The Axis of Failure


There is so much written about success, so much advice offered it makes change sound so easy. Why then do we bomb, botch, bungle and bust every time we try to change?

The simple truth is……. change just isn’t that simple!

I have become rather tired of failing. I fail often and I’m starting to realise that most of us do. It’s about time we redressed the balance and gave failure the credit it deserves.

It doesn’t do us any good to constantly overestimate our ability to change and underestimate our ability to fail. Because when we fail, as we usually do, we get deflated, disappointed and downright depressed.

“Know your enemy”
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It’s about time we got to know our enemy. If we want to make real change in our life, the kind of change that can turn our life around, then we will inevitably come face to face with the combined forces of failure. These are the tanks and infantry that form ‘The Axis of Failure’.

I’ve identified 5 Agents of failure and 5 Anchors of failure.

The 5 Agents of Failure

These are the mechanisms of failure, the bumps and ruts that dislodge us and throw us off the wagon of change.

1. Desire

Change often involves an attempt to suppress what Rick Hanson refers to as the ‘Ancient fires of Desire’. The problem with fighting these fires is that they are never quenched and are prone to reignite at any time.

2. Sparks

The flying embers that reignite the ‘Ancient fires’. These are the triggers, the snakes in our path that send us sliding back to our old behaviour.

3. The Great Escape

We meet Stress daily in all its manifestations. Most of us have developed a quick escape route to dull the pain and numb the suffering. Often this is just the behaviour we are seeking to change

4. Tired & Hungry

I read once that we make our worst decisions when we are low. There is no greater enemy than lack of sleep to overrun our blockades and crush our resistance.

5. Stormy Weather

Anyone who observes their thoughts and feelings will know that our moods change constantly like the weather. Low moods lower enthusiasm, motivation and resilience.

The 5 Anchors of Failure

When we fail these are the anchors that keep us stuck in our distractions, bad habits and addictions.

1. Craving

The itch, the hunger, the recurring thoughts that leave us unsettled and distracted until finally we give in.

2. Smoke & Mirrors

We have an impressive ability to deceive ourselves. It’s why the first step in the Noble Eightfold Path is ‘Right View’. The ability to see things for what they really are, not what we have convinced ourselves.

3. The Country Drive

It never ceases to amaze me how I am constantly taken for a ride by my subconscious mind. It starts with an innocuous distraction, and progresses by hidden twists and turns right back to the very behaviour I’m trying to escape.

4. The Cuckoo

What keeps us stuck in our old behaviour is far stronger than the fledgling we wish to nurture and grow. It often feels like a cuckoo clamouring to be fed and intent on dislodging the small fledgling from the nest.

5. The Whirlpool

When we fail we find ourselves back at the epicentre of a whirlpool and in danger of being submerged. It takes a lot of time and effort to work ourselves away from the vortex to a place where the waters are calmer.

“I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem”
– William Blake, Jerusalem

The wish to change is not just admirable, it genuinely holds out the promise of a better, richer and more joyous life.

However, the next time we fail as we surely will, we need to recognize the magnitude of our struggle and appreciate the strength and arsenal of our foe.

Then with a kindness and compassion for our efforts and striving, with a renewed gaze on our objective, once more its time to gather up our resources of strength and enthusiasm, and fight on.

The Axis of Failure