Lessons for Living       
Lesson Fourteen: "On Making Mistakes"


" When you make a mistake what do you say to yourself?"




Welcome to Lessons for Living.

This weeks lesson is on, "Making mistakes."

Have you ever made a mistake? Of course you have. We all do. The problem is not making mistakes but what you tell yourself when you make one. What did you say to yourself the last time that you made a mistake?

Whatever you said depends upon your rule about mistakes. We all have "Rules for Living" that we learned early in life and apply to our daily experiences. Because we live in an achievement and success oriented world, a popular rule is, "Whenever you do anything, do it right." Our parents, teachers, coaches, and friends helped us learn this rule. If we adopted it as our own then it may have been translated as, "Be thoroughly adequate and competent in everything you do." With this rule we become perfectionists and don’t like mistakes. Mistakes are now "bad" and something to be avoided.

If you are a perfectionist or just like to "do things right" then whenever you make a mistake, the Voice of Conscience (that little voice that talks to you) speaks up. Whether the mistake is big or small the Voice of Conscience is heard and says something like, "Look at that. What is wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right? You will never learn. Why don’t you just give up?"

Soon, you are feeling bad. You are sad, angry, or frustrated. If someone asks what is wrong, you point out the mistake (whatever it might be) and say, ‘Look at this mess. Anyone would be upset." You saying that the mistake has created your mood and behavior.

Now, the reality is that you have created your own mood and actions with your inner dialogue of name-calling and criticism.

The problem is that you are applying a bad rule about mistakes. It may have been a good rule and kept you out of trouble when you were six years old, but it is not a good rule now that you are older. It is time to change the rule. What would be a better one? In reality, what is a mistake?

Just recall how you learned to ride a bike. What is the first step in learning to ride? Falling off. You lean too far to the right and what happens? You fall. Next, you lean too far to the left and you fall again. Fall off and get back up enough times and you will learn to balance and ride the bike. So, a mistake is the first step in learning. Success comes from mistakes. This is good news. With this new rule the inner dialogue of the Voice of Conscience can change.

With your new rule, what should you say to yourself the next time you make a mistake? Something like, "Great! Wonderful! Now I can learn something." You will be energized and feel excited, challenged, and motivated. You will get busy and work harder.

So, check out your rules for mistakes. Listen to what you say to yourself when you make one? If you don’t like what you hear – then change the rule.

2000 Daniel H. Johnston. All Rights Reserved.

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