How to Not Fail at Life

When you’re 80 years old, you don’t want to look back on your life and have regrets. Worse, you don’t want to look back on your life — your one life to live — and think that you’ve failed it. But there’s not much you can do to fix your life when you’re 80.

Instead, you’re going to have to actively critique yourself as you move through life to not fail it. But before we get into how to not fail at life, let’s discuss what a failed life is.

What is a Failed Life?

A failed life is subjective, of course. It can mean never taking the risks you wanted to or going down a path that you desperately wish you hadn’t taken.

However you define a failed life, there are common threads that underlie each. Specifically, there are habits that will make you fail at life.

Not Trying

We all have a big mistake we regret making. Maybe it’s regretting a job we took, our major in college, a relationship that went sour. But at least to took on that responsibility and learned from it.

Not even trying prevents you from stepping out of your comfort zone in the first place. Not trying keeps you stagnant and unchanged, moving slowly and passively through life. There’s nothing worse than realizing that you could have had a better quality of life if you had just put in the effort to have one.

To be fair, this isn’t simply a matter of trying for trying’s sake. You have to put in your all to achieve your goals and build proper habits for success. If you half-ass your attempts, you’re going to live a half-assed life.

For motivation, tack up these wise words from Tony Robbins somewhere in your living space:

“No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.”

Not Planning Ahead

Imagine this scenario: You’re in a hole underground. You can’t get out of the hole; you can only dig straight in front of you.

So you start digging, but you don’t quite know where you’re going. While you’re digging, though, you find random pots of gold, but they’re few and far in between. Digging is hard work and you eventually grow tired.

Upon retracing your steps, you realize you dug in circles for a majority of your time while never finding much gold. You realize you put in a lot of time and effort for nothing.

This is what it’s like to go about life without any plans. Sure, you’ll keep going through your life day by day, like the digger went shovel by shovel, and you might even find some positive luck that made that path in your life worth it. But they’ll be few and far in between, and much smaller than if you had planned your path ahead of time.

Take a second scenario where the digger has a road map. They still have to manually dig their way through the dirt, but they have an idea of where they want to end up. Their path to that goal is linear and streamlined, and it ends up taking much less time to get there. Eventually, the digger finds their gold, and it’s more than they ever could have expected.

A road plan for the kind of life you want to live saves you time and energy. It also offers you more rewards in the future because you’re putting all your time and energy on one goal rather than dispersed among various different pathways.

If you want to climb the job ladder or start a successful business, you need such copious foresight before you invest your resources.

Keep digging, my friends. Dig heartily and knowledgeably.


Settling is a concoction of the following ingredients: not trying, sticking to your comfort zone, and not believing you can achieve more.

It must be said that you can find happiness in a simple life. If settling down in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with a spouse and some kids is your idea of a perfect life, then go for it. Don’t settle for less.

But if you’re settling on a lifestyle you think is safe and brings you financial security but makes you feel as if you’re forgoing better opportunities for yourself, you’re going to have massive regrets in the future.

What do we mean by this? Take for instance Johnathan. Johnathan wanted to be an artist as a kid. He would always doodle during classes, found time to paint portraits of landscapes and wildlife in his spare time, and thought he could make a career of his art if he put in enough time and effort.

But people in Johnathan’s life consistently told him that artists never have a good life. You can’t pay the bills as an artist. It’s better to go into accounting and get a job there. At least he’ll have a nice house and an easy life.

His job feels empty, though, despite its security. There’s nagging thought that he’s wasting his life, but Johnathan doesn’t have the guts to change his situation, so he rides the waves of the life he built himself until retirement, where he lets his artistic passion come out once more.

While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a job for the money, striving for your dreams will always be more fulfilling than settling for security. However, it’s hard to realize we’re doing that while we’re on that life path.

To get you motivated to re-evaluate your life, check out the slam poem “Lighthouses” by Patrick Maloney. It’s a poem about what it’s like to be a young person trying to not fail at life. Even if you don’t consider yourself a young person, there’s a line that applies to you too.

“There’s a difference between a great life and an easy one.”

Are you settling for an easy life? Or are you struggling toward a great one?

Making Excuses

Of course, there’s a reason why you couldn’t finish that novel. Life got hectic, sure, or you had some work obligations got in the way. We get it, things come up.

But when you make an excuse, you’re placing the blame on why something didn’t get done on an external factor. Excuses obscure the faults in yourself that caused you to not accomplish a goal.

Excuses lull you into the false sense that you are not in control of your life and that you’re a passive rider on external whims. When you make excuses, you justify your own shortcomings.

Stop making excuse. Stop putting the blame on something else, no matter how valid it may seem. Get back your personal power and get on with building the habits that lead you toward success.

TL;DR: Things that cause you to fail at life.

  • Not trying.
  • Not planning ahead.
  • Settling for less than what you want.
  • Making excuses as to why you failed.

Rethinking Failure

We talked a lot about failure and success. But really, these two things don’t exist in a binary. With some mental shifts, you can see failure as a sign of success.

How is that so? Because a failed goal can be workshopped and critiqued. When you learn from your failures, you understand how you can avoid such failures in the future. You figure out the steps to succeed when you rethink failure as a stepping stone for success.

In fact, most successful entrepreneurs we think of today have had immense failures in their pasts. For example:

  • There’s the classic example of Thomas Edison. He tried over 10,000 times to make the lightbulb work before reaching success. And where would we be without him today?

When asked about his failed attempts at the lightbulb, Edison succinctly said that he knew “definitively over 10,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work.” That’s the growth mindset you need to adopt to rethink failures as paths to success.

  • Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times before getting his big break. Now, he’s one of the most iconic film directors in history with T, The Goonies, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and other classics under his belt.
  • You might have heard that JK Rowling, author of the immensely successful Harry Potter series, was rejected by publishers at least 12 times before one finally picked up the book. Rowling and all the Potterheads out there are grateful she persevered.

Failure not only tests strategies to improve your product or craft, but it strengthens your resolve to succeed. Not everyone can push through failure 9,999 times like Thomas Edison did, but the commitment to his invention gave him the resolve to continue.

Do you have such a commitment to your project? If not, find it. If so, use it to propel yourself closer to success.

Failure Can Make a Good Life

We learn the best from our failures. While you shouldn’t strive for such failures, they provide rich learning material to spark your growth.

Below are some of the places you could fail in that will deeply improve your life:

A Serious Relationship

Ah, love. How dazzling and utterly gutting it can be.

If you’re lucky enough to enter a serious relationship, you know that maintaining such a connection with another person is hard work. But the real self-reflection happens once the relationship has officially broken up.

All the cheesy heartbreak songs are right — breakups allow for the best introspection. You can review your behavior with another person throughout the course of the relationship. You can examine how you handle delicate situations, such as sex, intimacy, trust, and communication.

From the breakup of a serious relationship, you learn how to improve yourself and be a better person for the next relationship, which will most likely be more fulfilling and lasting than this one. You will better know yourself and navigate relationship complexities more adroitly.

A Career

The first job you enter won’t be your passion in life — unless you’re the lucky one in a million who was born knowing the right career.

The rest of us will have to flounder a bit, but that’s okay. Testing out different careers forces us to try new things and to get in touch with our feelings (ew, feelings!). You have to treat each job like an experiment where your happiness levels are the measured variables.

When our first career fails to make us happy, we’re not motivated to try something new and to keep persisting until we find that perfect career. From that search, you’ll better understand your strengths and weaknesses as well as your likes and dislikes.

Financial Health

While actively being broke sucks, it’s one of the best lessons life can give us.

Most people don’t understand what it means to be poor. We mean “I have to find a free meal or else I won’t eat today” poor.

While it’s stressful, scary, and unhealthy to be broke, the situation teaches you the importance of money and frugality.

Those who have never been poor are wasteful. They misuse their time and their money on fillers in their lives — fancy gadgets, throwing away expensive food, wasting time because they don’t have to work a minimum wage job just to eat.

When you’re broke, it’s almost like you’re a non-voluntary minimalist. You can only afford to keep around the items that truly benefit you, saving your money on the important stuff like food and lodgings.

Besides, being broke forces you to work to get out of that situation, either by relying on friends for room and board or by the strength of your work ethic.

Once you bounce back into financial security, you realize how important having no money was in sculpting your outlook on life.

Anything can be turned into a life lesson if you’re creative enough. While failures allow you to grow and mature as a human, there are ways to not let your life become one such failure.

How to Not Fail at Life

To boil it down, not failing at life comes down to your mindset. How you approach each day determines the overall life you live.

When you adopt a growth mindset, you see yourself as a dynamic person capable of changing your circumstances. You don’t see yourself as inherently anything — smart, dumb, talented, skilless, etc. As long as you work hard, you can gain the skills that come to others easily and then surpass their qualities.

Fixed mindsets are the death of growth. They trap you into a loop stating, “Oh, because people in my life told me I’m not smart, I must not be smart.” You unfold a self-fulfilling prophecy where you continually affirm that you are not what you say you are not. From that mindset, you speak your fixed, safe life into existence.

And at the end of your life, you have created the mindset through your actions, behaviors, and speech. So if you think you’re limited, you’ll live a limited life.

In fact, psychologists say that a fixed mindset leads to depression and anxiety, because you fail to understand that with a little hard work, you can get through any tough situation.

A growth mindset puts confidence back in yourself. You stop looking to others or to the “universe” (whatever that means to you) to improve your life.

Instead, you understand you are the determinant of your quality of life, and it depends on how hard you work.

Top Tips for a Successful Life

Now that we’ve stressed the importance of a growth mindset to ensure you don’t fail at life, here are some tips on how to build that perfect mental state.

  • Tell yourself you can do it. Yes, it’s cliche, but telling yourself over and over that you have the power to change your destiny is the first step to unshackling yourself from your fixed mindset. You have to give yourself permission to grow before you start growing.
  • Change how you view challenges. If you see challenges as obstacles, they’ll seem rigid and insurmountable. You’ll feel small, stuck, and incapable of overcoming these challenges as a result.

If you throw your hands up, then you’ve affirmed that you’re not going to put in the effort to overcome this obstacle. See challenges as a puzzle you can beat with enough dedication.

  • Stop seeking approval from others. Looking to others for guidance will only make you depressed, resentful, and confused. You have to listen to yourself because you’re the one in control of your life, and you’re the only one who sees all the pieces in your life that can improve.
  • Learn from other people’s mistakes. They say that the harshest teachers are your own mistakes, but you can take a shortcut and learn by proxy.

When you learn from other people’s mistakes, you understand what not to do, such as in financial investments or serious relationships. Learning from other people’s mistakes prevent you from making the same ones. 

  • Read hungrily and voraciously. Read self-help books, memoirs, literary fiction, whatever quality work you can get your hands on. Reading stretches your mind and lets you live lives you never could otherwise.

Reading literary fiction has been shown to improve empathy, which enables you to better connect with the people around you.

But if you decide to stick to self-help books, you’ll feel conscious motivation to keep growing or unconsciously incorporate the tips into your life.

  • Build discipline. Discipline gets you off your butt when you want to melt into the couch and watch Netflix. Discipline forces you to herald your goals, whatever they may be, as the main motivation in life. All the other comforts fall to the waist side.

When you build discipline, you force yourself to grow even when everything in your brain and body tells you to stop. A disciplined life is hard, but it’s worth it. Just ask any entrepreneur, doctor, novelist, lawyer, or anyone else who had to work hard to get to where they are.

Examples of a Good Life From 100-Year-Olds

Don’t take our word for it. Watch this video of 100-year-olds detailing their lives and offering advice on how to live a good one.

Some good advice includes:

  • Be as independent as you can, but ask for help when you think you need it.
  • Learn to communicate efficiently when it’s necessary (which is more often than you think).
  • Be helpful and keep going.
  • If you’re still in school, study harder and study earlier.
  • Eat fresh, organic food (preferably grown in your own garden) as much as possible.
  • Don’t think of things as failures. According to Cliff Crozier “If I make a cake and it fails, it becomes pudding.” As long as you’re creative, nothing is a failure.

What You Can Do Today to Live a Better Life

Reread this article, of course, and the other ones on this site too 😉

After that, acquire a journal. Yes, every other self-improvement mentor will tell you to have a journal for their goal and we’re really going to make you have one too. They work.

In this journal, write down at the end of each day three things that made you happy, three things you’re thankful for, and three things you can improve on. Try to flesh out each point.

For a hypothetical example for happiness:

  • “The barista accidentally gave me a larger drink than I ordered. When I told her about the mistake, she let me keep the drink free of charge.”
  • “Talking to Emily. I haven’t spoken to her in a while, and it’s always nice. She’s doing well, which also makes me happy.”
  • “My body is good to me and I’m happy it provides the services for me that it does.”

Sometimes it’s hard to think of the things that make you happy. Even if you have to write the smallest, seemingly most mundane items on your list, writing them down reminds you that your life is littered with positivity. You shouldn’t forget about them.

Do the same with the three items you’re thankful for. Like with happiness, it’s easy to forget the hidden blessings in your life. No matter how terrible your situation is, you can always find at least three things to be thankful for. Again, don’t discriminate on the topics to write down just because they’re small.

Finally, reflect on the day you had with yourself. What did you do that surprised you? What have you never noticed about yourself? You might shock yourself with what you realize. For a hypothetical example:

  • “I find that I eat, even when I’m not hungry. I don’t know if it’s because of boredom or what, but I do that regularly.”
  • “When I’m sad, I’m more likely to buy useless crap and then regret buying it. I can’t stop myself from doing it.”
  • “Whenever I have a fight with my boyfriend/girlfriend, I immediately have to tell someone about what just happened. If I don’t tell someone, I feel physically heavier.”

Writing down three realizations a day forces you to notice what you’re doing. You must be mindful of your behavior and speech to others that seem out of the norm. You might not realize you do the behaviors you do, but that’s the point.

When you physically write down the things you realize about yourself — good or bad — you have a blueprint from which to improve on. You can also psychoanalyze yourself as to why you do the things you do and try to understand yourself better that way.

Benefits of writing down why you’re happy, what makes you thankful, and your self-realizations:

  • You can document your life day by day. These three points act as a journal but don’t require as much time as writing about your whole day.
  • You become more mindful of yourself. Mindfulness has been sweeping the self-improvement community — and for good reason. Mindfulness means you don’t automatically go about your day. By writing down your realizations, you create the diving board from which you can improve yourself.
  • You get to know yourself better. No matter what you write down, you begin to notice what kinds of things make you happy and thankful in life. Also, you realize the nuances of your psychology and mood when you write down details on who you are.

All of these allow you to better know the person you are, which can help you augment the life you want to live.

In Conclusion

While failing at life is subjective, it would be a terrible realization one day to decide that, yes, you did indeed fail your life. You don’t want to be at your end thinking you wasted your time or that you have insurmountable regrets that will haunt you.

If you want to not fail at life, you have to live your life trying to actively improve it. Take heed of the advice in the article and create fulfilling habits and mindsets for self-growth. Only then will you be on track for a successful, regret-free life.

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