Mistakes are not failures, they are learning opportunities

Every one of us is human, and we all will make mistakes.  Mistakes are painful, but when a mistake is made, remember the words of Morihei Ueshiba who said, “Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.”

Life is on the job learning.

When I was young, I made a lot of mistakes.  I made so many that I started to say “if we learn from our mistakes then I must be the smartest person I know”

I was wrong about being the smartest person I knew, but I was right that everyone could learn from their mistakes.

I believe that every mistake in life has the potential to teach us something, and if we are smart, we will learn from every one of them.

How to learn from a mistake.

In business, government and the military, often after a project or mission is completed, everyone involved gathers together for what is called a debriefing.  According to debriefnow.com, a debrief is a simple, yet powerful tool that enables a team to self-correct and enhance their performance. During debriefs, team members reflect upon a recent experience, discuss what went well and identify opportunities for improvement.,

When a mistake is made in life, and an appropriate amount of time has passed, step back from the mistake and as objectively as possible perform a self-debriefing.

  • Look carefully at what may have caused the mistake. – If you want to learn from a mistake and you did do something wrong, then you need to acknowledge it (at least to yourself) and take ownership of what you did wrong.
  • Be fair when sharing the blame – Accept responsibility for your part of the mistake, and if others made a mistake do not blame yourself for their errors, nor should you blame them for what was truly your fault.
  • Ask yourself “how can I prevent this from happening again?” – This may be a painful process as you are seeing the problem with 20/20 hindsight. While you work through this step be honest with what you could have done better, but remember, you may have made choices and decisions that lead to the mistake based on the information you had at the time.
  • Forgive yourself – Remind yourself that you are human, that you will make mistakes, but you are a work in process and you will do better next time.
  • End your self debrief on a positive note – Before you conclude, ask yourself two questions:
    1. What went well before the mistake happened?
    2. What would I do differently if this situation happens again?
  • Don’t dwell on it forever. When you finish your self-debrief, consider the case closed and move on.  Do not continue to kick yourself for the mistake.  Kicking yourself is not going to change what happened, it will only hold you back from future success.

Large or small, I have learned something from almost every mistake I have made in life.

From the small mistake of parking in a disabled parking and forgetting to display my disabled placard, the $50 ticket taught me to make sure I placed my placard in the window before exiting the car.

From the larger mistakes of failed relationships when I was dating, I gained both valuable knowledge and experience that not only lead me to my wife, they helped our relationship last nearly 20 years.

The biggest mistake one can make in life is avoiding making any mistakes.