Good mistakes versus bad mistakes
We are conditioned to believe that mistakes are inherently bad. This conditioning was created in childhood and reinforced throughout our lives. The origins are innocent enough – children are crazy little beasts and as a matter of course they make tons of mistakes. Parents try to manage the madness and want these beasts to stop making messes, hurting their siblings and ultimately just want them to remain safe.
The thing is that as new beings on the planet, children intuit that mistakes are how they learn and grow. Mistakes are how we begin to test our impact on the world and people around us. We measure physics and chemistry. As young toddling toddlers we experiment with gravity and the “first steps”.
Those little babies make tons of teeny tiny good mistakes, integrate their learnings and eventually experience the ultimate success of learning to walk. The toddler doesn’t beat herself up over these mistakes and feel bad that she fell on her little but, but rather, with quite single-minded determination attempts to get up and keep going until she gets there.
So what is a bad mistake?
We kind of have an idea of what a good mistake looks like; it is a necessary step in the learning process. But it is also an essential step in the creative process – some may even say it is the essence of the creative process. Failure is the key to success and mistakes are the canvas for creation. If we fear making a mistake, we will only do that which we have already done. We will try so hard to stay within the lines, that the little song in our heart will not be sung.
We must retake mistakes as individuals and as a collective. Our fear of mistakes keeps us from growing into our potential. It keeps us in our little boxes doing what we know and are used to. It is imperative we step outside of what we are used to. What we are used to is going to drive us over a cliff. It is the time for innovation and creativity; it is the time for us all to bring forth what is deepest within us and use that in the world for good. When we fear mistakes we sit in dark boxes and protect the little light we believe we have. When we are open to the creative process in life, we realize the light is within us and has been all along.
I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.
– Rabindranath Tagore
So what is a bad mistake? A mistake that is a result of not making more mistakes and course corrections, but rather of hiding out in fear – of allowing your song to die within you, because you are scared to let it loose in the light of day.
The Root of This False Belief and Action
We have to release our phobia of making mistakes. One issue with this is that the fear is so deeply entrenched for most of us. Picture it – you are a small child and you spill your drink on the carpet. No big deal, you were playing, laughing, in the moment and your hand knocked the glass over. In the scheme of things, its a small blip on the map, but in the moment you get scolded. You are taken out of your moment of bliss and scolded. You are not quite sure why. You don’t see the immediate urgency of the problem. Now it is clear that you did something wrong, or that you are something wrong. (Everyone interprets a bit differently based on their unique circumstance.) This same scene slightly varied plays out hundreds of times over the course of your childhood and adolescence.
It is up to the age of five that we develop most of our subconscious programming – so you can bet this is programmed deeply. One way I found to tinker with this is through the Lefkoe Method. One of the beliefs you work through are mistakes and failure are bad. In fact, if you click here you can eliminate that very belief for free. I know, it sounds strange to eliminate a belief, but this method is legit, you can read about my experiences with it here and here. It has had profound impact.
As I was saying, click here and you can eliminate that belief, it is the last of the three shown. Make sure you have twenty minutes of time, and just be present – don’t have other windows open, have your phone on silent and leave it be. Trust me – this twenty minutes of presence and focus will pay off in dividends.
What to Do Now?
If you are not in an appropriate place or don’t have time to do the exercises, bookmark this page and come back. Your future self will thank you. Until then, keep your eyes open to the mistakes you are afraid to make. Then think about the consequences of said mistakes. They are usually trivial – an odd look or imagined negative thoughts about us. The payoffs can be huge, and strengthening this muscle will create windows where there were only walls.
Most of the profound processes that we can master are those of unlearning. Learning new content on top of old programming is not going to be as effective as retraining, so start that. Are you afraid to speak up in the meeting because you might say something “wrong” or appear foolish? Do you look around to see if others are doing something before you do it? Are you abiding by rules that don’t really exist in physical reality and are they serving you?
Let these questions marinate as you begin exploding these false beliefs and moving towards greater personal freedom and mastery. Success is creating one mistake at a time.
I would love to hear other ways in which you have dismantled this belief in the comment section below. Don’t be shy! Also, please ask any questions you may have. Like they used to say in class, if you have a question, you know at least five others have the same question.