How to Learn From Mistakes
Mistakes are an inevitable and essential part of the human experience. Though everybody makes mistakes of some form or another, not everyone leverages the great potential for learning and growth that mistakes offer. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of our mistakes rather than simply letting them weigh us down.
Allow yourself to feel the pain
Mistakes hurt. There’s no sugar-coating it: when we screw up, we cause pain for ourselves and those around us. Realizing that we’ve hurt a loved one can be a source of some of the deepest emotional pain we experience.
We are pre-programmed with a natural aversion to pain, which helps us survive and avoid dangerous situations. We can use this aversion to our advantage when we make mistakes. Rather than avoid the pain we are experiencing after making a mistake—as many often do—we should instead embrace the pain and let it run its full course to help us fully learn our lesson.
|Pain avoidance||Pain acceptance|
|"Medicating" with alcohol or addictive substance/behavior||Meditating on the events leading up to the mistake|
|Mentally denying that a mistake was made||Pondering the implications and consequences of the mistake|
It may seem counterintuitive at first, but actively accepting the pain allows us to feel the depth of it and let our natural aversion to pain do its job when we later remember what we’ve experienced. If we avoid it altogether, we don’t allow ourselves that learning opportunity.
Set goals for yourself
Setting goals is a proven practice for personal growth. Setting goals in relation to and in reaction to a mistake helps restore lost self-confidence and brings hope for the future. Set goals that will help you avoid making the same mistake again. Also set other worthwhile goals that may be unrelated but that will lead to a balanced life. Here are some examples:
- Arise earlier each morning to allow for exercise or mediation
- Spend a little time each day on behalf of others
- Study from good books for 30 minutes each day
Write a letter to your children (or your future self)
Record your mistake and your experience with the pain it brought in a letter or journal format. It may sound strange, but there is something fulfilling about providing hard-earned wisdom to others in writing, even if your letter is never read. If it is actually read someday, you are altruistically giving the reader knowledge that they didn’t have to learn the hard way. If not, the act of writing down your experience is still therapeutic.
Do your best to rectify the problems you’ve caused
Very few mistakes are completely unrecoverable. Use your creativity to come up with ways to minimize the damage. Also, if you hurt others, seek forgiveness from those people. Though your healing shouldn’t be contingent on receiving the forgiveness of others—you can’t control what they choose to do or say, after all—some of life’s most beautiful experiences involve sincere apologies we offer to those we care about.
We are children of a loving Heavenly Father who weeps when we are in pain and who rejoices when we learn from our mistakes. We can turn to Him with our concerns, and He can help us with strength to undertake any of the processes outlined in this article. If your mistake was moral in nature, ask Him for forgiveness and tell Him of your resolve to improve; He will answer that prayer and help you feel of His unconditional love for you.
To learn more about forgiveness through Jesus Christ, visit comeuntochrist.org.
Understand that making mistakes is part of the human experience. Even still, forgiving oneself is not as easy as it sounds. Here are some ideas for starting on that challenging process:
- Talk with a trusted friend or family member who is capable of encouraging you and building you up.
- Make a list of accomplishments or positive points about yourself.
- Think on a time when you were able to forgive someone else, and apply those feelings toward yourself.
You can also cultivate a love of self by doing the following:
- Show self-respect by living healthily (food, sleep, exercise, etc.).
Let it go!
Finally, after you have extracted all of the learning and growth potential out of a mistake, let it go and move on. Keep only enough of it in your memory to not make the same mistake twice. Carrying it any further is a waste of energy!
As outlined in one of my new favorite books, The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar, failure is a required and essential element of growth. But our mistakes will only be useful to us if we learn to let them propel us to greater heights!