Dorothea Brande’s “Formula for Success”: The Will to Fail Revisited

At the onset of this Writer’s March Challenge, I wrote about Dorothea Brande and the “Will to Fail,” a concept based on Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” that seeks to name the human propensity towards self sabotage.   As I explained,

Each person has a dream, a goal, an internal sense of what would make their lives better (their own will to power, so to speak), but each person’s will to power [is] usurped by the stronger will to fail.

selfsabotageyoursuccessMany people have watched Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech, a video I shared and discussed many years ago.  In this speech, Gaiman talks to a group of graduating art students about how to make it as artists in today’s world.  He tells them to always keep in mind what they have at the top of their mountain (their life goal).  Then, when faced with choices on what to do next, he said, keep in mind this mountain and choose options that will take you closer to the top.  And so, put another way, the “Will to Fail” involves all the life choices we make that either take us down or away from our mountains.  It also (perhaps most importantly) asks us to examine all the reasons we stop climbing altogether.

So, what do we do to avoid this “Will to Fail”?  How do we overcome it? In other words, I keep hinting at Brande’s formula for success, but have yet to offer it up.  And so, I offer it now.  As Brande Says,

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail.

Seems simple enough, right?  Brande goes into this idea in much more detail than I can get into in a single blog post.  If you like this sort of thing, I highly recommend reading the entire book as it offers up a lot of additional food for thought and much more concrete levels of advice, but as far as I understand it, the formula involves a few key things to keep in mind as you work:

  1.  Identify a time in your life when you knew you would not fail.  In other words, think back to when you knew success was imminent, that no matter what you did or how you did it, you knew you would succeed.  In my own life, I am thinking about a time in high school.  I was a tennis player and up against the #1 player in our district, a girl who had been interviewed by a local paper and asked about the players who presented the biggest challenge.  She mentioned many other players EXCEPT me, which of course tremendously hurt my ego so I set forth to prove her wrong.  I studied her in pure Sam-fashion (cue spreadsheets that catalogued her scores against opponents in relation to my own), and when I faced her at last, after weeks of dedicated focus, I eeked out a 7-6, 7-6 victory.  Looking back, I knew I would win.  After all I’d done to prepare, there was no way I was going to lose, and I stayed steady.
  2.  Once you’ve identified the moment, identify what it felt like.  Hold that feeling inside you and practice calling that feeling forth at will.
  3. Then, each time you sit down to write, call up that feeling and hold it every time you sit down.  In this manner, when you sit with your work, you infuse the project with the knowledge that you will complete your task.  The trick here is that you have to know you will succeed.  You cannot fake this, for faking is giving power to the will to fail.

At this point, you might be asking yourself, why is Sam telling me this now?  Why not tell this formula at the beginning when this whole crazy thing began and not here, only 4 days until the end of March.  In truth, I have no clear answer except that I’ve been waiting to write this post all month, but each time, the timing didn’t feel right.  In week 1, it felt too soon.  We already had the exciting momentum launching us forward.  The hard work part of this montly-long task had not yet set in.  In other words, the “Will to Fail” has not had a chance to take over.  In Week 2, the excitement was running out, but we were just starting to storm with ourselves. The “Will to Fail” was really emerging.  Then, in Week 3, we often stumbled or if we’d already been stumbling, we fell (this happened for me, at least as I missed several days of writing).   This is, in my opinion, when the “Will to Fail” often wins, and once it wins, we can see it, ourselves, and our habits more clearly.

And so, here we are, week 4.  The timing finally felt right.  In Week 1, I asked you to consider your will to fail, to see if you could recognize your excuses and consider your goals.  Today, I think it is worthwhile to return to the same place.  To reflect upon what has happened over the last 28 days and consider where you’ve stumbled, where you’ve pushed through, where you’ve won.  I ask you to consider a place and time where you knew you would succeed, maybe that time is even at the start of this march, that feeling that you could and WOULD DO THIS.

Now, get back to it.  Even if you fell off on your goals.  Even if you only wrote a day or only in that first week.  Even if you feel like you can’t.  You can.  To bring up a fitting cliche: if you’ve fallen off the horse, the only thing you need to do is to GET BACK ON.  Who cares when or how you got off track.  GET BACK ON.  Finish strong.

35th Birthday Rental Lenses 174.JPG

This old dog keeps on going.  I met him on my birthday, this last August.  He also seems to enjoy life!



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