Marquita Herald: Why It’s So Hard to Learn From Our Mistakes

hiding from mistakesBy Marquita Herald, Emotionally Resilient Living, June 22, 2015

Want to become more courageous, confident, creative and successful? Make more mistakes!

There’s just one little problem, a disclaimer if you will, that is often glossed over in the sea of advice and rarely included in inspirational quotations praising the opportunities inherent with making mistakes … you must actually learn something from your misstep for it to be of value.

It’s not like we don’t have plenty of material to work with, after all we all make mistakes, but failure and mistakes rarely feel like a great learning opportunity at when they happen. And therein lies the rub, because most of us are far too busy denying or trying to distance ourselves from our mistakes to take the time to actually learn anything from them.

Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way … unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from. ~Al Franken

The Benefits of Learning From Your Mistakes

Following are just a few examples of the benefits to be derived from taking the time to learn from your mistakes.

  • You become more aware of your thoughts and behaviors.
  • You deepen your understanding of who you really are.
  • You learn to live without regrets.
  • You are better able to overcome fears, especially the fear of making mistakes.
  • You gain perspective on the things and people that matter most.
  • You learn to take responsibility.
  • You learn the value of compassion and forgiveness.

Accepting the importance of learning from our mistakes is one thing, but doing the actual work is another because it involves such things as facing our ego, taking responsibility and admitting vulnerability. But since the process is precisely where we often benefit the most, we’re going to focus on understanding the primary reasons we avoid accepting and learning from our mistakes.

The Biggest Stumbling Blocks

We Rationalize

Rationalization is the process of coming up with apparently sensible explanations for our behavior. For example if you’re like many people, you enjoy chocolate and eat it at every opportunity. You might tell yourself that chocolate has antioxidants and it boosts your mood, or that you’ve had a rough day and you deserve to treat yourself. Even though all of this may be true, it is not the real reason why you eat chocolate, it’s just a line of reasoning you use to feel better about eating something high in fat and sugar.

People often rationalize in this way by telling themselves stories to justify their mistakes, for example if they had had the right tools or information then they wouldn’t have … or, if so-and-so had done his job, then they wouldn’t have …, etc.

Rationalization is also used in conjunction with buyer’s remorse. Deep down we may know full well we’re making a mistake but we find ways to justify the decision. For example how buying the treadmill is going to help you get fit – never mind that it’s now gathering dust in your spare bedroom – it was on sale and you saved a ton of money, besides it was a bargain compared to a gym membership.

This line of reasoning comes to us naturally because we don’t want to feel bad or guilty so instead we get defensive and grasp for any possible reason for our actions that gets us off the hook.

We Convince Ourselves it Was Simply a Fluke

Often when we make a mistake we convince ourselves it was an aberration, a onetime event that happened because of bad luck, the stars aligned against us, or whatever. But the bottom line is we choose to put the experience behind us and move on as quickly as possible without trying to learn anything about the dynamics of the mistake because we assume it will never happen again.

This type of thinking is very common and includes behaviors like repeatedly putting off assignments to the last minute, repeatedly agreeing to avoid conflict, failing to listen fully, and dating the same oh-so-wrong-for-you type of people again and again.

Unfortunately, the effects of all these choices and tiny missteps can accumulate over time and morph into a full blown life crisis. Every person who was ever abused, cheated on or lied to can look back at the first time and realize that at that moment they crossed a line – they had a choice to stand up for themselves or ignore the implications, and hope for the best.

Sometimes mistakes happen even when we make all the right choices, but other times they are a signal that our internal self is trying to tell us there is something far more serious going on. The only way to get off the merry-go-round is to take the time to understand and learn from our choices and behaviors.

We Don’t Take Time to Understand What Went Wrong

Sometimes we recognize and take responsibility for the mistake, but never bother to understand why it happened. Mistakes are a reality check. Taking responsibility for the consequences of our mistakes is just the first step, but it puts us in a better position to do the work to understand what’s working–and what isn’t. If we choose to deny or move on for the sake of putting the event behind us we miss out on a powerful opportunity to learn about our behaviors, the things we say, do and think, particularly if it’s a recurring pattern.

Ironically we may not even fully appreciate some of the most important lessons we learn from our mistakes until later, sometimes much later.

If you can turn your mistakes into stepping stones, and your fears into courage, then anything you want in life is achievable. ~Author Unknown

I still vividly remember a mistake I made while working at a manufacturing company many years ago. As the office manager one of my responsibilities was the weekly payroll, and the company had just switched to a new automated system with our bank. I made a single digit coding error and triggered an entire payroll for hundreds of people off schedule! I could have blamed it on the new system, or the fact I’d just pulled an all nighter studying for a college exam, but the truth is none of that even occurred to me. I rushed into the owner’s office in a 3-alarm anxiety attack and blurted out that I had just massively screwed up. He could have reacted in any number of ways, including firing me, but instead he ushered me to a chair and handed me a glass of water as he attempted to calm my nerves and assure me there are in reality very few mistakes in life that aren’t fixable or qualify as true emergencies.

There were several things I learned from that mistake, but the most valuable lesson was the way the owner had calmly acknowledged my feelings, and assured me that life on this planet as we know it would not end because of my error. At the time the relief I felt helped to ease the guilt a little, but the truth was that experience changed me in ways I wouldn’t understand until years later.

In fact that experience had shifted my whole perspective on the value of forgiveness, as well as the importance of accepting ourselves as imperfect and yet worthy. Over the years I’ve often thought of that man and wondered what he would think if he knew how often I’ve repeated his words to soothe the frayed nerves others who have made mistakes.

Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules, leave the world more interesting for your being here. ~Neil Gaiman

Mistakes Don’t Define You – But They Can Free You

It’s not easy to own our actions and decisions, especially if you believe they make you look foolish to others, but you’ll never be able to learn from your mistakes until you do. Many people, especially after they’ve experienced a big mistake, will pull back and do whatever it takes to keep from repeating the experience.

This is such a terrible waste of your skills and talents, worse yet it robs you of the opportunity to achieve your full potential. You can’t grow if you don’t allow yourself to make mistakes. The best part about it is that when you muster the courage to risk, even if you don’t get the exact results you want, at least you tried – which is a lot more than most people. And best of all you won’t end up living a life of ‘What if?’ regrets. What if I’d tried, what if I’d said, what if only …

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.

ThanksThanks so much for taking the time to read my article and especially for sharing your brilliant opinions and stories in the comments below! If you found this post insightful, please take a moment to take advantage of the handy little social media buttons below to share with your friends and followers.

Everything about Emotionally Resilient Living is focused on the core mission of cultivating inner strength and learning to find the opportunities for growth in all of your experiences so you can truly take charge of your life! To learn more about ERL please visit the “About” page, and if you’re curious about me you might like to read My Story.

Here’s to living and loving your resilient life!

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