Embracing My Facebook Page Failure

I could acknowledge I screwed-up in selecting an ad supported content provider to promote a patron supported content provider.

I could acknowledge the weakness of choosing a medium with competing interests and focus on avoiding conflicts of interest in the future.

I could acknowledge the growth opportunity of spotting the critical failure factor: (competing interests) and try something different next time (seeking out contexts in which interests align).

Try the Failure Immunization Tool

Is the willingness to fail faster and more often the surest path to success?

If it is, this tool should help.

Failure Immunization Tool 

If you fail your way forward to a surer path, please share it in the comments. Let’s succeed together!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Distraction Tracker

A tool to help you increase control of your time and live the life you choose.

When you’ve blocked out time for a specific task (traction) and discover that you spent the time in a different way (distraction), gather data by following these instructions.

Paste entries from the final screen into your own Distraction Tracker document to review once a week.

https://www.guidedtrack.com/programs/3oueyhl/run

Traction, Distraction, and Tetris!

Breakfast Anxiety

On Sunday mornings, I sometimes attempt a stressful activity.

I make eggs, hash browns, and bacon for breakfast.

The eggs stress me out.

If they’re fried, my partner  E. likes them with a soft yoke. If they’re scrambled, she doesn’t like them rubbery. Neither of us like the eggs cold.

To cope with the discomfort of Goldilocks eggs and hash browns and bacon that are at least warm, I could theoretically pay  attention to the relative cooking times and plan accordingly. Nah!

What I do instead is listen to a podcast or audiobook to take my mind off things as I wing it.

Escaping Discomfort

One Sunday breakfast, my podcast of choice is an episode of The One You Feed: “Becoming Indistractible with Nir Eyal,” and the first words I hear are:

“Time management is pain management. Everything we do is about a desire to escape discomfort.”

And I break out laughing because I’m not sure whether this statement is always true, but it’s certainly true at the moment I hear it.

Pulling Me In

Eyal continues saying things that might be true. Both the word traction and distraction come from the Latin root trahere,  which means to pull. I think of a tractor, which pulls farm equipment and a bad skiing accident that might land me in traction.

So it only makes sense that in order to get distracted, you must first be performing an action that is pulling you in an intended direction.

The subtitle to Eyal’s book Indistractible is How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, so where I pull is up to me.

Right now, setting the table, putting the bacon in the microwave, watching the hashbrowns, and waiting to start the eggs are all pulling me toward  breakfast. Traction.

Right now, any activity that isn’t pulling in this direction would be distraction.

I wonder for a moment whether the podcast episode I’m listening to is a distraction. It’s not pulling me away from anything that I’m doing to get breakfast on the table, so I determine that it  isn’t.

Turning My Values into Time

In order to know what traction and distraction look like at any given moment, I need to start by turning my values into time.

My current tool of choice for this is the Love/Play/Work/Health dashboard from Designing Your Life.

Example:

Love: Loosely defined as human connection. I block out an hour from 12:30-1:30 pm each Wednesday for a “Connection Hour” Zoom Meetup.

Play: Community member Sam currently hosts a Game Night on Tuesdays and I block out 6:30-8:30 pm just for the fun of it.

Work: Monday-Friday, I use the Pomodoro Technique so that I can block out 25-minute chunks of time (interspersed with  5-minute breaks) to pull in the direction of specific, defined tasks, which I write down at the beginning of each period.

Health: I block out time for meditation, light exercise, gratitude journaling, and reframing things that don’t go my way before starting work.

When I catch myself doing something else during these times, I know I’m distracted.

Internal and External Triggers and Problems

According to Eyal, there are only three sources of distraction: internal triggers, external triggers, and problems.

I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but I like the HALT acronym as a starting point for internal discomfort signals. Hungry  Angry Lonely and Tired. Others might include Boredom, Frustration, Uncertainty.

External triggers might include ping notifications from phones and computers informing me my urgent attention is required. It might also include having too many apps open, too many things on my desk vying for my attention, etc. Eyal says the most common external trigger in many workplaces is a side effect of the open office floor plan: people stopping by to talk.

Problems include tools and unanticipated events. Right now, my work is dependent on my Scrivener app, monitor, electricity, and keyboard working. If the tools or information I need to continue with a given task for the designated period of time aren’t available, I can get distracted by a problem. If the smoke alarm goes off or I notice water on the floor, I’ll probably stop for that too. 

Example: I caught myself (playing Tetris).

Instead of doing what I had planned, which was (initial edits of the rough draft of this blog post).

The trigger was (internal).

I was feeling a little (afternoon fatigue).

Possible solution: ______________.

Note: The same afternoon fatigue that lured me into  playing Tetris prevents me from coming up with a good solution right now. But that’s okay. Every distraction that I track gives me insight into how, when, and why I get distracted. By blocking out a few minutes each week (after I review my Love/Play/Work/Health dashboard), I can begin making baby steps toward becoming indistractible.

Is Tetris Traction or Distraction?

What I like about this time management tool is that it’s not about maximizing productivity. It’s about maximizing choice. If I schedule time to play Tetris (or watch Netflix or any other activity) just for the fun of it, or to stop thinking about work at the end of the day, it can be my traction.

As a bonus, by blocking out time for it, I’ll actually enjoy it more because I won’t feel guilty thinking about all the other things I could be doing. And if I do, I’ll just enter them in my distraction tracker.

Explore the Distraction Tracker Well-Being Habit

1. Block out a small chunk of time once a week. Maybe 5 minutes for starters?

Example: 

After my 11:00 a.m. Secular Buddhism Zoom Call on Sunday.

I will spend 5 minutes blocking out time for a specific Love/Play/Work/Health activity.

Then I will celebrate, “Yay me!” for building some traction into my life.

2. After the designated time has passed for something I have planned , if I…

a. Performed the intended activity for the intended period, I will celebrate.

b. Got distracted, I will run the distraction tracker, then I will celebrate.

3. After I block out next week’s traction, I will review my distraction tracker for possible insights.