How To Learn From Your Mistakes

Learn From Your Mistakes, Or They're A Waste

Mistakes erased
Mistakes can't always be erased, but then can be put to use. Mstay/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

One of the best ways to relieve the stress of a mistake is to learn from it. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find the balance between seeing too many things as someone else’s fault and seeing too many things as your fault. And in both cases, rumination can take root and cause too much stress. But how can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t realize when you’ve made one?

There’s no easy answer on how to learn from your mistakes that will work every time, though chapters have been written about it in classic books like The Road Less Traveled, and opportunities to address the topic have been missed in others, like The Four Agreements.

However, there are some strategies you can use to learn from your mistakes that will work in various situations most of the time. When you’re trying to learn from your mistakes, consider the following:

Reframe Your Mistakes

First, use reframing to stop thinking of your mistakes as failures. They can be more accurately described as opportunities for learning—people generally learn more from mistakes than they learn from successes. With each mistake, you can learn valuable information that can be used for future success.

Be Forgiving

Next, maintain perspective and don’t take mistakes too seriously. Blaming others for our mistakes can be a defense mechanism for those who are harsh with ourselves when we mess up—we stay in denial because we can’t take our own harsh self-condemnation. Be forgiving. Just changing your outlook on this can make it less threatening to recognize when you’re responsible or partially responsible for things going other than you’d planned.

And that makes you more able to learn from your mistakes.  (There are other important benefits to forgiveness, too.)

See What You Can Change

Rather than thinking of who is more responsible for a situation—you or another person—look at the situation as a whole in terms of what you can change. If you view taking responsibility through the lens of personal control—what can you change next time, what do you have control over?—makes it an empowering experience to learn from your mistakes.

It's best when you focus on what you can do rather than on what you wish others had done, and this focus enables you to shift to this frame of mind.

Look Beyond

Look at other sides of the same situation. How do different people in the situation feel? How might things have gone differently if you’d made different choices? This isn't about beating yourself up as much as looking at your options and future possibilities.  It can be empowering, and help you to see not only what could be different in your past, but in your future. Look at the situation in different ways. Play with it. And see what you can learn for next time. This can also help you to be more flexible in your thinking in general, as you try on new ways of trouble-shooting and problem-solving.

Ask Questions

Ask for impartial opinions. Have a few trusted friends who will tell you the truth, and who can see things from both sides, and ask them what they see. Sometimes we’re too close to a situation to make sense of it at first, but an observer who isn’t so emotionally attached, and who can deliver their opinion with love and tact, is what we need to help us learn from our mistakes.

Pat Yourself On The Back

Congratulate yourself for whatever growth you’ve gained from dealing with each difficult situation you encounter and each mistake you make.

Remember that these things add value to life as much as the more pleasant experiences we all value. And be glad that you always have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes in one way or another.