By Marcus Mottley, PhD
Think about the last gift you got. Chances are that what you’re thinking about is something wrapped in gift paper or in an Amazon Prime box. Maybe you are thinking about something you received on your birthday, special anniversary or last Christmas!
A gift, is definitely not that time you accidentally dropped the cake you just baked on the floor or forgot the turkey in the oven. There is no way that a gift is like going bankrupt, having a business go under, breaking up with your partner or leaving your windows open during a hurricane. Certainly, getting your car stolen because you left your car unlocked in a bad neighborhood is not a gift!
Or is it?
Each mistake we make probably presents a chance to learn and grow. Let’s look at these four types of mistakes and see how we can use even stupid mistakes as an opportunity to strengthen our character, resolve and maybe much more.
One writer sums-up ‘stupid mistakes’ as simple freak accidents, such as banging your knees on a wet floor, spilling a pitcher of water on a guest, or tripping on your walk because you wore slippers on a gravel path. Or maybe the reason why you forgot the turkey in the oven is because you were watching the rerun of your favorite movie – for the fifth time. Most people simply take these moments as they come, deal with the frustration, and then move on.
Stupid mistake ‘moments’ may really be the greatest gifts that we get daily. These moments give us the choice and opportunity to change how we respond to results that we dislike. When was the last time you stubbed your toe? Did you yell, jump up and down, and curse, - or did you lay there crying until the pain went away? Did you lack emotional control?
Choosing your response rather than simply reacting during these moments can help you train your emotional response in times of real stress. Try to be calm and neutral when you make stupid mistakes, they train you for better self-control when it really matters.
These mistakes happen very often. Simple mistakes are almost totally avoidable, but our prior decisions made them inevitable. You were having a get together and even though 15 people RSVP’d you only bought enough snacks for 10 people. When people showed up with unexpected guests, and your total jumped to 25 people in attendance, you were inevitably going to run out of food… and the all important cocktails!
Use these simple ‘mistake gifts’ as opportunities to assess your planning and decision-making. You may notice that you are often under-prepared or that you don’t ask ‘what if’ questions. If this is the case, then you have learned valuable lessons about your planning and organization styles and can avoid such simple mistakes in the future. The more of these mistakes you make, the better at planning you will become… if you take time to reflect back on them and then take remedial actions.
If you’re chronically late to work, this type of mistake may be considered as an involved mistake. If you’re always late back from lunch. It is an involved mistake because there may have been a cascade of mistakes and issues that led to this situation. And while not all of these ‘issues’ and ‘mistakes’ were your ‘fault’, you should take a long hard look at those things that were under your control.
We understand that mistakes happen – even involved ones – but it takes effort to change the outcome/results. To prevent tardiness, you may have to leave earlier… which may mean that you have to work faster, stop wasting time browsing the internet. So that you can come back from lunch on time. Or you may have to do something totally different such as bringing your lunch to work so that you can eat in lunch room.
These involved mistakes teach you how to change your own behavior so that you can achieve better outcomes. I am sure that you would agree that these are really good gifts! When was the last time something came in an Amazon Prime box that helped you change your bad habits?
Unboxing a complex mistake and breaking it into all of its elements takes practice and you may also need a ‘sounding board’.
The elements of such mistakes are important to examine and unbundle because they can be areas in your life that have become habitual without you even being aware of them. If you take a closer look at your work or life events, you may begin to notice that a good portion of your mistakes happen when you are distracted. If you notice this, then it is a good time to learn how to focus on the ‘now’.
Identifying mistakes have grown into habits are crucial to us taking more control over our lives. These mistake ‘blind spots’ may be at the root of a lot of our dissatisfaction and at the core of many of our failures and other problems.
Finding a sounding board who can give you honest feedback is an unparalleled resource when making the effort to turn mistakes into gifts. Your ‘sounding board’ could be a journal you write in, a daily voice journal, your spouse, a colleague, a therapist, or a mentor. Whoever or whatever you select to be your sounding board, make sure that you accept their feedback about the situation so you can look for ways to improve yourself and learn from your mistakes. Take their feedback and feedforward it into the changes that you make.
Learning from your mistakes is a great way to see the gifts that the universe is trying to give you. You can get the gift of self-control, better planning, behavior modification, emotional competence and personal & professional development. You only get these gifts however, if you use your mistakes to your advantage. Stop thinking of mistakes as a bad thing and look at them as opportunities to blossom, grow and go where you have not gone before!
To learn more about how you can develop powerful responses to your mistakes and how to take the emotions out of your responses, you can check out these 3 free videos and a get free ebook from Dr. Marcus Mottley.