I hate making mistakes, don’t you? Wouldn’t life be just so much easier if we could always do it right the first time?
On the surface, yes seems like an ideal answer. But in reality, the answer is no.
Mistakes, if we allow them to be, are an essential part of our learning process. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.” While 10,000 is probably a much larger number of mistakes than most of us will ever deal with on one project, Edison used those 10,000 ways that will not work to find the one that ultimately changed the course of all our lives.
The important thing about mistakes is NOT to never make one, but rather to recognize when we do and to use it as a learning experience. Have you ever thought about how to learn from your mistakes? Or about how you turn that negative into the positive? Read on.
Be Courageous Enough to Risk Mistakes
The first thing you need to do is be courageous enough to allow for the possibility of making a mistake. If you aren’t willing to risk making a mistake, you aren’t doing much with your life. Playing it safe is not the road to success, nor is it the path to a fulfilling life. So, stop being afraid that you’ll make a mistake and get out there and live your life.
Once you do make a mistake, acknowledge it. Don’t waste time trying to justify it, rationalize it or create excuses for it. If it’s your mistake, accept the responsibility for having made it. Mistakes really are a natural consequence of life and of trying new things. In other words, mistakes are part of growth.
Admitting that you have made a mistake allows you to move forward. It prevents you from focusing on placing blame and allows you to begin understanding and learning instead.
So once you’ve accepted and acknowledged this mistake, what do you need to do next to learn from your mistake?
Analyze Your Mistake
You need to review what happened. Analyze the mistake. If need be, ask for feedback from others. The best people to seek feedback from would be those who participated in some day in whatever led to your mistake. Beyond that, ask trusted mentors, co-workers or those who may have been where you are now. If the mistake was part of a group project of some kind, ask each participant for their analysis and feedback on the project and what went wrong.
Don’t go overboard on the analysis. Spend just enough time to get the answers you need, recognizing that they may not necessarily be the answers you want—you know, the ones that stoke your ego and absolve you of all responsibility. Conduct your own analysis before reviewing the analyses of those you asked for feedback. This way, you get a more accurate assessment of your own feelings about the mistake, and not one colored by other opinions.
Your analysis, and the analyses of those you have asked for feedback should include these questions:
What went wrong?
What went right?
If you could have a do-over, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? And what would you not change at all?
What resources or preparation might have changed the outcome positively? How could you access those resources and that preparation before moving on to whatever is next or to rectify the mistake?
Determine How You Will Move Forward
Once you are able to review all of this information, make note and plan how you can use this information to improve yourself and to make your future attempts more successful. Also, plan how you can use what you have learned to teach someone else, so they can avoid making the same mistake.
And finally, don’t dwell on it. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t turn a mistake into a failure.
Failure comes only when we fail to learn from our mistakes—or when we allow our mistakes to stop our progress and become our total focus. I understand mistakes can be embarrassing. I have certainly made my share of them—and except I’ll continue to make more. But while embarrassment is painful, it rarely signals the end of a business or a career or a life.
Attempting to hide our mistakes or choosing to shift blame instead of admitting the mistake and learning from it however, can lead to more dire consequences. So instead of worrying about looking perfect, learn how to learn from your mistakes, and see how much more quickly you grow.
What experiences have you had in learning from your mistakes? Please share your thoughts, stories and lessons in the comment section below.