Did you ever make a mistake? Of course you did. We all do. For as H.L. Wayland wrote, “The only people who make no mistakes are dead people. I saw a man last week who has not made a mistake for four thousand years. He was a mummy in the Egyptian department of the British Museum.”
Yes, we all make mistakes, but did you notice the difference between the mistakes you make and those that others make? You see, when we make a mistake, we usually consider it an ‘unavoidable’ or ‘honest’ mistake, but when someone else does the same thing, we tend to think it is an ‘inexcusable’ or ‘stupid’ mistake. Isn’t that odd? To better understand the subject and avoid making them, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes we make.
1. Judging Others. When we call someone’s mistake ‘stupid,’ we are judging them. That is, we are applying a label to them. And labels obscure and conceal reality. They make us blind to the goodness of others. They are also emotional, directing our attention away from rational thought. For example, take a look at these three sentences: He is an enthusiast. He is a zealot. He is a fanatic. Although the first sentence may be positive, the other two, especially the last, are tinged with emotions and may evoke suspicion, fear, and anger.
2. Ignore Our Own Mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to ignore our own. For mistakes are lessons to be learned, and when we stop learning, we stop growing. Confucius taught, “To make a mistake and not correct it — that, indeed, is a mistake.” In other words, if you make a blunder and learn nothing from it, it’s a mistake. But if you take a misstep and learn something, it’s a valuable lesson. The moral is, if we stop attacking the mistakes of others and start admitting our own, we will learn a great deal.
3. Fear of Making One. Some people are afraid to take chances. They are scared that if they make a mistake they will be ridiculed. The fear of making a mistake is a serious mistake because it hinders our progress. Not only does it stop us from growing, but it prevents us from discovering the glorious adventure that life is meant to be. Each moment that we hesitate to act because we don’t want to make a mistake and look stupid, another person is busy making mistakes, learning from them, and looking smart. We claim we want to be successful, but how is that possible without making mistakes along the way? Today, give yourself permission to make mistakes, for once you do, you have also given yourself permission to succeed.
4. Life Happens. Some people say, “Life happens. Stuff happens. Things happen.” In other words, “I can’t help what happens to me, it just happens.” That type of thinking makes us powerless victims. But the wise person says, “It is not life, stuff, or things that happen; it is consequences that happen. That is, it is the results of the choices I make that happen.” This realization makes us powerful, for if we don’t like what is happening to us, all we have to do is change what we choose to do.
5. Forget Everything Changes. Why do we forget life is synonymous with change? It is helpful to keep this fact in mind. For when we find ourselves caught up in unpleasant circumstances, remembering that “this too will pass” will give us the courage to move on. And when we are happy with our present state of affairs, remembering it may all change for the worse makes us prudent, alerting us to prepare for the unexpected. After all, tsunami, floods, fire, earthquakes, pandemics, hurricanes, and any number of other disasters may strike at any time.
6. Forget We Will Die. Of course, we don’t really forget we will die; we just suppress it. But if we were to remain aware of the frailty and brevity of life, we would behave differently. For example, in your dealings with others, how can you become angry, hold a grudge, or seek revenge knowing that they are on their deathbed? Have you no compassion? How can you procrastinate knowing that life is a candle flame about to be snuffed out by the wind? Would you rather live like a coward, suppressing thoughts of death, or face it and live courageously? If you are served delicious ice cream, don’t you want to enjoy it before it melts? So, too, does death remind us to cherish life while we have it and to enjoy its magnificence before it ‘melts.’
7. Afraid to Admit We’re Wrong. As long as we’re afraid to admit we’re wrong, we stop learning. And by refusing to admit our mistake, we appear like a fool, but when we admit it and learn from it, we prove that we are wise. Here is a useful, little ditty by Arthur Guiterman: “Admitting Error clears the Score
And proves you Wiser than before.”
8. Handling the Mistakes of Others Improperly. Rather than pointing out their errors, point out where the other person can find the truth. Would you rather be right and friendless or helpful and surrounded by friends? Don’t become upset by the mistakes of others. Give them the benefit of doubt; after all, they’re just doing their best under the circumstances. Besides, making mistakes is part of our nature. How can you become angry because someone acts like a human? What’s more, the mistakes of others are nothing more than opportunities for us to practice forgiveness, for as Alexander Pope wrote, “To Err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.”
9. Rashness. Don’t say or do anything before you think about it. The sting of hurtful words still remains after an apology. Resist acting on preconceptions, opinions, or unverified beliefs. Be thoughtful rather than impulsive, and if you want to have a safe landing, don’t jump to conclusions.
10. You Are Here to Serve Life. It’s Not the Other Way Round. Life is simply the Inexpressible expressing Itself. We are notes in the Symphony of Life. We are here to experience, enjoy, and add to it. Expecting the world to conform to us rather than us adapting to the world only leads to frustration, resistance, and unhappiness.
11. Not Watching the Words We Use. We program computers by typing program code, but humans program themselves with the words they think or speak. Think or talk about victory and you become victorious. Incessantly and morbidly think and talk about failure and your words will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, dragging you down to ruin. Watch what you say to yourself and others!
12. Not Getting Along with Others. When we fight rather than cooperate with others, we diminish our power and happiness. If we can’t get along with others, it is not because something is wrong with them, but because we haven’t mastered the incredibly important art of relationship building. If you have problems in this area, don’t waste another moment; go to your local library or bookstore and get a book on how to get along with others. Here are three examples of helpful books.
by Roberta M. Gilbert and Roberta Gilbert
Relationships 101 by John C. Maxwell
13. Delay Action. Some put off their plans because of fear of failure. Waiting for the perfect moment to start a new project doesn’t make sense because there will never be the ‘perfect’ moment. There will just be NOW. Either we use it or lose it. Jerry Gillies makes a good point: “I have made decisions that turned out to be wrong, and went back and did it another way, and still took less time than many who procrastinated over the original decision.” So, don’t delay; act today!
14. Giving Up Too Quickly. Farmers realize that it takes time and hard work before one can harvest the crops. But city folk who are accustomed to instant wireless communication, bullet trains, and computers, have little patience. They want things NOW. If they don’t reach their goals immediately, they abandon them. Aborted dreams scatter the landscape. How many doctors, engineers, authors, artists, and valued tradespeople do not exist simply because students gave up too quickly? The lack of persistence and its relation to failure has led someone to say, “Failure is the path of least persistence.”
15. Not Planning. How can life go according to plan, unless we first make a plan? Failing to plan is planning to fail. So, don’t start off each day wondering what will happen. When you have a plan in place and follow it, you will be able to predict your own successful future!
16. Failing To Realize The Value Of Mistakes. Although we want to avoid mistakes that will hold us back, don’t lose sight of the value and importance of the blunders we are likely to make. Here are two examples.
Tom asked Mary to marry him and she refused. After getting over his disappointment, Tom is forced to look for a new girlfriend, meets someone better than Mary; they get married and live happily ever after.
Harry is our second example. He got angry in the workplace, was fired, and couldn’t find another job. To survive, he was forced to go into business for himself. As the months passed by, Harry grew increasingly successful, and today he has 25 people working for him.
These two examples explain why Margueritte Harmon Bro said, “Sometimes what you want to do has to fail so you won’t.” Similarly, Henry Ford said, “Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”
17. Failing To Learn From The Mistakes Of Others. Heed this sage advice: “From the errors of others a wise man corrects his own.” (Publilius Syrus) And Samuel Levenson put it this way, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”
18. Justifying our mistakes. Often, rather than experience the pain of being wrong, we justify our actions by blaming others or outside events. Justification may take place on a sub-conscious level, so we have to beware of the fact we may lie to ourselves to avoid pain, shame, or embarrassment. Whether we avoid the truth consciously or subconsciously, the result is the same; namely, failure to profit from a learning experience. To avoid this from happening, rather than accept your mistake as ‘inevitable’, always be sure to look for something you can learn and benefit from in every blunder.
19. Expecting others to read our minds. People sometimes get disappointed, or even angry, at close friends, relatives or their spouse for not knowing what is bothering them. People are not mind readers, so if something is troubling you, speak up, but not in an accusatory way; rather, calmly explain how you feel and how you wish to have the ‘problem’ resolved. Work things out instead of keeping things in.
20. Not following our intuition. We sometimes act despite our gut feeling that it is the wrong thing to do. In other words, we don’t trust our intuition. Our intuition is nothing more than the voice of our inner wisdom, higher self, or inner guide, a powerful resource we all have. When in doubt, test your ‘hunches’ by following them and recording the results. With practice you will soon get to recognize the voice of your intuition and distinguish it from non-reliable self-talk.
22. Failure to recognize the true cause. Here’s a series of quotes to demonstrate how we often fail to recognize the true cause:
- “It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.” —Seneca
- “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”
- It’s not because they’re old that they have no sense of humor, but it is because they have no sense of humor that they are old.
- “Forgiveness: It’s not because they deserve it; it’s because you do. Sometimes forgiveness is about loving yourself enough to move on.” —Steve Maraboli
- “People cry not because they’re weak. It’s because they’ve been strong for too long.”
- “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” —Albert Einstein
- “If diamonds are forever, it’s not because they’re indestructible, but because our desire for them is.”
- Japanese wear face masks in public not because they’re afraid of catching your germs, but because they’re sick and don’t want anyone else to catch theirs.”
23. Neglect our health. Perhaps you heard someone say, “I’m too busy to exercise.”, “I have too many things to do to get 7 or 8 hours sleep.”, or “It’s too much of a hassle trying to eat healthy meals.” None of those statements make any sense. After all, our body is the vehicle we use to arrive at success, and if it isn’t maintained and well taken care of, it will break down, adversely affecting our achievements.
24. Procrastinating. Procrastination is the postponement of life, excitement, and success. Does that make any sense? Whenever you try to better yourself, you are likely to feel resistance, but just because you do, it doesn’t mean you have to stop whatever it is you wish to accomplish. The path forward is actually simple. All you have to do is follow this procedure:
- Acknowledge that whenever you wish to improve, you will feel resistance. Accept it.
- Acknowledge that your success and happiness are more important than feeling comfortable.
- So, even if you don’t feel like doing it, do what needs to be done.
- As you do so, you will discover it was far easier to do than you previously imagined.
- Each time you repeat these steps, it will become easier and easier to immediately start on whatever needs to be done.
Synopsis Of What We Need To Know About Mistakes
- Mistakes are the experience we need to become skillful
- Mistakes aren’t harmful until we refuse to correct them.
- We can hide our mistakes, but can’t escape from their consequences
- If you don’t correct your mistake, you’re making another one
- Mistakes are the gateway to discovery
- If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough chances
- You’ll never make a mistake if you always do your best
- The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future (Dale Turner)
If you have any problems with mistakes, it’s probably because you are not making enough of them. A serious mistake many of us make is to betray our potential because of our fear of making mistakes. Let’s resolve today to courageously and repeatedly step out of our comfort zone, take more risks, learn from our mistakes, benefit from the rewards, and enjoy the excitement life offers its adventurers.
Are their more than two dozen mistakes we need to be aware of? Of course! But I’ll allow this issue’s guest writers to add to the list…
- Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
- Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities by Arthur Freeman
- 10 Dumbest Mistakes Smart People Make and How To Avoid Them: Simple and Sure Techniques for Gaining Greater Control of Your Life by Arthur Freeman
- Self-Defeating Behaviors: Free Yourself from the Habits, Compulsions, Feelings, and Attitudes That Hold You Back by Milton R. Cudney and Robert E. Hardy
- Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again by Jeffrey E. Young and Janet S. Klosko
- 7 TED Talks on Learning from Failure
- 4 Reasons to Embrace Your Mistakes
- Ken Robinson – Creativity and making Mistakes
- Making Mistakes is Good