You need to make more mistakes.


By David Joel Miller.

Sometimes it’s good to make mistakes.

Inside our minds, left over from childhood, is that nagging voice telling us we made another mistake. Oh no I did that wrong. Why do I even try? It is hard to get that voice to shut up. Even when no one in our lives is telling us we are wrong we still need to beat ourselves up for every little error. I should have done that better; I should have gotten that right, we tell ourselves. NOT SO.

As humans, my guess is that almost everyone reading this is a human, we need to make mistakes (sorry bots.) Our brains are hard-wired to require mistakes. We need to make them, and lots of them if we are to learn. Let me explain why.

When we do something wrong, something dangerous or painful, our brains like to set that up in one of those big fat grooves in our brain. Painful and unpleasant memories are readily accessible to our brains. This is for a good reason, – survival.

Hanson describes this as the stick and carrot. The carrot is nice, we like to eat especially if we are hungry, but the stick, that can kill us. We need to remember that stick from the first time we got hit. Not remembering pain could result in getting hurt again. It could mean death.

But happiness as we discovered last time in the post – Where Happiness Hides – happiness takes effort to remember it and remembering it needs to be practiced.

So why should we make mistakes?

The only people who make no or few mistakes are those who don’t try. The famous, the highly productive and successful make lots of mistakes. You don’t hit home runs unless you swing. A great baseball player gets a hit maybe once every three times at bat. He misses a lot of times. Now if we let fear of failure keep us from trying we don’t accomplish much. You can’t sink a basket unless you put the ball up in the air.

But there is more.

All creativity starts out as so-called “mistakes.”

Let me illustrate. Let’s say we meet in the hallway at work one day. Every morning for years we have walked by each other. I say Hello. You respond with Hello. Everything is right in the world.

This day is different. I say Hello. You, for some unknown reason, say “How are you doing today.”

Oh my goodness! The world is about to end. What do I do now? I have to actually think of an answer. Not the usual answer, but something new, something original. We just might end up having to have a conversation.

Your “error” in asking how I am doing has resulted in you being creative and me having to learn a new skill.

So “mistakes, errors” are the source of much of the world’s creativity.

Errors and mistakes are not in and of themselves bad. They are “learning opportunities.” Some have called these items “improvement opportunities.” So if we move from an “I need to be perfect and never make a mistake” to “I need to try on new things, learn the things that work and don’t repeat the things that did not work” We become more productive and more competent.”

This learning from mistakes is true for individuals, businesses, and systems.

The important thing is to not keep making the same old mistakes. So if you keep trying new things, yes you will make some mistakes. That is fine. Just keep the size of the mistake down to something you can afford; do not try out something new that might get you or someone else killed or lose your life savings. Do try out new approaches to solving those same old problems.

Have you seen anyone trying to solve a problem in the same old way with the same old thinking?

Don’t we describe the approach of doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result as one form of insanity? So if your old method resulted in a problem, addiction or depression, or lack of productivity, do not keep trying the same thing over again because this is the “right” way to do it. Consider a new approach and learn from the trial.

An economics professor once told the class that if we decided as economists to make predictions make them early and often. Some of them are bound to come true. This approach works in lots of productivity and self-help areas. If you are the first to try something, like quitting smoking, even if you struggle, you are a hero when you succeed. If everyone you know has already quit you don’t get so much credit.

The more new things you try the more likely you are to get some of them right. Keep putting that ball in the air. Just do me a favor and before you blame me for any failures, try to make small mistakes and try to not keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Those who try – make mistakes – they are human, but the important thing is they learn from those mistakes.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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