Learning from Mistakes

Why do many people seem to not learn from their mistakes? I’m sure you’ve seen someone make the same mistake over and over again. Have you ever seen a child touch something hot and burn himself several times? Why is this?

It’s not necessarily a reflection of intelligence. In fact, highly intelligent people seem to be even more likely to make the same errors repeatedly. Perhaps it’s just a part of human nature, a curiosity that compels us to keep trying things and not give up. Unfortunately, this trait doesn’t work very well for a lot of people.

If we keep attempting to do the same things again and again with the expectation of a different outcome, isn’t that the definition of insanity? Something must be broken here. In order to get a different result, hopefully, a successful one, we have to vary our technique. We have to get creative and try new things.

Successful people make many mistakes, more than most other people, because they have tried more. Remember the story of Thomas Edison and his 10,000 attempts at making a light bulb that actually worked? The last one was the one that did it for him. Each time he tried something, though, he changed the components at least a little bit. He examined his failures and kept going through trial and error. Sure, a more scientific approach might have benefited him, but the important thing is that he was persistent and kept trying different approaches to solving the problem at hand. He learned from his mistakes.

This may be an extreme example, but the fact is that most successful people aren’t successful on their first try. Many try lots of different approaches to solving the hereditary problems of humankind, like poverty and disease. The difference is that they learn from their mistakes and they don’t quit after failure.

That’s the trick: They examine their failures and do something with this knowledge. This is a lesson for all of us to take to heart. It can be applied to every little aspect and interaction in life if you choose, but be careful not to over analyze. It’s ok and appropriate to do what the Army calls an After Action Report. After an event of some significance occurs, ask yourself what went wrong, what went right, and how could you have done better?

Why did I snap at my child? Why was I late for work? Why did I miss a deadline? Why didn’t I post on my blog for an entire week? When you examine these questions, don’t be overly hard on yourself, but try to get outside of yourself to look for the answers. We tend to be trapped by our own perceptions of the world around us and sometimes fail to see things from other perspectives.

The bottom line is to try learn from every failure, make necessary adjustments and keep trying. Don’t be insane, try a new approach and eventually you’ll come up with a better result.

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