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Book review: Why People Fail – The 16 Obstacles to Success and How You Can Overcome Them

This review first ran in the Jan. 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Why People Fail: The 16 Obstacles to Success and How You Can Overcome Them

By Siimon Reynolds

Jossey-Bass

$29.99

It’s been 15 years since I talked with my dad and I’d give anything for a do-over.

My dad was 50 and going through the worst and last week of his life. On a Monday morning in late October he went to the nearest emergency department. By Monday afternoon, his bloodwork came back and he was immediately admitted to hospital.  On Tuesday came the diagnosis of leukemia and pneumonia. On Wednesday, my dad signed off on the Hail Mary pass of a clinical trial offered only to patients with no shot at a full recovery. On Thursday, my dad asked to meet with each of his kids.

I sat on the edge of the hospital bed and talked about plans to spend more time together. In between rounds of chemo, we’d go to ball games, take road trips and rent summer cottages.

But my dad didn’t want to talk about the future. He wanted to say goodbye. Unlike the rest of us, he knew the game was over and the battle was lost before it had even started. In less than 48 hours, he was taken off life support in the intensive care unit.

If I could somehow get another half hour with my dad, I’d skip the plans and tell him I was proud of what he’d achieved from a lousy start in life and grateful for the sacrifices he’d made to give his family a far better life. I’d show him the photos of his grandkids and then I’d ask a question.

Suppose you were told at my age that there were only seven years left on the clock. How would you have spent your days? What would you have found the courage to say and do? What bonds would you have strengthened and which connections would you have cut? What dreams would you have chased? Would you have re-examined and re-ordered your priorities? What would have mattered most and least?

These are questions that some of us never ponder until we too are on our deathbed. And for that, we pay a very steep price. We muddle through life, float along in our careers and leave a lot of our promise and potential unfulfilled.

Not asking the right questions is one of 16 obstacles to success identified by author and coach Siimon Reynolds. “If you want a premium-quality life, you need to ingrain in your mind a series of high-quality questions that you regularly ask yourself – questions that support you in your attempt to create the very best life possible for you and the people you most care for. These habitual questions will help you stay on the right track, be more optimistic and take the best daily actions to help you reach the life of your dreams.”

Here’s one of the big questions. When you die, what kind of life would you like to have lived? “Most people hate thinking about death,” says Reynolds.  “But keeping death regularly in mind is one of the very best ways to ensure a wonderful life. The thought of death is the world’s greatest wake-up call.” Reynolds says research shows most people on their deathbeds wished they have taken more risks, had more fun, loved more and spent more time with friends.

Along with failing to ask the right questions, other common obstacles to success include having an unclear purpose, destructive thinking, low productivity, a fixed rather than a growth mindset, weak energy, poor presentation skills, poor-image, mistaking IQ for emotional intelligence, not enough thinking, no daily rituals, few relationships, lack of persistence, money obsession and not focusing on strengths.

“Look at anyone you know who is not succeeding and you will find not just one but several of these failure signs occurring in their life,” says Reynolds. These obstacles aren’t insurmountable or permanent. Reynolds says we need to identify the obstacles that apply to us. Tackle each obstacle one at a time. Design a ritual to overcome them. And do something every day, no matter how small, that gets us closer to victory.

“If someone has achieved more than you, it’s not usually because they are better than you or smarter than you. It’s because they have discovered a better strategy for success. What they have learned, you can learn. What they have succeeded with, so too can you if you learn the formulas for success. Some of these formulas are mental and others are practical and action oriented but all of them can be mastered by those dedicated to the task.”

Despite Reynolds’ enthusiasm for negative ion generators, baroque music, green vegetable powdered drinks, inspiration walls and daily self-affirmations, this is a good primer if you’re looking to make a change for the better in 2012 and make the most of whatever time you have left on the clock.

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