10 Ways to Learn from Mistakes

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My girls love the movie Mary Poppins.

Ok, ok, I love it too.

As a kid I was entranced by her flying umbrella, dancing with cartoon penguins and sliding backwards up that banister. Plus I had a major crush on Julie Andrews...until I was told she was essentially the age of my grandmother. No spoonful of sugar helped that horrific news go down!

One element of Mary Poppins set her apart more than what her magic could do: Her self-declaration of being "Practically perfect in every way."

Mary's status as a fiction story was cemented in that one statement. 

As much as we try, none of us are perfect. Perhaps we are all practically imperfect in every way.

Leaders are not immune. Imperfections make leaders human. They also lead us to make mistakes. Regardless of our good intentions or best laid plans, sometimes we just mess stuff up.

For leaders, the most dangerous thing a mistake can do is cause us to stop trying new or innovative things. TWEET

Instead of allowing mistakes to be a leash that hold you back turn them into lessons that propel you forward. TWEET

Since mistakes are inevitable, I want you to learn from them.

Below are 10 ways to approach mistakes that help them be steadfast teachers instead of strong bullies.

1. Realize you are not your mistakes.

Mistakes do not define you, they refine you. You are not the sum total of your mess ups. Detach your self-worth, value and potential from your mistake.

2. Remind yourself that life goes on.

While a mistake may make time feel like it stands still, it really never stops. People move on from your mistakes, you should too. Do not think that everything will fall apart based on one dropped ball.

3. Clear your mind of regrets.

Mistakes are speed bumps on the road. Regret turns mistakes into roadblocks that halt progress. No matter how bad you may have messed up, you probably did not destroy the organization or yourself. Set yourself free of ruminating the regret in your mind.  Move on.

4. Visualize the mistake, even if it hurts.

While you need to let go of regret, you have to sit with the mistake itself. This can sting because it requires serious self-examination. Step back from the emotion of what happened to examine the angles of it. Examination leads to explanation which results in transformation. What painful lessons can the mistake teach you?

5. Notice what you now know NOT to do.

The first thing we learn when we mess up is what not to do again. Focus there first. Do not start with what you need to do better, start with what to never do again. Write down takeaways that serve as guardrails to keep you from slipping up moving forward. Mistakes are the best education when we slow down to learn from them.

6. Compare the new you and the old you.

Mistakes teach you how to be better personally. Take time to examine how it has molded you. The way you process emotions, approach problems, deal with people and communicate are all impacted by a mistake. Develop your self-awareness by differentiating how you thought before the mistake to how you think now.

7. Feel the value of what you now know.

Allow the lessons of this to sink in. Move past simply mentally learning lessons and actually allow it to bounce around in your heart. You are making yourself better, embrace that. 

8. Bag the lesson and use it.  

Mistakes pass with time, the lessons learned are yours forever. Carry it with you. One tactic I use is turning my lesson into a memorable saying or personal proverb that is easy for me to draw back to memory in the future.

9. Build upon that mistake to make better mistakes.

Fear convinces you to stop taking risks. Purpose pushes you to get better by making a better mistake the next time. Mistakes are only mistakes if you make the same one over again. Mistakes are lessons if you leverage it to make betters ones next time.

10. Realize the world doesn't remember your mistakes, but people notice if you go on in spite of them.

Mistakes are a platform to display courage. Shrinking back from future risk only hurts you. Others do not remember your slip ups beyond a week or so, but they will notice your bravery if you continue to take risks even when you have tripped up in the past. Mistakes can help your credibility.

Today you may mess something up. You will not be defined by that mistake. Turn it into a great lesson. Remember, none of us are perfect, even if you have a special tape measure that tells you otherwise.