“Mistakes are learning opportunities”
“I never lose. I either win or learn.” – Nelson Mandela
“You learn from your mistakes, so one is not enough.” – Wilhelm Busch
Blah Blah. The list could go on and on. There are many clever sayings about mistakes.
But honestly: how do you deal with mistakes? With your own mistakes and those of others?
When you really screwed up, you think, “Great, makes me smarter”?
If so, congratulations.
If not, you’re not alone.
Getting angry about mistakes is normal – however, our emotional reaction should not be the main focus and thus get in the way of the potential learning opportunity.
So what can you do to develop a healthy approach to mistakes?
– “Doing” is the keyword. Get into action. That is the first step. Some people try so hard to make sure that they are safe, they consider every possibility in order to make no mistakes – that in the end they really don’t make any – because they don’t move to action. That’s the “error avoidance paralysis”. Not very helpful.
2. Look behind the scenes
– Mistakes are part of life. Evolution is not possible without mistakes. When we are shown “successful people” we are only presented the shining result – of an often not so dazzling journey. Most successful people have failed several times and made mistakes. If there is someone you admire, read his/her biography and expect to be surprised.
3. Allow recognition of mistakes (inner world)
– If we have not had a good approach to mistakes, it is possible that we have developed a certain blindness towards our mistakes (denial, forgetting, filtering, playing down). Sometimes this is also due to a lack of self-esteem. We can re-strengthen our awareness by e.g. reviewing the day in the evening and writing down if we have messed up. Please don’t get me wrong here: this is not about desperately looking for something you did wrong or blaming yourself for it – it’s simply allowing a factual statement that you did something wrong (if there was anything). Make your peace with it. For this it can also be helpful not to suppress your emotions connected with the mistake, but to allow and accept them in a protected environment – without directing them against you or others. The simple labeling of the emotion associated with the mistake is often enough (“I am angry”).
4. Admit mistakes (external world)
– take responsibility in the outside world and stand by your actions when you have done something wrong. No justifications, no blame, no whitewashing or trivialising.
5. Celebrate mistakes
– Have you ever laughed about your mistakes? It will get easier if you develop an easier way of dealing with your mistakes. Talk about it with friends, share the experience – and help others to deal with their mistakes more easily as well.
6. Make use of your mistakes
– take the time and have a look – what happened and why? Usually there are many different reasons why mistakes happen to us:
- Ignorance – what else should you learn?
- Lack of trust – how can you strengthen it?
- Fear of the consequences – real or self-made? How can you mitigate it?
- Carelessness – how can you gain more focus?
- Lack of motivation – why were you not motivated?
By the way, how hard we treat others when they have made mistakes often reflects how hard we treat ourselves.
This way we create a vicious circle: the pressure we put on others increases the likelihood of errors.
So – start to soften.
Take it playfully and wisely!
Author: Birgit Baldlauf