7 Steps to Learn from Mistakes and Grow as a Person
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“Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment.”
This quote has been attributed to a variety of speakers and there are multiple variations of it floating around. However, without knowing who said it, its meaning is still clear.
Think about a good decision you made recently. When you made this confident decision, did your confidence stem from prior experience with trial and error that helped you learn how to do something right?
We make mistakes every day, and while they aren’t all life-changing or earth-shattering, they always exhibit an example of what not to do next time. Even if you take the time to thoroughly analyze your options and you think you’re making the right choice, you don’t always end up with the result you wanted or anticipated. However, there is always an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
You would think that having this mindset would allow people to embrace mistakes because mistakes open the door for improvement and help people refine their skills, however, we tend to live with a sense of fear surrounding the possibility of messing up in some way. And, in addition to trying to avoid making mistakes, we often try to cover them up when they occur.
We see mistakes as being problems rather than being stepping stones to finding solutions. In doing so, we avoid taking responsibility for our errors–and therefore miss the chance to learn something new. Further, society teaches us to feel guilty about failure and to do anything possible to avoid making mistakes.
The inevitable feeling of moving backward from your goal in addition to this sense of shame that is offered by society explains why a lot of people simply give up on their goals–they’re unprepared to handle the failures they’ll face along the way while trying to make progress.
A few years ago, I made a mistake in judgement that still impacts me to this day. I had been running every morning and an old injury in my ankle started to resurface. I thought it would be fine to run through the pain and it would go away within a few hours. The next day, I went for my normal run–again, disregarding the pain.
It wasn’t long into that second day before my ankle was swollen and I could hardly walk due to the pain. It was clear that I would not be running for quite some time while my old hairline fracture healed.
What was the lesson I learned? Well, aside from stopping my habit of running seven days a week, I now make sure to give myself thorough breaks throughout the week (whether I’m injured or not), and I ensure that I am completely healed before getting back to running if I ever do have an injury.
I’m glad I got some insight from this mistake–because if I hadn’t, I may have become even more injured–possibly to the point of not being able to run in the future.
In this article, I am going to talk about the value of learning from your mistakes and show you how making mistakes can be the most effective way to educate yourself. Then I will give you a 7-step process demonstrating how you can learn from each major mistake that you make.
What You Will Learn
Why Should You Learn From Your Mistakes?
If you’re like me, when you think about being successful, you envision reaching your final goal–crossing that finish line, getting that promotion, signing the closing papers for your new house…
However, the process leading up to these moments is often looked over. But change only occurs after a mistake is made. There is a transformation process that takes place as you move forward toward your goal that has to involve at least some errors.
The hard part here is learning to embrace the chaos that can be a part of making progress. However, if you can accept the messy part of change, you will be better equipped to learn from your mistakes and set yourself in motion toward success.
Even from an early age, teachers are now allowing students to make mistakes and experience rejection in order to build resilience and feel a stronger sense of motivation to succeed. The goal to help children develop coping skills also allows them to institute strategies to reflect upon their mistakes–both in school and in their social lives. Children cannot be innovative if they’re afraid of failure–and experimentation, investigation, and discoveries all rely on finding multiple wrong answers until the right solution finally surfaces.
As adults, we also need to be able to take those risks and be willing to make mistakes until the right decision comes along. Life experience is the best teacher you will have for making future decisions. Experience can come from mistakes, miscommunication, confusion, oversight, and anything else that leads you to make an adjustment in your life for the future.
What’s more is that the more challenging your goal is, the more mistakes you will make. Also, when it comes to more challenging goals, it will be increasingly difficult to handle any setbacks. This means that the larger your objectives are, the more you will be depending on your ability to move past and learn from your mistakes.
Mistakes often serve as motivation to learn. After making a mistake, you may find that you’re more open to feedback, as you’re no longer under the impression that your method was the best way or the only way. Instead, you find yourself to be more receptive to new perspectives out of necessity. After you experience the inevitable regret of your mistake, you will have the motivation to change your process.
Studies have actually shown that we have an “error memory”, which reminds you to perform motor tasks differently in the future after making a mistake. Your mind develops a motor memory through trial and error and positive reinforcement. This particular study demonstrates that when you’re skilled at a motor task, it is partially due to the fact that your brain recognizes the mistakes it has experienced before, which suggests that your mind automatically learns from your mistakes, whether you are trying to or not.
While it may take several repetitions of the same mistake until a lesson is learned, repeating poor decisions can help ensure that you recognize good judgement in the future and make it a fixture in your life.
Also, taking responsibility for your mistakes is an imperative part of learning from them. As soon as you admit to your mistakes and hold yourself accountable, the learning process will start. However, you can also learn from other people’s mistakes. This can be especially helpful because it allows you to observe another person’s actions in an objective way and then make a judgement of how you would have done things differently.
Mistakes come in many forms–some can be deadly, some can lead to the loss of money or friends, and others have few consequences and are often overlooked. But no matter what type of mistake you make, you should analyze the reasoning behind it to keep it from happening again. Feeling ashamed of making a mistake or trying to deny that it occurred will interfere with your ability to learn from it.
But how do you learn from mistakes?
Let’s look at 7 steps that you can take to learn from mistakes and grow as a person.
1. Acknowledge Your Mistakes
In order to learn from mistakes, you have to own up to them. Oftentimes, people look to blame others for their errors or they try to minimize their perceived responsibility in it. But acknowledging your mistakes doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal–you can just admit fault and move on.
Some people might fear appearing to be weak, however, not admitting your mistakes makes you look even worse and can possibly lead to a loss of respect from others. Admitting your mistakes will help you earn the respect of the people around you. Accept your responsibility in any poor outcome–whether it was completely your fault or you simply contributed to it. Sure, this can be uncomfortable, but until you’re ready to admit that you messed up, you’re not ready to make a change.
2. Have Compassion for Yourself
Don’t beat yourself up over making a mistake. Rather, show yourself some compassion, which will help keep you motivated to continue to move toward your goal. In fact, research has found that having compassionate acceptance of your own mistakes can boost your determination to reach your goals.
It’s true that laying on the couch all day watching television won’t help you finish that big work project. But ruminating over it won’t help either. Take the chance to let go of your poor choice, offer yourself compassion, and consider what made you waste your day and the realistic impact it will have on your progress. What was the unmet need that led you to lie around all day? Were you low on sleep or alone time? How can you take care of yourself better in the future to prevent this? Having a bit of compassion will help you make the best out of a situation and use it to benefit you in the future.
3. Ask Yourself the Hard Questions
While still showing yourself compassion, you need to reflect upon your mistakes in order to be productive. Consider things such as what went wrong and what steps you could take in the future to do a better job. Think about the specific lessons you’re taking away from your mistake and how you may be able to apply those lessons to other areas of your life.
Write down your thoughts in order to gain clarity on the situation. Writing down your answers to these questions can improve your logic regarding a nonsensical or emotional experience because doing so will allow you to see on paper the things that you need to do in the future and the positive lessons that you’re walking away with. This will also help you understand your mistake, which is a critical component of being able to learn from it. There is not much worse than trying to fix a mistake that you don’t understand–and you’re likely to only make things worse.
4. Change Your Mindset
Moving away from an improving mindset and into an expansion mindset is a point that people commonly miss. When you make a mistake, stop viewing your ultimate success as perfecting one skill, and embrace a larger perspective of living a fulfilling life by expanding all of your knowledge.
To do this, look at your mistakes through a perspective that views the larger vision that you have for your life. This will help you see your mistakes in a more realistic proportion–which is likely not as big of a deal as you initially believed. This will help you let go of the loss, reaffirm your vision, and keep pushing forward.
“Success” to you may be finishing running a mile in seven minutes, but this is ultimately a performance goal that focuses in on one particular skill that you are aiming to improve over time. As you make mistakes throughout your life, alter your mindset to grow outward rather than just up. Open yourself up to accept a larger picture that pays attention to expansion instead of just perfection. Allow your mistakes to remind you of the bigger picture that you’re aiming for and exactly what you want your achievements to look like.
5. Create a Plan
As you’re thinking about how you can improve in the future, make a plan that will prevent you from repeating a mistake. Be as detailed as you can, but you have to stay flexible while you’re implementing the plan.
For example, my plan to try to avoid another running injury is to give myself at least two days off from running each week and spending that time doing cross training or weight lifting instead. Additionally, if I ever feel my ankle beginning to ache, I will rest it for two additional days after I am no longer in pain.
This plan will help prevent me from overdoing it on my ankle, which kept me off the road for six weeks when I made the mistake of continuing to run through the pain. I may need to be flexible in this plan if I feel like the pain is particularly sharp by adding a few more days of rest–and I am willing to do this in order to stay on top of my running goals in the end.
Creating a plan for yourself may involve finding an accountability partner or using an app to track your habits–but no matter what, it has to be an effective way to hold yourself responsible. And, you have to keep in mind that different things work for different people. While one person may be motivated by an app, another may find it easy to keep that same app in the background of their phone and rarely open it.
6. Make it Difficult to Mess Up
Let’s say that you’re trying to get into the habit of running. Your alarm goes off every morning at 5:30 and every single morning you want to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. Doing this is obviously a mistake if you’re trying to reach the goal of becoming a runner. You have to stop making excuses if you want to see results.
Don’t solely depend on your willpower to prevent you from taking shortcuts or succumbing to instant gratification. Instead, increase your chances of success by making it difficult to make a mistake. For example, set your running clothes out the night before–or, better yet–sleep in your running clothes. Have your water bottle already in the fridge and ready to go in the morning and your running shoes set out by the door. Being this prepared will help motivate you to get out of bed because you have already put in so much effort to prepare for your morning run.
7. Teach Other People
Learning by teaching has been proven to be very effective. You will reaffirm what you know when you make the choice to help other people learn from your mistakes. When you make an error, make it a point to teach what you learned to other people who could find the lesson to be valuable. Not only will this help you build trust with others, it will cement the lessons you’ve learned into your own mind.
While you can’t change the mistakes that you have made, you can choose how you will respond to them. It is important to recognize that mistakes are inevitable and living by trial and error is part of our natural evolution. Growth will start as soon as you recognize and admit your mistake and make the appropriate efforts to uncover what went wrong.
Follow these steps to learn from mistakes and grow as a person. When you start looking at your errors as opportunities for growth, you will see them as a necessary learning experience rather than a form of failure.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.