Mistakes. I’ve made a few. But unlike ole blue eyes in the classic song, unfortunately they haven’t been too few to mention.
Here’s what I’ve learned about making mistakes.
- We all make mistakes. Yes, every single human on the planet has made mistakes of one kind or another. Big. Small. Catastrophic. Life ending. Microscopic. Forgettable. The only thing that differs from person to person and mistake to mistake is the features of the mistake and what the person did with them.
- If you anticipate mistakes, we know that your success is going to be higher. Sounds paradoxical, even ironic, but that’s what the research says. That we are more likely to succeed if we have imagined possible mistakes and failure, and thereby increase our tolerance to it – to the very idea of mistakes and failure and to actual mistakes and failure when they happen. Which they will. This Mistake Anticipation behaviour also works because we are much less shocked when mistakes happen because we’ve been expecting and anticipating them. We just haven’t known when or how the mistakes will occur.
- How you respond to mistakes when you make them makes all the difference in the world to how much remorse and regret, and embarrassment and even shame, you experience about those mistakes. If you have been anticipating some form of mistake to occur, then it’s easier to manage those mistakes when and how they come.
- People will a strong and sincere sense of their innate self-worth (and I’m not talking about an artificially inflated sense of their value, which happens when we self-aggrandize and see ourselves as the centre of the world), are much more likely to forgive themselves quickly for any mistakes they make.
- One of my favourite quotes about mistake making is from a movie and is “In a hundred years, who’ll care?” To me this doesn’t refer to the disingenuous dismissal or discounting of real mistakes and their impact, as some might read it. Instead this is a way to properly put mistakes into perspective and see them in a context that is much larger than yourself. In a hundred years, you won’t be alive, so your mistakes surely won’t matter.
- Three ways to manage mistakes when you make them are:
- Firstly and simply, be mindful of your thoughts and feelings about your mistake – just notice them, acknowledge them and be with them. Don’t try to change them or make your thoughts and feelings mean anything more than they do.
- Secondly, recognize that nobody is perfect, including you. Mistakes happen. In fact, mistakes, failure and setbacks are an expected part of the process. So now you’ve made a mistake, we’ve practically been waiting for it. There – it’s happened. This, too, should not be weighted with additional meaning and value. It just is.
- Finally, turn to encouragement and acknowledgement, instead of blame and criticism. Be your own best friend. Exercise self-forgiveness and self-kindness. You’ve discovered another element to your humanity. Welcome to club human.
- Mistakes are an opportunity to learn, to grow, to change. This is why they should be anticipated, even welcomed. Without mistakes, growth is not possible.
- The same mistake made more than once signals an inability or unwillingness to learn, to grow and to change. The same mistake made more than twice signals a serious inability or unwillingness to learn, to grow and to change. To the degree that you could imagine such a person has a case of serious head-in-the-sand-itis, is brittle and belligerent, or is so committed to not learning anything – about themselves and how they are in the world – that they’d sooner keep making the same mistakes over and over than to change, grow or learn.
- Some mistakes have bigger consequences and fall out than others, this is true. Losing $100 at the slot machines is a mistake (if that’s how you view it) on a much smaller scale and consequence than losing $100,000 to an investment conman. Big mistakes with big consequences can hurt a lot.
- No matter the size of the mistake you’ve made, or its consequence, you still have innate worth as a human being, and redemption, healing and change is possible. Not guaranteed – but possible. There is no mistake too big on the face of the earth that there is no redemption for.