Mistakes are good

A mistake is when you did something wrong. You did or decided or said something, and afterwards you regret it. Or you failed to do or decide or say something that you should have done, decided or said.

A possible reaction when you discover that you made a mistake is to not tell it to anybody. You feel ashamed. “I am not going to show others how stupid, weak, distrustable… I am!” You hide your mistake. Or if you can’t hide it, you explain to yourself and to the others that it actually isn’t a mistake. You believe that mistakes are bad.

Another possible reaction is to say: “Oh, a mistake! How did that happen? What can I learn from it? How can I avoid it next time?”. You believe that mistakes are good.

The problem with considering mistakes as something bad is that it hides an important aspect of mistakes: They are a fundamental part of our learning process. We need them to grow, to become better.

Considering mistakes as something “good” is a basic message of the deliberate practice concept which invites to “a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain” 1. It is also taught by Christian teachings when they invite you to “confess your sins” and “trust in God’s mercy”.

Every mistake opens a new door. “Fear of making a mistake (…) undoubtedly causes upheaval and stress. But as surely as a door closes, another one opens. The objective is not to stay mired in the loss, but to look for the new door that is opening. They are always there if we learn to look for them.” 2

Social contacts are easier with people who agree that mistakes are actually a good thing.



K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406 (pdf).


Mel Schwartz. What is a Mistake? Psychology Today, May 2010 (link).