How To Learn From Your Mistakes… And Put Those Lessons Into Practice
Mistakes are an inevitable part of life. If you go through every action you have taken since you woke up today, you might realize that you have already made one, or probably a few mistakes.
Some of them could be minor mistakes without any significant repercussions, such as noticing that the document you just sent to your boss had a typo in it.
Others are quite huge and could have quite some devastating repercussions.
For instance, in 2004, NASA’s Genesis Probe, which cost NASA over $260 million, crashed in Utah, all because an engineer had installed the probe’s accelerometers backwards.
Due to this backward installation of the accelerometers, the craft was unable to tell that it was descending into the earth’s atmosphere, and it therefore did not deploy its parachutes.
Regardless of the nature of mistakes, the only certain thing about them is that they are inevitable.
Every human being who has ever walked the surface of the earth has made their fair share of mistakes.
Like Albert Einstein once said, the only way to avoid making mistakes is to never attempt anything.
While all of us are prone to making mistakes, what matters is how we react to our mistakes.
You can either ignore your mistake – which makes you prone to repeating the same mistake – or you can choose to learn from the mistake, thereby reducing the likelihood of repeating the same mistake.
In this article, we are going to look at how we can learn from our mistakes and use these lessons to grow.
LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES
Below are some steps that will help you convert your mistakes into learning opportunities.
Accept And Own Your Mistakes
When mistakes happen, the default action for most of us is to find something to put the blame on.
Either someone didn’t give you certain information, the circumstances were not what you expected, someone did not play their part, and so on.
In most cases, however, the mistakes are actually our fault.
By looking for someone or something to blame, we are actually trying to absolve ourselves of the guilt and accountability for the mistake.
Unfortunately, by not accepting the mistakes as our responsibility, we take away our ability to learn from the mistakes.
Placing the blame on something else makes the mistake seem out of our control, and therefore, we do not take any action to try to prevent it in future.
After all, how can you prevent something that is not within your control?
If you want to learn from your mistake, the first thing you need to do is to accept and own the mistake.
Reflect on what happened and consider if there is something you could have done to prevent it from happening. If you had a chance to stop it from happening, take responsibility for the mistake.
If someone was hurt or inconvenienced for the mistake, let them know it was your fault, apologize for it, and let them know that you are taking action to either rectify the mistake or to ensure that it will never happen again.
Owning and taking responsibility for a mistake might be a hard thing to do, but it shows that you are a courageous person and a person of integrity.
It gives people confidence to trust you despite the mistake, because you have already shown that you are someone who is not afraid of being accountable for his or her actions.
Change Your Perspective Of The Mistake
By their very nature, mistakes are negative because they lead to negative results.
Therefore, when we make mistakes, we automatically view ourselves in negative light. We berate ourselves for the mistakes. We label ourselves stupid for allowing the mistake to happen.
However, this negative self-talk is not helpful in any way. It doesn’t help us rectify the mistake, and neither does it help us take any lessons from the mistake. Therefore, you need to stop this negative self-talk from happening.
To do this, you need to change your perspective of the mistake. Instead of viewing it as a negative occurrence, think of it as an opportunity to learn.
For instance, think about when you were a small kid learning how to ride a bicycle.
When you grabbed the brakes too hard, you fell off the bike, and this taught you that you should never grab the brakes too hard whenever you are riding at a high speed.
You didn’t think you were stupid for not knowing this. Instead of discouraging you from riding, this ultimately made you a better rider.
Similarly, whenever you make a mistake, instead of giving yourself negative labels, reframe the error and try to identify what the mistake is trying to teach you.
Try to think what you can do to prevent the mistake from occurring again. This is the lesson contained in the mistake.
To be able to reframe your perception of the mistake, you need to adopt the growth mindset.
People with a growth mindset believe that it is possible to grow and get better at anything they attempt, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that it is impossible to improve and grow.
Analyze Your Mistake
Once you have accepted and taken responsibility for your mistake, the next step you need to take is to carefully go through the mistake and analyze it.
First, think about what you were trying to do. Had the mistake not happened, what result were you trying to achieve?
Next, determine what went wrong.
What is it that prevented you from achieving the result you were aiming for?
This allows you to identify the specific action that was a mistake. Remember, a mistake is not an unexpected or an unwanted result, but the action that led to the unwanted result.
Finally, try to determine the cause of the mistake. Why did things go wrong? What is it that triggered you to make an error or take the wrong action? Mistakes can be caused by a number of different things.
Sometimes, we make mistakes because we have not clearly defined what we are trying to achieve. Other times, mistakes occur because we don’t have enough information to allow us make the best decision on what action to take.
Sometimes, mistakes happen because of poor communication. Yet other times, mistakes happen because the conditions under which a decision was made changed before action was taken. Sometimes, mistakes can be attributed to bad habits.
Take the time to find out which of these factors led to the mistake. Sometimes, you might even notice that a mistake happened as a result of not one, but several of these factors.
Analyzing the cause of your mistake makes it easier for you to prevent the mistake from occurring again in future.
For instance, if the mistake happened as a result of poor communication with your boss, you might decide that in future, you will always seek clarification on any assignments to make sure similar mistakes are not repeated.
If the mistake happened because of some bad habit of yours, you will need to take action to get rid of this habit in order to prevent you from making the same mistake again.
Ask For Advice On Difficult Problems
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to analyze your mistake, you might not be able to pinpoint the root cause of the mistake, or what you need to do in order to prevent the mistake from happening again.
This could be because you do not have the necessary knowledge or experience to analyze the situation properly. In such instances, the best way to learn from the mistake is to seek the help of someone with the right knowledge, skills or experience.
Therefore, if you realize that a mistake has happened, but have a hard time figuring out what the actual mistake was, or what triggered the mistake, do not be afraid to seek advice from someone more knowledgeable than you.
Develop A Plan To Help You Grow From The Mistake
The ultimate goal of learning from a mistake is to make sure that the mistake doesn’t happen again.
Therefore, now that you have analyzed the mistake and identified what led to the mistake, the next step is to figure out how to apply what you learnt in the previous step to make sure that the mistake doesn’t happen again.
For instance, if you determined that the mistake happened due to lack of information, find out what kind of information is necessary in order to avoid the mistake in future, and then put in place a plan to make sure that this information will always be available.
If the mistake happened due to poor communication, put in place a plan that will ensure that all the information about what is required is properly communicated before embarking on a task or project.
If something does not seem clear, seek clarification from your boss or from the client instead of making assumptions.
If a mistake occurred because you did not have the necessary tools or resources to get the work done properly, come up with a plan that will ensure that you have these tools and resources the next time you need to work on a similar task.
Sometimes, mistakes might happen because of some personal trait that might be difficult for you to change at the snap of a finger.
For instance, if your organizational skills are not very remarkable, you cannot just will yourself to have better organizational skills.
However, you can use aids such as digital planners and digital assistants to keep yourself more organized, which will in turn keep you from making mistakes again due to your subpar organizational skills.
Make It Harder To Make Mistakes
Very often, our mistakes are caused by some of our bad habits. We know that we have these bad habits, and we promise ourselves that we will drop the bad habit that leads to these mistakes.
However, the mistakes keep occurring over and over.
This is because we rely solely on our willpower to help us drop these habits. As you might have already found out, this is not a very effective strategy.
If you want to drop the bad habits contributing to your mistakes, you need to come up with a way of making it harder for these habits to play out.
For instance, let’s say that you have noticed that one mistake you are consistently making is going to morning meetings unprepared.
After analyzing your mistake, you realized that the root cause of the mistake is the fact that you always get to work late, which is in turn caused by your habit of snoozing your alarm for an extra 10 or 15 minutes each morning.
Since this is an ingrained habit, simply willing yourself to stop hitting the snooze button every morning might not be very effective.
Instead, you need to make it harder for you to hit the snooze button. To do this, you can choose to leave your alarm clock just outside your bedroom door.
This means that you have to wake up and get out of bed in order to hit the snooze button.
After getting out of bed, it will be much harder to go back to sleep again. Alternatively, you can use an alarm clock app that requires you to solve a puzzle before you can stop or snooze the alarm. This forces your mind to be fully alert before hitting the snooze button.
This means it will be harder for you to get some extra minutes of sleep, and therefore, you’ll stop being late at work.
The above is just one example. Figure out what bad habits contribute to your mistakes, and then come up with a way to make it harder for these habits to happen.
Review Your Progress
The only way to tell if your chosen tactic of reducing your mistakes is working is to review the progress you are making.
Periodically the review the nature of mistakes you make and how often you make them. If you notice that you are making the same mistakes as often as you did before, this means that your tactics are not working, and you will therefore need to change your approach.
A good way to review your progress is to have an accountability partner to call you out every time you make a mistake.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES?
Aside from making sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes, there is a lot more we can learn from our mistakes.
Some of the powerful lessons we can learn from our mistakes include:
Mistakes Can Teach Us To Be More Confident In Ourselves
Like we saw earlier, mistakes often lead to negative self-talk and cause us to give ourselves negative labels. Unfortunately, this can have the unintended effect of lowering our self-confidence and our self-esteem.
Learning to acknowledge our mistakes and treat them as learning opportunities stops this tendency to berate ourselves for our mistakes.
It teaches us that mistakes are a normal part of life and an essential part of growth.
This shift in mindset can teach us to be more confident in ourselves despite our mistakes.
Mistakes Teach Us How To Accept Responsibility
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that whenever we make a mistake, our first instinctive reaction is to find a scapegoat to take the blame for our mistake.
Unfortunately, always blaming other people and external circumstances for your mistakes makes you less trustworthy and less reliable. People want to work with people who are not afraid to be accountable for their actions.
Learning from your mistakes requires that you take responsibility for your role in the mistake, which can quite an empowering feeling.
This ability to accept responsibility in turn makes you more trustworthy and increases other people’s confidence in you.
Mistakes Show Us What Works… And What Doesn’t
The story of Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb is a very good illustration of the importance of mistakes.
As the story goes, Edison finally succeeded in inventing the light bulb after 1000 tries. Asked why he kept going even after failing so many times, Edison answered that he had not failed. Instead, he had found 999 ways that did not work.
Even though you are not trying to invent the light bulb, Edison’s insight is very much true today as it was in the late 1800s.
When you make a mistake while attempting to do something, what you are actually getting is feedback about what works and what doesn’t.
Armed with this feedback, your chances of getting it right the next time you attempt to achieve whatever you were aiming for are much higher, because you know what to concentrate your effort on, and what not to do.
Mistakes Teach Us To Live Our Life To The Fullest
Since they often lead to unwanted, negative results, people do everything within their ability to avoid making mistakes.
However, the most effective way of avoiding mistakes is to not do anything, and therefore, in a bid to avoid mistakes, a lot of people do not get to live their lives to the fullest.
They don’t try new things, they don’t take chances, and they don’t entertain new possibilities. Unfortunately, this can lead to a very dull and boring life.
Once you stop seeing mistakes in negative light and start seeing them as opportunities to learn and grow, you stop being afraid of them.
You go after new opportunities, you try new things, you chase after new experiences, and you take more risks.
This attitude – seeing mistakes as a chance to grow, rather than as something that holds you back – allows you to live your life to the fullest.
Mistakes Teach Us To Be People Of integrity
While there are several reasons why mistakes occur, they sometimes occur because we fail to be people of integrity.
Because we fail to keep promises we have made to others. Because we fail to do things we committed ourselves to. Because we opt to ignore problems to avoid conflict, instead of facing the problems and resolving them. These mistakes happen to remind us that our words and our actions are not aligned.
Avoiding the repetition of such mistakes requires you to bring your words and your actions back into alignment.
It requires that you keep any promises you make to others. It requires that you do everything your commit yourself to.
Learning from your mistakes also requires you to take responsibility for your actions. All this ultimately develops your character and integrity.
Mistakes Teach You To Be Resilient
Regardless of how well you prepare for it, life rarely ever goes according to plan. It is full of obstacles and setbacks.
The difference between those who make it in life and those who never amount to much lies in their resilience.
Whereas some people give up when the going gets tough, those who make it in life keep trying until they eventually make it.
Learning from your mistakes and rectifying them requires that you go back to the drawing board, identify what went wrong, and come up with ways to fix the mistake.
It requires you to try different possible solutions and keep trying until you figure out how to resolve the mistake and avoid repeating it in future.
In so doing, mistakes teach you how to be resilient, which is a key skill in life.
Mistakes are an inevitable part of life, and try as much as you can, you will no doubt make lots of mistakes in life.
What matters is not the mistakes you make, but how you react to these mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up whenever you make mistakes, treat them as opportunities to learn and grow, both as a person and in your career.
To do this, you need to change your post-mistake actions. Whenever you make a mistake, take the following steps:
- Accept and own the mistake
- Change your perspective of the mistake
- Analyze the mistake
- Ask for advice on difficult problems
- Develop a plan to help you grow from the mistake
- Make it harder for you to make mistakes
- Review your progress
Do this and your life will definitely become more interesting.
You will stop being afraid of taking risks, you will stop being held back by your fear of mistakes, and most importantly, you will be able to keep growing and become the very best version of yourself.
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