There Is No Success Only Feedback

You’ve probably heard the saying “There is no failure, only feedback”, but what about success?

Failure and success are really flip sides of the same coin.

It’s a bit like love and hate. With either love or hate you have to care deeply about something, so on that basis they are the same core emotion.

Failure and success are similarly alike.

Both depend on you having a preconceived idea of the outcome you want.

Both also depend on you stopping at some particular point and making the comparison with your preconceived idea so that you can assess, did you fail or succeed?

So what happens if you treat success, like failure, as simply feedback?

Success is then no longer a stop point. Instead it is a benchmark for what to repeat, and for the outcomes you get in future.

Success then becomes more along the lines of “continuous improvement”.

If you are aiming for “success” in your life then here are two suggestions with this feedback model in mind.

1. ALWAYS have a goal beyond the goal.

If you don’t have this in place you risk reaching a goal… and then asking yourself, “Now what?”, or even worse, “So what? Who cares. What was all that for.”

Someone having a mid-life crisis is simply realizing they have no goal beyond the one they are current working on, and that current one doesn’t seem so important any more.

2. Set at least some goals in your life that are never going to be achieved.

This may strike you as counterintuitive.

After all we are taught that we are meant to reach our goals.

However I think it’s worth having never-ending aims like “world peace”, ending poverty, protecting the environment, contributing and helping others, and spreading the word about something that is important to you.

These are natural examples where final success is unachievable, and therefore feedback is a more accurate description anyway.

Unlike the first suggestion I’m not convinced this one is actually necessary for mental health and happiness. It might be. I just am not sure.

Here’s the more fundamental life issue however.

Can you really have a mindset of feedback instead of failure, if you are still holding on to the concept of “success”?

Do you have to give up on “success”?

-Dr Martin Russell

5 thoughts on “There Is No Success Only Feedback”

  1. Martin –

    Maybe you recall the catchy Huey Lewis song, “Hip to be square”?

    Playing around with that contrast, I wrote an article that might just as well have been called “It’s smart to be dumb”.

    From personal experience, I suspect that a bit of fun around feedback can be good for the soul – so now when I get all serious about goal setting and time limits etc, I encourage ‘dumbness’ lol.

    As for your article’s final sentence – yes, a bit of a koan, that one!

    Having just re-read part of Tim Gallwey’s “The Inner Game Of Tennis” this morning, I am reminded how much more successful his tennis students were when they stopped trying so much

    – and started being more aware of what their bodies and rackets were actually doing.

    There is a tremendous and comforting strength in our/my own awareness.

    — Mark McClure

  2. Hi Mark,

    Great points – the article is indeed SMART + DUMB = Success!

    The Inner Game series is very focussed on feedback and how to get the raw unprocessed version.

    Much of self help depends on self-feedback without preconceptions – including preconceptions like success and failure.

  3. Great information! Thanks for writing this. It is an honor to participate in the discussion.

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