The Premortem Technique: How to Ensure You Avoid Failure

The key to success in any endeavour isn’t about having some flashy technique for performing things perfectly or efficiently. The key to success is to remain consistent regardless of what obstacles you face. The way to remain consistent is to ensure you have the right systems set up.

Your motivation and perseverance for completing a project are determined by the systems you set up for yourself. There’s a technique that is used for ensuring that you achieve success in any project. This is the premortem technique.


What Is the Premortem Technique?  

The best way to explain that is to firstly take a look at what a post-mortem is.

“A post-mortem examination, also known as an autopsy, is the examination of a body after death. The aim of a post-mortem is to determine the cause of death.”

The post-mortem is a rigorous procedure used by pathologists, coroners and medical examiners to deeply analyse every aspect of a human body to establish the cause of death.

On the other hand, a premortem is a technique that is typically used in project management but can be used in any personal endeavour. With the premortem technique, you assume that a project has failed, and then you work backwards and list every possible cause of the failure. This is the inverse of the post-mortem.

The premortem technique is used by tons of businesses and individuals around the world. It can be used when planning infrastructure projects like skyscrapers and train stations. It can be used during political campaigns, or by entrepreneurs when planning financial targets. But the premortem technique isn’t limited to big projects; this technique can be used for any personal goal you’re looking to achieve.


Executing the Premortem Technique

If your goal were to start a meditation habit, you would list every possible obstacle you could anticipate. Your list of obstacles could look something like the following:

Obstacle 1: You forget to meditate on some days.

Obstacle 2: You feel too tired to meditate on some days.

Obstacle 3: You give up because you’re not seeing any results.

Obstacle: 4: You run out of excitement and motivation to continue the habit after two weeks.

You then go through each obstacle and think of a practical solution. Some of your solutions might look like the following:

Solution 1: Set an alarm or reminder that runs every day to remind yourself to meditate.

Solution 2: Meditate just before you leave for work. At this point, your brain has had time to wake up, and it’s before the end of the day when your brain feels exhausted.

Solution 3: Research other people’s experiences regularly, so you have the right expectations on how long it takes to see results.

Solution 4: Start with small steps, just 5 minutes of meditation a day until you’ve made it a permanent habit.


Using Past Experiences

It can be challenging to think of obstacles; you have to push your brain to think expansively about every potential pitfall. 

A good way of doing this is to recall past experiences where you failed to achieve a goal that you set for yourself. Did you have a health goal or a goal with your business that you didn’t reach? A reason for failure will rarely be specific to a particular domain; mostly, they’re applicable in various situations.

Lack of time, emotionally challenging, boring, feeling tired; are all problems that would be relevant, regardless of whether your goal is related to meditation, business, nutrition or anything else. For example, the obstacle of feeling too tired to do meditation is the same type of problem you’ll encounter in almost every pursuit. If you’re feeling too tired to cook a healthy meal after work, this will affect your nutrition goal. If you’re feeling too tired to work on a new marketing strategy, this could affect your goal of hitting a revenue target within your business.

So if you can think about obstacles you’ve faced during previous endeavours, this will give you a good indication of the types of obstacles you’ll encounter in this new endeavour. If you’re struggling to think of solutions, try thinking about previous successes, times when you’ve completed a project or a goal. There might be a mindset or a set of actions that you adopted that could be applicable here. For example, there might be a time at work when you were motivated to complete a project.

Motivation usually comes from the amount of time you spend thinking about a project being a success. So in order to achieve success in your meditation habit, thinking a lot about what you want to achieve might keep you motivated to make it a permanent habit.


 Eliminating Excuses

There might be some external factors that can influence your success, but this is only the minority. The biggest obstacle is your mind and its excuses to avoid pushing you outside your comfort zone. If you’re able to list the excuses in advance, you’ll stand an excellent chance of success in any endeavour.

The premortem technique is so successful because you’re doing all the contemplating and resolving ahead of time. You’re being proactive rather than being reactive. You’re not having to improvise and find solutions on the spot because you’ve already found the solutions in advance.

The stage that most people quit is when they cannot find a solution to their problem. They have a list of excuses and reasons why it’s pointless persevering, and because they don’t have any practical solutions, they quit. Whereas when you create a premortem, you’ve already mapped out how to overcome all the excuses your mind will come up with.


Overcoming the Fear of Failure

A huge benefit of the premortem strategy is that it gets you to face problems head-on. One of the most common reasons that prevent people from ever starting a project is the fear of failure. This fear looms in the back of their mind and creates an overwhelming feeling of doubt before even starting.

The premortem technique is an excellent way of unburdening yourself of these looming thoughts. If all of your concerns are roaming around in your head, you can’t control how you feel. So when you list out all of your obstacles, even before finding any solutions, it’s helps to offload the doubt and concerns you have. You can then start to make sense of each of the concerns.

Most people don’t even get this far because they psych themselves out with all the concerns roaming around in their minds. It’s the fear of the unknown. Dealing with all the concerns feels too stressful or emotionally challenging, so the project never gets off the ground. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing out your obstacles; that alone will make you feel significantly better.

Although the real power comes from the solutions that you come up with. If you start a project having already figured out solutions to your problems, you’ll go into that project with a huge amount of confidence. You’ll feel prepared because you already know the correct action steps to take in the majority of situations.


Seeing Your Goal As a Project

Another reason that makes the premortem technique so effective is that it helps you think like a project creator. Regardless of your goal, your chances of success will be higher if you treat it like a project. 

Treating it like a project means that you invest more time and energy into it. You see it as something that needs consistent and regular analysis instead of just picking a goal and then forgetting to monitor and analyse it.

With the meditation example, treating it like a project would mean assessing your results week by week and researching ways to improve your results.


What About Unforeseen Events?

Unforeseen events can happen, but if you’ve spent enough time ensuring you do the premortem strategy properly, you won’t encounter many unforeseen circumstances. 

But if you do come across problems that you haven’t considered, you’ll be much better equipped to dealing with them if you’ve created a premortem. The fact that you’ve listed out a load of other problems and solutions means that you’ve conditioned your mind to think of practical solutions.

The premortem technique is such a valuable skill to acquire. Problems arise in all domains in life, and cultivating a habit of problem-solving will be extremely valuable. 

This isn’t something that you can just use on a project from time to time. This can be used consistently throughout your life with any type of problems you encounter. If you’re having relationship problems, problems at work, or problems with experiencing negative emotions, the premortem technique is an excellent method for helping you to resolve these problems.



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