When things go wrong, it can be tempting to throw in the towel. But before you do that, consider the ways you can turn mistakes into valuable lessons
We’re all familiar with the stomach-sinking feelings that come with the realisation that we’ve got something wrong. It could be at work, in our relationships, or out and about in the world – and big or small, these things can stick with us.
Neurologically speaking, there’s a lot going on in our brains when we put a foot wrong. In a 2018 study, neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology traced how mistakes set off a chain reaction of brain activity and, rapidly, the brain lights up with the kind of activity that deeply encodes information.
But while the face-palming, cringing, and frustrating feelings that accompany mistakes aren’t generally pleasant, there are positives to our missteps.
“Mistakes can add huge value to our lives, and everyone has made at least one mistake in their lifetime,” says life coach Adam Craft. “Mistakes are our opportunity to grow and to gain knowledge. Many people say that they wouldn’t have been where they were in life without making mistakes. The all-important part, though, is learning from them, and understanding how to extract the positives from something that many view as a negative.”
It’s true that we need to reframe the way we feel about mistakes. In fact, a study published in the journal Memory in 2018 found that ‘near-miss’ mistakes can help a person learn faster than if they were to make no errors at all. And another study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, found that making deliberate mistakes – such as writing down the wrong answer to a question and then correcting it – can help improve our memory.
All that said, whether it comes from perfectionism or people-pleasing tendencies, many of us struggle in the face of our mistakes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Have you gone wrong somewhere down the line? Follow this roadmap to turning mistakes into lessons.
Acknowledge and accept
“Sounds easy right?” Adam says. “You may feel guilty when you make a mistake, but that guilt will be a lot stronger if you don’t properly take responsibility for it. Acknowledging this to others (including yourself) will ease that guilt, helping you to start learning from your mistakes.”
For some of us, this first step might be going against our instincts. In the moment, we might look to start explaining away the mistake by diving into the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of its origin. We might point to a series of events, or another person, that could take the fall for us. And though this might offer us some instant relief, it might not necessarily help us move forward.
This is also an important point if you find yourself constantly returning to, and ruminating on, a mistake you made in the past. There’s nothing you can do now, so once you’ve accepted that, what should you do next?
As Adam says, mistakes don’t have to feel negative &