“We learn from failure, not from success!” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula
The Four Most Common Types of Mistakes
There are all kinds of mistakes: mistakes that were made because of an error of judgment- we thought this was the right minute, we thought this was our soulmate, we thought this business opportunity looked good, we thought this wasn’t the right time… We made an error of judgment based on the information available at the time of the decision. When more information comes to light later, berating ourselves for not having decided wisely is not just foolish, it’s downright wrong and harmful.
“It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.” — Maria Montessori
Stepping out of Your Comfort Zone Mistakes
And the purpose Maria Montessori, the great educator, alludes to in the quote above is learning. Life is about change and learning, in different capacities, including experience. These are the mistakes we make when we try to get out of our comfort zone by learning, practicing, acquiring new skills or honing our abilities. These are the mistakes we make when we don’t have the wisdom experience affords us and we need to first try and then learn. Usually from our mistakes. But then again, all the current evidence by leading researchers such as Dr. Angela Dweck’s suggests that we need a growth mindset, the idea that effort and practice make us stronger, and that mistakes are integral in the process of learning.
All these little mistakes, when we know what we are doing but we go very fast, we don’t double check, it doesn’t occur to us to stop and think. Sometimes we don’t pay attention, we lose our focus, we are daydreaming or going on autopilot and then boom! We make a mistake! Usually they are small mistakes, we recover from them easily, but there are times when this attention to detail is the crucial factor of success. And we miss it.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” ― Albert Einstein
Nobody expects to make a mistake to begin with, otherwise they would have taken a different course of action. But there are those mistakes when one expects it the least. Usually, these are the mistakes we make when we are faced with a new situation or when we embark on a journey to find a novel experience.
I will always remember this client of mine who came to me with the request to finally get married and settle down. We worked on this goal and, indeed, she got married. One year later, she called to make a new series of appointments to recover from her “mistake,” that is her marriage, seeking support in getting divorced. What went wrong? Well, many things! For starters, my client didn’t have clear expectations of married life and she had created a version of marriage that existed only in her imagination. Unrealistic expectations couple with fast, not well-thought out actions can lead to the desired result, only to realize that it was not desired after all!
Probably there are other types of mistakes, but I wanted to concentrate here on the mistakes that I believe are encountered in everyday life. One more thing- there are mistakes that involve and have an impact only on one person, the one who made the mistake, but there’s another category of mistakes that influence many people.
No Pain, No Gain! What You Learn from Your Mistakes
Instead of torturing yourself with the “why did I do this?” explore the different ways you can use your mistakes to improve your life.
First and most capital gain: by accepting that you made a mistake and that’s only human, you free up a tremendous amount of mental space that you can use more productively than ruminating, having a daily self-pity party, and banging your head on the wall, so to speak. The one certain thing is that thinking about your mistake is not going to fix it.
Mistakes are lessons in disguise. That is if you want to see the lesson in them. You can see mistakes as stepping stones: you learn something from them and next time you can utilize the lesson underneath the mistake so that you succeed.
Mistakes can open the door to new opportunities. That is if you are willing to look for them and recognize them. After all, mistakes are actions or judgments that are misguided, confused, mistaken, or simply wrong. Sometimes going down the wrong path makes you stop half way and realize that yes, this is wrong, but- aha! there’s something in the situation that you hadn’t considered before, something that you perceived just this moment, because of your mistake.
You become more reality-based in your decisions. Making mistakes allows you to examine what went wrong and why. A good dose of objectivity serves as the cure for pessimism and catastrophic thinking. You make a mistake and you realize it’s not the end of the world! (as you were afraid before).
You get more resilient. You become stronger in the face of adversity and learn how to handle hard times. By making a mistake you also make a realization- you need to get up, stand up, and keep going. A fraction of people decides to just lie there, on the floor, mourning their mistake (small percentage, but still). Yet another percentage of people decide to get up, only to stomp their feet and tell others how unlucky they have been because of this “mistake.” There are those who get up, stand up, assess the situation, learn something from it and continue their life journey, without ascribing absolute significance to the particular mistake. It’s only one piece in the larger puzzle of life.
You live without fear of failure. You know that mistakes are only human, that people try and fail, take risks, and fall; what counts is not how many times you fell, but how many you got up again. Failure is an overrated concept. There are shades and nuances to it and depends on the point of view of the person. Sometimes we fail on one thing, but we have gained so much along the way, that I don’t think it can be described as “failure,” with the full significance and
You become more enthusiastic. You don’t let possible mistakes from living your life fully. You don’t start relationships, jobs, new interest, any kind of life adventure thinking “what if I make a mistake and the thing doesn’t go through?” Of course, you calculate your risks or make a plan, or whatever, but you make a conscious decision to pursue this whatever thing speaks to your heart because you are more enthusiastic about it than afraid of it.
Self-acceptance and self-love. Mistakes are the path to self-acceptance and self-love, as they shutter the perfectionistic image you hold of yourself. Not in a negative way, but in a realistic manner, when the realization that one cannot be “perfect” 100% of the time hits home. And this realization will help you accept the fact that mistakes are part of life, allowing you to love yourself.
Uncover what’s underneath your mistake by applying the rule of “the five why,” and grow. You may say “well, it was a mistake because I didn’t pay attention to detail.” Question yourself “why didn’t I pay attention?” Maybe your answer is “because that’s what I always do.” And “why do I do this all the time?” Is the second question. The answer may be something like “I am a big picture person,” which leads to the third question “why I am a big picture person?” The answer could be something along the analogy “because I prefer to see the forest for the trees,” and that leads to the fourth question “and why do you prefer to see the forest for the trees,” which may bring an answer such as “because I don’t have the patience for details, they drive me nuts.” Now this answer is closer to something deeper “why do I really get impatient with details?” which may uncover beliefs you hold about yourself and skills. Of course, this is only a very rough example, but I hope it shows the basic principle underneath.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be calm. Accept what you can’t change and change what you can.