I don’t know about you but I’ve always been told that making mistakes was wrong. I can still hear my father warning me, when I was a child, again and again to be careful just in case I said the wrong thing or made the wrong decision. When I was growing up – and even in much of my adult life - it seemed that the worst-case scenario (failure) and the worst fate (punishment, pain, ostracism, etc.) awaited the person who made mistakes (me!). Of course, this petrified me and froze me to the spot. I didn’t want to stand out, I didn’t want to fail, be punished or to experience pain and I didn’t want to let others down.
But can we really stop ourselves from making mistakes? What if making mistakes was part of our make-up and was actually one of our greatest learning tools? I, and many others, believe so, however most cultures and, certainly our news outlets and social media (let’s know even discuss our legal systems and politics), don’t seem to agree. They promote the idea that we must avoid making errors at all costs or suffer seemingly (and often actual) dire consequences handed out by others or often worst by ourselves in the form of shame or guilt.
And what if making mistakes was actually one of the greatest learning tools available? Could we have gotten this wrong for so long? How many hours, days and even years would we have wasted fighting against one of our oldest human instincts?
Like everything else in life, it really depends on your perspective. And so, I would question the way we tackle our learning in general because making mistakes is surely one of the most important tools available, if only used properly and with respect.
Here are some others who think making mistakes should be viewed differently:
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” - Mahatma Gandhi (Lawyer, politician, activist, author)
“While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” - Henry C. Link (Psychologist)
“To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.” - Peter McWilliams (Actor)
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.” - Neil Gaiman (Author)
“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.” - Vincent Van Gogh (Painter)
It takes skill to engage effectively in this ‘making mistakes’ process. Firstly, your intent must be to get whatever you are attempting to do as right as possible in the first place. If you actually ARE trying to fail then that is an altogether different beast. Secondly, it is vitally important to forgive yourself. Remember that you were trying your best at the time with the information that you had at hand. That is also applicable when focus and distractions are factors. There is always a reason why we do what we do if you look back far enough. Furthermore, although we are taught that it is okay to make mistakes as long as you don’t repeat them – and that would be ideal, of course - not allowing ourselves additional bites at the cherry creates the same negative psychological environment that most of us were faced with at the beginning when we believed that it was sinful to err. Basically, we don’t need the extra pressure. By all means, let’s ask for advice. Let’s research more. Let’s try to do the best job that we can next time around and let’s be positive while we do it. We all deserve success.
The Oxford dictionary’s definition of mistake is: ‘An act or judgement that is misguided or wrong’ and ‘Something, especially a word, figure or act, which is not correct; an inaccuracy.’ It is interesting that misjudging, being misguided, wrong, incorrect or inaccurate are all dependent on the data the individual had at their disposal at the time, although one could, and should, also add their emotional state and personal philosophies to the mix.
We are all absolute experts in making mistakes unconsciously. There is still a lot of room for improvement, though, when it comes to the practice of learning, which includes the way we accept our mistakes and how to – in practical terms - turn them into experiences of personal growth. I have found that fear is the greatest boundary condition restricting us from pursuing our aims, goals and dreams. The fear of experiencing other emotions such as guilt and shame or of outright failure needs to be removed.
Studies show that individuals’ minds either perceive making a mistake as a ‘wake-up call’ and an opportunity to solve a problem or as a threat requiring us to recoil from the bad feeling. The determinant factor between which perception yours will have is what echoes of early childhood experiences and how serious they were still reside in your unconscious mind.
As a Neuro Linguistic Programming trained coach, specialising in self-esteem, I can help you remove the reasons behind those negative feelings and to set you free to adopt positive new strategies. These will enable you to enthusiastically and confidently take on any goal or challenge you choose knowing that making mistakes is part of the inevitable process for us all and an opportunity for personal expansion and, ultimately, happiness. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What could the world look like if we treated making mistakes with acceptance, compassion and understanding? Imagine a parenting and school system where children and students were confident they would be fully supported no matter what they did…