It’s easy to get down on yourself or to be distracted, irritated or dissatisfied by mistakes that are made when practicing and training. Mistakes happen, whether testing a treasured family recipe, navigating the never-ending saga of parenthood or working on proficient shooting skills in the immersive world of firearms. The wrong ingredient, the wrong word or the wrong trigger press can each result in a disappointing outcome. But if we simply move on from that disappointment, we risk causing stress to ourselves and others. Worse, we could possibly make the same errors again.
The thing is: Life is full of mistakes. While we certainly can’t escape them, we shouldn’t try to ignore them, either. As Billy Graham stated, “Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.” In other words, errors are simply a part of life … but they are experiences we can use to our benefit if we choose to learn from them.
So how do we do that? How do we muddle through the frustration or the humiliation when we mess something up? We first change our perspective. We need to take away the negatives that often surround mistakes and consider the positives that make up the process before, during and after an error. As Richard Curwin expounded, because shame is often attached to mistakes, people are afraid to take chances, explore and think for themselves. Thus, the problem is not that we make the mistakes in the first place. The problem is that we don’t use those mistakes to promote knowledge, persistence and improvement!
Adding to the lists of positives, John Dewey noted that “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” And one way to ensure that we learn from them is by analyzing the situation. When something doesn’t quite go the way you intended it, ask yourself the following questions:
- What was I trying to accomplish?
- What went wrong (and/or when did it happen)?
- How or why did it go wrong?
- What can I learn from this (and/or how do I fix it)?
No one is immune to making mistakes. We’re human, after all! If we simply apologize and carry on as before, we’re in danger of repeating the same errors and never learning. But if we can answer the above questions, we can approach our mistakes as possible pathways to better outcomes.
Ultimately, an error is a learning experience. And our missteps and mishaps can be the launchpad of improvement and great new things. So, whether we’re baking bread in the kitchen, consoling teenagers at our home or working on the balance of speed and precision on the shooting range, we need to remember that the misses are where the opportunities happen … if we let them.