If you’re reading this blog (and particularly this post), it’s safe to say that you are into self-improvement.
Who else would want to correct mistakes they might be making when learning from their mistakes.
We can all agree that part of achieving personal mastery is to transform mistakes, failures and setbacks into learning opportunities that will make us stronger for the future. Mistakes are great because we just can’t learn that much from our successes but what most people don’t realize is that when they are learning from their negative experiences, they may be inadvertently making a harmful mistake.
One summer, I was riding my bike around the block when a few kids from another neighborhood asked to ride my bicycle and agreed to let me hold one of their bicycles for insurance. I had a bad feeling but I was young and naive so I agreed. After the first child rode off with my bike, they proceeded to push me aside and took their bike back and rode off. After trying to chase them for several blocks to no avail, I decided to head home, devastated.
What I didn’t mention in the beginning of this story was that it was actually my older brother’s bicycle. He had just put on some new brakes and this was the first time he let me take it out for a ride. I delayed going home because I was so afraid to tell my brother for fear of retaliation but luckily for me and to my surprise, my brother was very caring and understanding. He didn’t even yell at me.
Needless to say, I learned a lesson that day: Don’t lend my bicycle to strangers and more generally, trust my intuition.
This experience strengthened me as a person but when I was learning from this, I made one big mistake: I held on to the negative experience to remind myself of the lesson.
I used to think it was necessary to vividly replay the “negative” experience to remind myself of the lesson I learned. I feared that if I forgot about the mistake, I would forget the valuable lesson.
What I didn’t realize was that by replaying the negative experience, I was actually filling my mind with negative thoughts such as shame, humiliation, and helplessness — all of which are not great ingredients for building a healthy self-image. When you repeat this type of thinking in a habitual way, even if your intentions are good, you’re going to experience lower self-esteem because that’s what you’re subconsciously feeding into your mind.
Mistakes are a necessary step to learning but once the lesson is learned, there is no need to dwell on the actual experience itself. The focus should be on the lesson and how you will apply this positive takeaway to other situations in the future.
What’s scary is that parents unknowingly lower the self esteem of their kids by reminding them of their mistakes. I hear it all the time:
“Johnny, remember the time when you didn’t listen to your mother and touched the stove and burned your hand really badly?”
“Lisa is always tripping over things. She is the clumsy one in the family.”
I understand that the parents’ intentions are good, but good intentions do not necessarily translate into positive behaviors. When someone close to you makes a recurring mistake, focus on clarifying the lesson in the mistake and stop reminding that person of the actual mistake.
Remember the lesson, forget the experience.
(Photo credit: Fixing a Mistake via Shutterstock)