Mistakes - a hidden shortcut to learning

When was the last time you heard somebody say “I love making mistakes”? Umm, never? I think never is when I’ve heard that.

And who would love making mistakes? Aren’t we naturally programmed and brought up to succeed, to “do the right thing”, to aim for perfection? I think many of us are. And I think it’s mainly a good thing; I don’t know what the world would be like if everybody started to aim to fail, to be terrible.

But, if you’re obsessed about being perfect and expect to be best at everything, then I think you’re up for a lot of disappointments. It’s no newsflash that nobody is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes (yes, even you, your partner, your boss, your teacher). It’s natural. And better yet, it can be a great untapped resource - at least if you’re at all into things like ‘growing’, ‘learning’ and ‘developing’.

Before you start to read further, I have a confession to make: I'm not a big fan of making mistakes. I'm very meticulous, I love to be right and I would hope to be perfect at everything. So all this "making mistakes is ok" has been sort of a slow-moving project of mine. But by writing this post, I hope to get better! If you want to share your success stories or failures (or mistakes! hehe) with making mistakes & learning from them, to inspire me as well as others, please do so!!

 

Making the best of making mistakes

Probably it would be nice if all of us could just make less mistakes and be naturally awesome at everything. But since that's most likely not going to happen, how to make best of our failures? What’s anyway the great thing about making mistakes and making note of them?
 

1. Mistakes are a portal to learning. Some say, a shortcut.

Mistake is better teacher than straight-out success; the more obstacles you overcome, the more intensely you learn. When you’re learning something new, trial & error is an important part of the learning process. A mistake draws your attention to a problem, makes you work harder, focus and solve the problem. Some studies say that working with your mistakes actually helps you to learn at a faster rate. If you’re interested to learn more about this theory and about myelin, I suggest a very informative & entertaining book by Daniel Coyle; Talent Code.


2. Mistake is the mother of invention.

Yes, I know; “Necessity is the mother of invention”. But so is the mistake. If you look at some of the historically important inventions, a mistake has played a crucial part in them, e.g. the discovery of penicillin. In a lighter context, such as social dancing, a mistake like for example a miscommunication in the lead or follow can create something new & beautiful; something you could not have conceived with deliberate effort.


3. Mistakes are better than regrets.

Do you fear of mistakes? Are you letting worry stand between where you are and where you want to get? I think you’ve noticed by now that mistakes are ok. Living a life full of mistakes is anyway much better than living a life full of regrets!
 

4. Mistakes boost confidence.

There might be a paradox in the headline but in my opinion mistakes are one key to confidence. Not only is your confidence built on positive experiences but it is also consolidated by the mistakes. Every time you stumble down, pick yourself up and dust yourself off, you notice that “hey, it wasn’t all that bad - I made a mistake but I’m still here standing”. 

 

 
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing, because he could only do little. - Edmund Burke

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing, because he could only do little. - Edmund Burke

 

 

When is the last time you made a mistake?

So was the point with this post to say “let’s everybody start making a ton of mistakes and everything will be so much better”? No, of course not. But if you happen to make one, it’s not the end of the world.

You could even say that making mistakes means you’re doing something right. If you make a mistake, it doesn’t mean you’re simply terrible - and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re not improving or that you have not improved. The more you learn and the more you progress, you're just more likely to discover more details to improve. When you stop noticing your mistakes, you’ve probably also stopped caring about yourself and about what your doing, which is just one step away from “not going anywhere”.

What was the last or most important mistake you made and what did you learn from it? You can drop a line in our comment section!
 

 
Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: Precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it's a fatal mistake, which at least others can learn from. - Al Franken

Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: Precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it's a fatal mistake, which at least others can learn from. - Al Franken

 

 

How to make “better mistakes”?

Ok, we've established that mistakes are ok. But how to learn more from your mistakes, how to get better at correcting your mistakes and what are the 'bad mistakes'?
 

Be open. Be observant. Be curious.

What if you’re fixed on “doing the right thing” but you’re really not sure of what is the right thing to do? And hey, what if there is no single right thing, but many of them? It’s always the best practice to stay open to new perspectives and new ideas. When you’re open and observing everything, you might spot a crucial detail you hadn’t noticed before or something new & interesting you hadn’t thought of! Having a curious mind is the most fertile ground for learning and growth.


Don't skip past your mistakes, correct them here & now!

When you're practicing, if you notice you made a mistake, it’s best to work on it right away. See what the problem is, search for a good solution, test and implement the correction. When the mistake is corrected right when it’s noticed, you’re learning straight away the correct way to do things and you're enforcing good behavior (=strengthening neural paths that lead to the right outcome). This way, you’re actually learning more strongly than by randomly doing it right (i.e. not making a mistake) in the first place. Note: this immediate problem resolution is a great learning & development method for the practice sessions, but be reasonable about in non-practice context; don't get fixated on problem solving in social dancing - that's the time to have fun!


Seek advice

You might not be aware of all your mistakes - that’s natural too. And if we knew every single mistake we do, it might be too depressing for us (think about seeing yourself dancing from a video for the first time… yikes!). It’s important to differentiate a few things though - a random small mistake and a bigger problem or a recurring blind spot. To find those, it’s always good to turn to a professional. A private class can adjust those few persistent quirks or bad habits.
 

 
Have no fear of perfection. Because you will never reach it. - Salvador Dali

Have no fear of perfection. Because you will never reach it. - Salvador Dali