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The Power of Mistakes


“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”

- Confucious


We are all learning all the time, and according to David Kolb we learn through our experiences – all of them. We learn when things go right and we learn when things go wrong, and in truth we probably learn more when they go wrong.


There is an infinite amount of information available to us through our five senses. We filter this mass of intelligence to allow us to make sense of what is happening, and to help us decide what to do next in any situation. This filter consists of our core beliefs about the world and ourselves. Every single thing we experience helps to shape us and our belief system, and in doing so influences what we notice, what we give attention to, and how we respond.


When we are running negative core beliefs of not being good enough or being defective in some way, then we can fall into a distorted pattern of thinking called ‘selective evidence gathering’. This is a type of confirmation bias where we focus on things that fit our existing beliefs. When these existing beliefs are negative, we are more likely to view mistakes as a negative thing.


As children, if we were in trouble when we made mistakes, we will of course have learned that they are bad and to be avoided. We may carry this belief though into adulthood and continue to aspire to avoid mistakes at all costs. When we make them, which we will at some point, we are likely to automatically feel bad and even, in lieu of a parent, tell ourselves off.


How many times have you told yourself that you are stupid or an idiot?


How many time have you felt the weight of shame when you make a mistake? Or the horror that

you will be exposed as not capable or not good enough?


Who hasn’t projected themselves into a frightful future after making a mistake and catastrophised about what will happen next?


Who doesn’t ruminate about mistakes, going over and over what happened in a self-critical way?


This type of negative internal narrative reinforces negative core beliefs and further shapes our world view in a negative way. This then drives us to see more and more of our actions as mistakes, and the more we focus on it the bigger the mistake appears. We end up in a negative spiral of self-criticism that decreases our motivation and can leave us powerless.


The fear of making mistakes can paralyse us and keep us stuck in old unhelpful patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.


There is, in fact, huge power in making mistakes.


They are the product of creativity at work, of evolution. They occur when we are trying something new. If nothing ever goes wrong, then there is no driver for change and if we don’t change, we stagnate.


Mistakes promote healing and growth. They foster curiosity and they give us an opportunity to learn how to live gratefully. Lessons learned are the gift we receive when things go wrong. The saying ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ includes mistakes.


This is really all about mind-set. Changing how we think about mistakes will change how we feel about them and what we do in response to them.


Being grateful for our mistakes and taking on board all that they can teach is is a hugely positive way to think; it stimulates enthusiasm and prompts us to consider solutions rather than focus on problems. Positive thinking generates positive body chemistry and we feel hopeful and motivated rather than anxious and low.


As parents, teachers, or mentors, we have a great opportunity to foster such a positive response to mistakes in others. Instead of chiding and focusing on what has gone wrong, we can ask the questions:


“What have you learned?”

“What could you do differently next time?”


We can also ask those same questions of ourselves, rather than engaging in automatic self-doubt and criticism.


Mistakes are not failure, they are golden opportunities to learn and grow. When we choose to see them as this they lose the power to ever incapacitate us again.


Try this:


Follow our step-by-step guide to get the most out of your mistakes.

  1. Acknowledge mistakes and own them. Blaming others or external circumstances robs you off the opportunity to grow.

  2. Allow yourself to feel. Some will feel shame, horror, or fear. These are negative emotions that we must recognise and choose to let go of. Understand that they are only information from your body letting you know that something went wrong.

  3. Now press pause and become present.

  4. Engage in a breathing exercise, meditation, or physical activity to dispel the negative body chemistry.

  5. Evaluate what happened without the emotion and without projecting into an unknown fearful future. This is the time for facts.

  6. Find the lesson. How could you have done things differently? What might be better next time? Is there something you can do to repair the damage – for example do you need to apologise, do you need to get something fixed?

  7. Choose to be grateful for the lesson. In gratitude we convert adversity to a learning experience.

  8. Finally develop the habit of engaging your observer self so you notice the warning signs of a repeated situation in the future.

You can do this step-by-step process in different ways. If you are a writer use this and create a learning journal. If you are more verbal, talk it though with a trusted friend - someone who has earned the right to hear (Brene Brown). Others may prefer to make it a meditative exercise where you journey to meet your wisest teacher, or an older version of you who asks you those vital questions. However you chose to do it is right for you.


‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’ contains all you need to know to help you rise up every time you fall.

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