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Healthy Minds Healthy College

The Gift of Making Mistakes

July 18, 2013

contentment_(1)When did we acquire the fear to make mistakes? I was wondering if a child would learn to walk if every time he/she falls down, the parents criticize him/her. I wonder if a surfer would get to enjoy the experience of learning to surf, if every time he falls down, he thinks, “Here you go, I failed again.” Before we learn to ride a bicycle, we fall many times. At the end, learning to ride a bicycle is worth the effort.

In school, we are marked down if we make mistakes, if we fall down below the standard. There is research supporting the idea that innovation blossoms when people are given the space to make mistakes. Even Mahatma Gandhi valued experimentation and said, “Freedom isn’t worth having if it doesn’t include the freedom to make mistakes.”

Then why don’t we allow and encourage making mistakes? At work or business, we avoid mistakes in order not to be seen as incompetent. There is an underlying message that in order to be successful, we need to be experts. How would we learn if something works for us or is for us, unless we try it first?

The fear we have of making mistakes is the underlying cause for procrastination. If we lived our lives as a surfer who knows that falling down is a natural part of the experience, we would take more risks. There are so many difficult conversations we are avoiding all the time with our boss, our partner, friends, family, etc. That book or e-mail we wanted to read/write or send. That new business idea or product you are overanalyzing.

If we fall down (because if we risk, you will fall), you will get up and keep going for the sake of the adventure of being alive. So why don’t we accept falling or failure as part of the ride?  We are afraid of feeling something unpleasant. At the same time, the same unpleasant feeling is a reminder that we are alive.