Failure is not final: If you fail - at least fail forward. The 7 step plan to turn failure into success.

January 24, 2016 Gustav Gous

Failure is not final: If you fail - at least fail forward. The 7 step plan to turn failure into success. 


All of us fail at some stage or another. The good news is that failure doesn’t have to be final, nor fatal. You can master the art of turning failure into success. The problem is though that only a few have mastered the art of ‘failing forward’.


The majority is emotionally affected, demotivated, scared to try again, worse off,  a wreck, ridden with feelings of guilt, and if they try again, their mindset is such,  that they have actually lost even before they have started.


Nobody starts a relationship or a business with the idea to fail. But people feel that they are failures, if …

-          - their relationships fail or their marriages end up in divorce,

-          - they go bankrupt in business  ,

-          - they don’t get the position or promotion they aimed for,

-          - they make huge professional mistakes (like the air controller who caused two          passenger planes to crash, causing many deaths, and committing suicide afterwards out of feelings of guilt)

-          - they lose the first game of the world Cup tournament where they are aiming to win the      World Cup

-          - they (politicians) cause countries to be failed countries

-          - or lastly,  in broader sense, if they realise they are not winning the overall game of life.


For many it is ‘game-over’ after failure and they die disillusioned. But there is more to life and more to failure than just to stop at ‘game-over’. The only true failure,  is to stop trying. We all are frustrated in reaching our projected goals, but what is it that the minority, who don’t give up,  know, that the majority misses? 


Why is it that some people (the minority) experience defeats, but are never defeated. It is because failure defeats losers, and it inspires winners. It is because winning starts with an inner attitude, not an environment of easy victories. The basic secret, in the words of Malcolm Forbes, is that ‘Failure is success if we learn from it’. Through learning we can fail forward.  Henry Ford said: ‘Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more wisely.’   


Our mistake is that we (the older people in the Baby Boomer generation) grew up in a world where there is no tolerance for failure. We grew up in a world where the aim was zero defect, with no place for mistakes.  Mistakes were punished, and not employed in the learning process.


We must to learn from babies who start to walk: They fail so many times – standing up – falling down – standing up again … , but they see failure as part of learning.  We must also learn from the computer-game generation: They are not afraid to start a new game (with no instructions!) and they are not afraid to make mistakes. They play, they crash, they learn, they continue to play and reach new levels through failing forward. For them failure is part of winning in the end. Is this not the better attitude to adopt?


Now,  let’s get a logical plan to structure a methodology to fail forward in a 7 step plan:


  1. Step 1: Take responsibility: Admit your mistakes. The danger is that you want to play the blame game. If you blame, then you sidestep responsibility. If you blame, then you lose control, because change can come only from the other person/people  who you blame: Only if they change then change can come.  The best is rather to keep control by taking responsibility.  ….    


  1. Step 2: Deal with guilt: Failure very often has to do with real guilt where you have messed up.  You may even be legally in trouble: Real guilt must be punished, but also can fortunately  be forgiven.  Confess if necessary. To God and to people.  It is liberating and part of the process to continue after failure.


  1. Step 3: Work hard on your attitudes and angles:  Attitude is everything – it is your angle on life and on situations. Take the following angles or attitude, and you will have a chance for future success:


-          (a)  See failure is part of success:  Not only babies, or computer-game kids, know that failure is part of the game, but also the great inventors.  An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb said in the run up to his inventions:  “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” He didn’t lose motivation because his attitude was right – he saw failure as part of the process.  Successful sports people know it. Listen to Michael Jordan:   “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”


-        (b) See failure as a happening and not a person. Zig Ziglar said: ‘Failure is an event – not a person. Yesterday ended last night.’ FAIL spells First Attempt In Learning. 



   (c) Develop emotional strength with a ‘never give up’-attitude until the very end:   Make this mantra part of your psyche: Failure is not final: I can and I will overcome – even if I don’t know how at the moment. Realise that failure is not fatal or final: it is the courage to continue that counts.


  (d) Turn attitude in action with a decision to go on: Make a decision to go on. Joel Osteen writes in his book ‘Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential’: “You must make a decision that you are going to move on. It won’t happen automatically. You will have to rise up and say, ‘I don’t care how hard this is, I don’t care how disappointed I am, I’m not going to let this get the best of me. I’m moving on with my life.”


Look at the list of famous so-called failures: Initial failures that didn't give up and achieved great(er) success later in their lives:



  1. Step 4:  Learn from the situation. It is now time to sit with a coach and analyse the specific situation. Watch the replay.

*Ask the question ‘What went wrong?’ many times. That is the starting point for finding new ways.  Bill Gates said: ‘It is fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.’  Analyse the actions, attitudes, decisions, where it went astray or caused the failure.  

* Better still: Ask: What can I/we learn? Employ the failure and turn it into success.  Failure is success if we learn from it. Adjust where necessary.  Sometimes it is a good thing to fail because it gives you a wake-up call. Donald Trump says: ‘Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.’   


  1. Step 5: Renew yourself, your skills and your actions – even your game.

-          The starting point is yourself and your being: When the people of Israel messed up in ancient times, the call was to get a change of heart: Replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh  (Esegiel 36:26). When King David messed up badly, his prayer was also for a new heart (Psalm 51).  No new behaviour will flow from the same old person.  That is true in marriages and in business.

-          The same skill-set will also not win the world cup. You must practice more and learn new skills and master new angles. The message is: Do something different. Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door, as Coco Chanel said. Rather get the new tools to make a door. It is insanity to expect different results from the same behaviour and skill set.

-          Also be honest with yourself: Ask yourself if you are in the right game?Must you, with your talents, be in this game? Make sure that you play your strongest talent in the right game. Sometimes you must get out of the game to play your best game.


  1. Step 6: Get a new Game plan – for your business, marriage or endeavour. To fail forward you need a new and better game plan - one  that has factored in the learnings from the mistakes.  Sit with a life coach to construct such a plan ( For info on one day workshops to design new life plans: email: for the relevant info and to receive an invitation  ) . The Get-a-Life workshops are available and coaches accredited to assist you.


  1. Step 7:  Break the plan up in edible chunks and small executable steps. Many people who messed up by getting themselves into serious debt, for example, got relief by going to a debt counsellor who helped them to renegotiate and reschedule and to break the debt into small payable chunks. You also win any World Cup, not by thinking of the final, but by breaking it up into manageable chunks:  Don’t think of the final. You are not there yet. Think:  There are only 4 games left. Rather focus on the next game/step, the next opportunity, and not the final game.


Help others:  

And what if you see other people that you love experiencing great failure?  Then forward this plan to them the help them to get back on track. Be a true friend and assist them at the step where you can see they get stuck.



 Let’s summarise with the good old words of Winston Churchill:  “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Follow the 7 steps and  you will master the art of ‘failing forward’. 


If you want more information on how to make counselling/coaching appointments or book dr Gustav Gous for motivational talks, contact 

If you want  interventions for your team: Contact +27 12 3455931   or email to discuss possibilities. 

Disclaimer:    Important notice to you as the reader:  Although the life coach (dr Gustav Gous) provide certain recommendations, the sole and final responsibility for decision-making remains your own and that the life coach or anybody associated to him and his company Short Walk Seminars Pty Ltd cannot be held responsible for any of your choices and reactions. You, the reader, must take full responsibility for your life, reactions and choices.  




Dr Gustav Gous  is an International Motivational Speaker and Executive Life Coach with experience on 5 continents. He 

was the in-house counselor for the petro-chemical company Sasol for 9 years. He is known for his Transformational leadership programmes on Robben Island, titled the “Short Walk to Freedom”. 

He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and past President of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa and a member of the APSS (Asia Professional Speakers Singapore).  Currently he is heading up the Diversity Intelligence Institute, specializing in rolling out Diversity Intelligence interventions for 

international companies. His leadership caps does for leadership what De Bono's thinking hats did for creativity and problem solving. His Coaching programme on national Radio in South Africa RSG FM 100-104 "Fiks vir die lewe" touches the lives of many South Africans. , ,

Follow him on Twitter: @GustavGous  or on Facebook and LinkedIn .