Wright Foundation | October 11, 2017

What Did You Learn From Your Mistakes Today? Celebrate Them!

How many of us have a fear of making mistakes? Don’t worry: all mistakes are worth learning from. They’re even worth celebrating!

Learn from your mistakes, because they are great teachers and deserve to be celebrated.

For perfectionists like me, making mistakes in life is really tough. We perfectionists avoid mistakes like the plague.

In school, I tried to avoid taking pre-tests. In fact, I absolutely dreaded them. It seemed awful to me—why test me on something I hadn’t learned yet? I only wanted to be tested on material I’d already learned to ensure I knew all the answers.

What researchers have discovered today is taking tests before we learn something actually helps us solidify a concept, because we learn from our mistakes when we retest. If we test before we study the material, we’re more likely to grasp the ideas presented the next time.

Many of us hold back because we have a fear of making mistakes, looking bad, being humiliated or looking silly. We’re afraid we’ll look stupid or others will judge us. But making mistakes in life is part of the adventure.

Mistakes are a critical part of learning and growing. Making mistakes is a key component of becoming more engaged in life.

And, why is engaging important? Engaging means we’re living life to the fullest. When we’re engaged, the pleasure centers of our brains light up. We learn faster. We’re stimulated. It’s as though our switch is flipped to “on.”

Engaging doesn’t mean being busy, running around with a jam-packed schedule, trying to fulfill ourselves with soft addictions (or even over-working). Engaging is about working smarter, not harder. It’s about facing challenges, finding learning opportunities and living fully in the moment – and yes, making mistakes! Engagement is about finding ways to fulfill our deeper yearnings.

When we’re engaged, we aren’t focused on a singular goal, making sweeping life changes or running away on a vacation. Engagement is about being present, focused and connected in all areas of our lives. Engaging comes from making mistakes in life. It comes from learning opportunities and growth. It comes from new experiences, emotions and connections.

If you want to be engaged, you must be ready to embrace AND learn from your mistakes.

What Mistakes Did You Make Today?

Sara Blakely, the Founder & CEO of Spanx famously tells the story of her father at the dinner table. Each day, he would ask Sara, “What mistakes did you make today?”

When she would report her mistakes, he would congratulate her—sometimes he would high-five her and say, “Way to go!”

In fact, Sara started to look forward to reporting her mistakes and talking about what she learned. By reframing mistakes as growth and learning opportunities, her father helped her realize the only true failure was in not trying. As long as she attempted to do something, she was out there making awesome mistakes, learning and growing.

In the world of parenting and education, one major focus these days is on “grit,” perseverance and learning from mistakes. These powerful tools of positive thinking are key components of success. As higher stress levels are observed in kids (and parents), one of the best coping skills we can model for our kids is how to reframe mistakes as growth opportunities.

Every mistake is a chance to learn and discover. It’s not about simply being willing to make mistakes or displease others. We must also celebrate the learning mistakes engender. If this strikes you as counterintuitive—if it seems like these actions will distance you from what you yearn for—understand that taking risks and failing is the best way to learn. And, in order to please yourself, you may have to displease other people. Your boss may not like it if you disagree with him, but to do the work in a way that has impact, you may have no other choice. Obviously, you don’t want to turn yourself into a mistake-making displeasing machine; this is a path toward failure and misanthropy. Fortunately, making a few key mistakes and taking a few stances that run counter to others you care about is usually sufficient to jump-start the learning process.

Transformed! The Science of Spectacular Living

Build Grit

Researcher Angela Duckworth explains grit as the perseverance needed for long-term goals. This is a major predictor in for success in all areas of life. Making mistakes and developing grit and perseverance are key approaches to engaging.

Engaging is focused, continuous involvement—what Duckworth calls “grit”—as opposed to fliting from one thing to the next. Often, we engage and then disengage. In other words, we see our engagement as temporary—a way to achieve a goal rather than to fulfill a deeper yearning to succeed, influence our world and be affirmed. With engaging we become totally involved in a work project, knowing that its successful completion will help us get a strong sense of personal fulfillment as well as a bonus or a promotion. By consistently engaging and reengaging, we develop the grit Duckworth says is marked by perseverance—a key quality we need to transform our lives.

Transformed! The Science of Spectacular Living

In other words, it’s not just that we should be willing to put ourselves out there to make and celebrate mistakes. We must be willing to fall over and over.

When we see gymnasts at the Olympics or runners at a race, we’re often struck by their prowess, beauty and talent. We see someone achieve an amazing feat and we’re totally in awe, right? We think, wow, they must have such talent.

What we don’t see is the hundreds of times they didn’t hit the mark. We don’t see the blisters they wore on their hands, the scraped knees for all the times they landed in the dirt. When we see them at the pinnacle moment of their career, they’ve arrived at it through hours of practice. They’ve achieved their goal because they were willing to make hundreds of mistakes along the way.

Mistakes tell us where we need to adjust. They help us gage how we will get back up and where we need to go to move closer to success.

Rather than avoiding mistakes, embrace them! Use perseverance, grit and mistakes as a platform to keep yourself engaging and reengaging. Each time you make a mistake, extract the lesson and embrace the growth opportunity. Ask yourself how you can learn from your mistakes and embrace that opportunity with a fresh perspective.

If we’re pushing ourselves to explore new endeavors, engage, play and live our lives to the fullest, we’re going to find plenty of opportunities to make mistakes in life. Rather than avoiding them, learn to enjoy them! Learn from your mistakes and instead of fearing what may happen, use them as an opportunity to become stronger and more resilient.

Mistakes are a vital part of learning. If you’re not screwing up, you’re holding back! So, go for it! Make mistakes to the fullest!

If you’d like to learn more about how to learn from your mistakes, embrace growth and engage more fully in your life, visit The Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming class or workshop to learn the many ways you can celebrate making mistakes, learn and grow!

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.