Mistakes and Learning

 In Blog

Have you ever made a mistake and find yourself focusing on it later? I coach people not to, but I recently found myself doing just that.

Christian Music Broadcasters invited me to deliver a 25-minute Ted Talk-style presentation at their conference in Orlando. As is my habit, I overprepared, rehearsed repeatedly, and began my talk feeling confident.

Everything went great as I roamed the huge ballroom and interacted with the audience, but I could not see the countdown timer on stage. At the 23-minute mark, I realized I was out of time and rushed to the great ending I had planned. I then flew 2750 miles back to Portland, angry with myself.

Everyone makes mistakes. You can use those experiences to grow and learn, but you may have to work against your own brain because of what scientists call cognitive distortions.

  • Rumination – a persistent focus on negative events, feelings, and thoughts – is a cognitive distortion.
  • Disqualifying the positive – seeing only the worst of a situation and ignoring the compliments and praise – is a cognitive distortion.
  • Magnification and minimization – exaggerating or reducing the importance of events – also a cognitive distortion.

Do any of those remind you of the last error you made? I was guilty of all three.

What can you do the next time you make a mistake to maximize the good from it and avoid these errors in thinking? Consider taking these steps.

Change “I should have” into “I will next time.” A few days after CMB, I led a talk at Sirius XM. This time I asked if there was leeway in my ending time – there was – and that information helped that workshop end perfectly. Change every “shoulda” or “coulda” into future action.

Reframe “I am bad at (blank)” into “I am improving at (blank).” The message you tell yourself matters. “I am bad” states falsely that you are inherently incompetent. Saying “I am learning to…” or similar phrases replaces the negative voice in your head and you present as more confident to others.

Seek feedback. Everyone knows their own flaws. Ask people you trust what went well and what could be better, and most often, you will learn that nobody but you noticed your mistakes. Once in a while, they will give you a helpful observation, but you have to ask for it.

Embrace imperfection. To accomplish anything great, you must be vulnerable. Author and professor Brene Brown teaches that innovation, creativity, and adaptability all begin with a willingness to fail and to break a few things.

Whenever you are reflecting on a mistake, consider this quote from American President Teddy Roosevelt during a 1910 speech in Paris, which mentions men but applies to all of us:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

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