M is for mistakes
Updated: Jan 21
“It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault." "You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”
Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth) Everyone makes mistakes throughout their lives, but we are not our mistakes; our mistakes do not define us, it is our reactions to them that do. We can either allow them to build up fear and undermine our self-confidence or reframe our resistance, embrace them as feedback so we can learn and grow from them. Every mistake gives us the opportunity to reflect, learn new things and change; thereby helping us become more adaptable and resilient.
“You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t. You take the action, and the insight follows: You don’t think your way into becoming yourself.”
The word mistake derives its meaning and importance to us through comparison of our ‘result’, what we see as a success and what we actually wanted to achieve.
When we seek to avoid making mistakes through fear of failure, anxiety or embarrassment, we are our own biggest enemy. By experiencing mistakes we become aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and develop self-awareness.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Eleanor Roosevelt
From the day we were born we have learnt to do things by making mistakes ourselves or by observing and learning from other’s mistakes. Fear and any other ‘negative’ emotions stop us becoming the perfect version of ourselves. Fear tells us that we are getting out of our comfort zone and is a product of our runaway thoughts False Expectations Appearing Real. We need to feel the fear, the embarrassment or the anxiety, step out of our comfort zone and then try again i.e practise defusion. Mistakes are not failures. We only fail when we give up and stop trying. When we fail, we should simply consider it as our First Attempts In Learning
“If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” Mary Pickford
With every error that we make, we can ask ourselves ‘What is the lesson in this mistake? What can this teach me?’
“Learning by mistakes and not duplicating them is what life is about.” Lindsay Fox
Mistakes don’t often give us pleasure and it is definitely a challenge to see them as ‘wonderful opportunities for learning’ but they, and our reactions to them, make us unique and can clarify our aims and values.
Mistakes help to refocus our attention and work on possible solutions, our results help us to redefine what we want or expect, and by re-examining our values or goals this can lead us to more clarity about which direction we want to go to from that point.
“What is done cannot be undone, but at least one can keep it from happening again.”
Honesty is key. If we don’t take to notice our mistakes and admit them, to ourselves and others then we will not grow.
“You are likely to keep repeating the same mistake all over again if you do not agree it’s a mistake.” Israelmore Ayivor
It is all too easy to live and act in ways to avoid the risk of making mistakes; but in order to grow, we need to consciously choose to reframe our ideas about mistakes and become comfortable with taking some risks, expanding our comfort zones and see our mistakes and failures as signposts in our learning and growth as people.
“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts.” Nikki Giovanni
Positive things occur when we make mistakes:
Mistakes help us learn “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
Mistakes teach us self-awareness “Self awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.” Lawrence Bossidy
Mistakes teach us about humility “A mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant”. Anonymous
Mistakes give us courage if we admit them “A teachable spirit and a humbleness to admit your ignorance or your mistake will save you a lot of pain. However, if you're a person who knows it all, then you've got a lot of heavy-hearted experiences coming your way.”
Ron Carpenter Jr
Mistakes teach self-acceptance “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn't exist.....Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” Stephen Hawking
Mistakes teach us to persevere “Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.” J.K. Rowling
Mistakes give us reference points to move forward “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” Johnny Cash
Mistakes teach us how to experiment “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes, It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” Steve Jobs
Mistakes teach our brain to become creative “One who makes no mistakes makes nothing” Giacomo Casanova
Mistakes can teach us optimism“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” Thomas Edison
Mistakes give us experiences to refer back to “Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.” Oscar Wilde
Mistakes teach us resilience “Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.” Gever Tulley
Mistakes give us the opportunity to excel “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” Eloise Ristad
Mistakes make us wiser “We all have battles to fight. And it's often in those battles that we are most alive: it's on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love, and do purposeful work.” Eric Greitens
Mistakes make us more relatable and encourages better connections “No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.” Chris Hardwick
Last and but not least...
Mistakes help our brain to grow
“If you have the guts to keep making mistakes, your wisdom and intelligence leap forward with huge momentum.” Holly Near
Jason Moser is a psychologist who has studied the mechanisms that operate in people’s brains when they make mistakes. He found that we make a mistake, synapses fire. (A synapse is an electrical signal that moves between parts of the brain when learning occurs).
Moser found that when people make a mistake the brain can potentially respond in two ways:
‘ERN’ response, (increased electrical activity that is thought to occur when the brain experiences conflict between a correct response and an error regardless of whether or not the person making the response knows they have made an error) and ‘Pe’ (a brain signal that occurs when you are aware that a mistake has been made and you pay conscious attention to the error).
It is interesting to know that whether we are consciously aware of a mistake or not, the brain spark anyway possibly because there is a dissonance and the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth. Understanding the power of mistakes is critical therefore as mistakes are not only opportunities for learning, but also times when our brains grow.
There have also been studies that look at how the climate we are in can affect us when we make a mistake i.e. a mistake friendly (where mistakes are accepted as part of the learning process ) or a mistake unfriendly environment ( where there is ridicule or punishment) (See link to Gabriele Steuer below)
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What mistakes have you made recently? How did you feel? Did you try again or give up?
What have you learnt by making mistakes in your life?
What are you afraid to do for fear of making a mistake? What exactly are you afraid of?
Do you feel comfortable about admitting your mistakes to others? If not why not?
What strategies do you put in place to avoid making the same mistake again?
Do you make it easy for others to admit their mistakes and are you supportive of them when they do?
Can you look back at a mistake you have made in the past and find the good that has come out of it?
“Wisdom comes from making mistakes, having the courage to face them, and make adjustments moving forward based upon the knowledge acquired through those experiences.” Ken Poirot
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
Rob Dial podcast 819 (Do not negotiate with your mind) , 820 (Beating your fear of failure) 826 (How to beat your fears)
‘Mind Your Errors Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-Set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments’. Moser, J. S., Schroder, H. S., Heeter, C., Moran, T. P., & Lee, Y. H. (2011).
“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are here now with the power to shape your day and your future.” Steve Maraboli