Go Ahead, Make A Mistake

Jan 19, 2016 | Confidence

A negative cycle

When you think of a mistake, what comes to mind? Fear, discomfort, regret, embarrassment? Lots of negative thoughts and feelings can come up when we think about mistakes.

We’ve all had some difficult experiences in the past with making a mistake, whether it was a bad decision, a wrong action, or simply an effort gone awry. If we think about a past mistake with pain and regret, it’s understandable that we’d want to avoid making another one in the future.

Past mistakes come up a lot in coaching, because they tend to affect our current thinking. Problems arise when the fear of making future mistakes keeps you from acting; and this in turn negatively affects how you feel about yourself. If you think you better not do or try something because there’s a good chance you will mess up, then you aren’t feeling so confident about your abilities.

If you’re not confident in yourself, what are the chances that others will think differently?

And so it can become a vicious cycle.

In the words of Shakespeare

When I think about mistakes now, I am reminded of the words of William Shakespeare in Hamlet that have stuck with me since high school: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

What if your mistakes are actually gifts? I’m not suggesting you completely whitewash something that went horribly wrong, but there is almost always a grain of something positive in a mistake.

Mistakes create growth, success and confidence

Mistakes are an opportunity for learning and growth. We improve by making them. They are also a building block for success and confidence.

Success is often preceded by many errors. Some of the biggest successes came out of prior failures. Sir James Dyson who invented a new powerful technology for vacuums went through over 5,000 prototypes and 15 years of savings before he created the successful Dyson vacuum cleaner. (I am thankful for his mistakes, as I do love my Dyson!)

Dr. Seuss, the author of so many beloved children’s books like The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas submitted his first book 27 times before being published.

If you weren’t afraid of messing up, you’d put yourself out there more and try new things.

If you could live like you weren’t afraid of negative results, it would free up a lot of energy.

Confident people aren’t afraid to be wrong or try something new. They say what they think and don’t take it personally when others disagree. They relish challenge and aren’t afraid of mistakes. And when something does go wrong, they don’t get caught in self-blame.

When you can view mistakes as an opportunity for learning and growth rather than a reason to give up, you either build confidence when you achieve success, or you build resilience when you misstep but keep trying.

Mistakes grow your brain

Another very cool bonus of mistakes is that they are healthy for the brain. As I know from my own research and training in the neuroscience of coaching, when we make mistakes, we are growing our brains because we are almost always trying something new or challenging.

When we are doing something outside of our routine, our brain takes notice. As if taking a new route home from work, we are taken off autopilot and become more alert and energized. In this alert state, the brain begins to make new neural connections in order to tackle something different.

Through making mistakes, we exercise and grow our brains, which optimizes our energy and our effectiveness.

As far as the brain is concerned, the process of making a mistake is like trying a new challenging type of crossword puzzle.

Forget crosswords, make a mistake!

Can you apply Shakespeare’s words to your view on mistakes?

What would you do now if you weren’t afraid of messing up?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on mistakes in the comment box below. And if you liked this post, please share it with a friend via one of the icons below.

If you’d like to connect with me personally, please click my email at the top of the page. Happy to chat!

Photo: Chris at flickr.com, oops (wine)Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0


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Jen Riggs Blog

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Jennifer is the creator of Pathways to Change, a framework for mindful leadership development that integrates coaching, neuroscience, mindfulness and mind-body principles.

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