Learning from Your Mistakes
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2014 (edited June 7, 2021)
Experience offers the opportunity to gather valuable wisdom; but wisdom is not guaranteed. We often fail to learn from the mistake and miss the valuable lesson.
A hallmark of humanity is our potential for growth. We engage in lifelong BECOMING. With the drive towards the future, we mistakenly mourn the present; comparing our present imperfect self with the unattainable ideal self. Life’s not perfect. There’s always another shortcoming to face, a mistake to repair, and an emotion to process. Ideals provide direction but wrongly longed for, they can discourage.
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
The idealistic vision doesn’t encourage growth—not by itself. Negative evaluations of the self diminishes confidence and induces anxiety—both draining energy. Growth requires a kind environment, providing nutrients and protection. Appreciation for the present creates that friendly environment.
"No one is immune to making mistakes – we are human, after all! But if we simply apologize and carry on as before, we're in danger of repeating the same errors."
Constantly hoping for unattainable perfection disrupts the mind, distracting with the constant pangs of lack. The trouble-free life doesn’t exist. We all have a little drama. A new partner, a better career, or a bigger house will not save us from the disruptions of living.
A new car, children and education have benefits but also drawbacks; they won’t—by themselves—relieve the inevitable struggles. After overcoming one obstacle, we usually are challenged by another.
"Optimism isn't a lack of problems but rather the ability to deal with problems without loss of enthusiasm."
John Spacey | Simplicable
Making the Same Mistakes Over and Over
Are we running on a treadmill? Are dreams of improvement spurring disappointment, keeping the ideal life dangling just beyond our grasp? Daydreams motivate but also distract. We may need to give up the comfort of an imagined paradise in exchange for a less disappointing future—a realistic future. In reality, we actively create the future, not just dream of the perfect one.
Five Steps for Learning from Mistakes
There’s a difference between thirty-years of experience and a single year repeated thirty times.
By approaching the same experience with the same responses, we fail to grow, caught in a fruitless cycle. But when we mindfully examine experience; we gain wisdom. Painful experiences don’t automatically bless with wisdom, implementing the lessons requires skill.
"Learning from your mistakes does not happen automatically—it requires thinking and reflection."
We often fail to gain wisdom because we fail at one of the steps. We don't want to ask the difficult question that uncovers our role in the mistake. Blaming is soft on the ego but prevents helpful wisdom for similar future encounters.
Wisdom is not guaranteed with passing years; but through mindful reflection, awareness of personal engagement with that experience, acknowledging behaviors, and realistic insights to apply to the future. In the beginning, as we reset routines, we may need to live just for today, but as we become skilled, we lift our heads and see a little further—today expands to a week, a year and eventually a flourishing life.
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