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 normal reaction when you discover that you made a mistake is to feel ashamed. You try to not tell it to anybody. “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 helps you to be honest with yourself and to grow. It’s easier to say “Indeed, I made a mistake!” when that observation does not make you feel ashamed.
“Shaming yourself is not constructive. Shame is toxic. It’s not how God thinks of you, and it’s not how God wants you to think of yourself.” says relationship counselor Alison Cook and gives helpful strategies to “fight” your shame1. She chose the words “to fight it”, but I guess she actually meant “to welcome and embrace it”.
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”2.
I love to observe once more how modern human science confirms what Jesus has been telling us for two thousand years. Considering mistakes as something good is the basic message of 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.” 3
Social contacts are easier with people who agree that mistakes are actually a good thing.
Alison Cook, Examples of Shame and 4 Strategies to Fight It, July 2020, (link)
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).