How to stop mistakes from crushing you

Are you mistake proof yet?

Immune from things like burning dinner, or running late for work? Immune from more cringe worthy moments like forgetting to make your kids lunch, or blurting out something embarrassing in front of your boss? No more “oopsies” moments like forgetting to save your work before your computer resets?

I didn’t think so. I’m not either. Some days it feels like I make 5 mistakes before breakfast.

Somehow no matter how sophisticated we think we are, mistakes have a habit of leaping out at us yelling…”Gotcha”. There is no vaccination against mistakes when you are human. The potential for mistakes of all kinds is hard wired into our existence.

So why do we at times fool ourselves into thinking we should be mistake proof? Mistake proof in relationships? Mistake proof at work? Mistake proof in life?

True, some mistakes are truly devastating and catastrophic. These types of mistakes need preventing, skills training, quality improvement activities, and sometimes investigations to ensure they never happen. I’m not talking about these types of “Capital M” Mistakes.

I’m talking about the many simple and common “small m” mistakes we can and do make. Mistakes where nobody will die, no long term harm will occur, and the only thing that really suffers is our own expectation of perfection.

These types of mistakes may be “small”, sometimes so small nobody else even notices. Yet we can react as if they really are catastrophic. We blame something, anything…someone else, the system, the stupid computer, God, the universe…or ourselves.

Blame definitely has its uses. It is easy to do and seductively simple. Blaming anything, something, someone or ourselves means we don’t have to stop to think about the real reason why we made a mistake.

If we stop to think, we may realise things like we are over committed and have lost sight of the importance of friendships. Or maybe our habit of blurting things out is because we don’t take a moment to think how our words will sound out loud. Or maybe we burnt dinner one too many times because we spend too much time on the phone, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Or maybe we are so absorbed in our thoughts we forgot to save our work. Hmmm.

And these are things we can do something about. Identifying these things is not blame. It’s part of the process of refining ourselves to be better people.

But identifying and correcting these root causes of many of our mistakes can be very confronting, challenging and hard work. So we take the short cut to blame instead. Blame stops us from growing, it stops us from problem solving, and stops us from experimenting with creative pathways to real solutions. And experimenting is where the magic comes in – even if you’re not a scientist.

As one of my kids once told me, an experiment is where you get to try things, make mistakes…and learn from them. Ah the wisdom of children.

Seeing your life and work as an experiment means each mistake is no longer devastating or catastrophic. This type of mindset oriented to growth keeps you learning and improving every day. Sure, mistakes aren’t comfortable. But each mistake made by you…and others… now becomes a valuable result or insight that can help you design the next experiment. And each experiment brings you one step closer to where you want to be, and the life you are trying to create.

When we view life as an experiment we can begin to honour our mistakes instead of running away from them. We can see each mistake as a clue waiting for us to interpret. When we experiment we can put our scientist and detective hats on and use each mistake to drive us to achieve our own peak performance, our own personal best.

We can find amazing things about ourselves we didn’t know were there, and amazing things about others we didn’t know were there. And we can find the strength to pick ourselves up and move on without resorting to blame.

And that is a path to real and lasting growth, ongoing personal improvement and a much more authentic and meaningful life.

Isn’t that worth the challenge? Isn’t that worth the effort? I think so.

So think about it. How do YOU do mistakes?

Dedicated to GD and DBL who inspired this post in the first place

Originally published on a dormant blog as “How do you do mistakes”

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