I do not know about you, but I was taught to avoid making mistakes. As I got older, I got good at avoiding making mistakes on tests, in relationships and in business. Yet, I still—as everyone, make many mistakes. When this happens, depending on how big the mistake is, I get very down on myself, feel disappointed and even a bit depressed. The self-talk goes something like this:
“Vanessa, what were you thinking! You know better than that.”
“Well, that was stupid, wasn’t it? How could you be so dumb?”
Negative self-talk and self-punishment not only made my mistakes worse, but also did not help me in preventing them from happening again. This made me realize that there was a fundamental part of my childhood lesson on mistakes that was not taught: Don’t make mistakes, but when you do, find a way to learn from them. I realized that learning how to cultivate our mistakes is essential for moving on from them, having less emotional grief and preventing them from happening again. So, how do we cultivate our mistakes and teach our kids to learn from theirs?
1. Examine past mistakes with a new eye.
I wanted to find the silver lining and lessons from all of my past mistakes—and believe me there are plenty. So I sat down with my journal and went through the ones that really made my skin crawl. You know those experiences that when you think of them your stomach instantly knots up? I wrote down all of the positive things that came out of the experience and how I have avoided, or not, making them again. This helped me focus on the lessons for later and not be so ashamed.
2. Practice your future mistakes.
I know it sounds weird to practice making mistakes, but this can actually take down anxiety and worry. I think this one is essential for kids and teens. Parents can help their stressed kids practice what would happen if they failed the test—they would ask for extra credit, and learn to study differently for the next one. If I am worried about something coming up, I often play ‘worst-case scenario and best-case scenario’ and think about what would happen if I did make a mistake. Often times I realize that it is not so bad, and I would learn to do it better next time.
3. Take the stigma out of mistakes.
This is a big one. I think the perfect syndrome is rampant, especially amongst anxiety-riddled teens. We need to be more gently with each other and ourselves. Making mistakes can be good. Everyone is always reminded of how Edison failed and made thousands of mistakes before he finally got it right with the light bulb. Mistakes are how we learn, they are normal and I think, essential for success.
Please think about how your mistakes have helped, not hurt you and encourage your loved ones to cultivate mistakes, not avoid them.