Saturday, April 13, 2013

Personal Resilience 101: Dealing Effectively with Mistakes


The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

~John Powell ~


In their book, The Power of Intention, Robert Brooks, PH.D and Sam Goldstein, PH.D writes, “It is difficult to imagine leading a satisfying lifestyle when one is burdened by constant worries about looking foolish at a task. Our beliefs or mindset about mistakes plays a major role in determining our action. In turn the consequences of our action influence our mindset so that a dynamic process is constantly operating”.

How many opportunities have you failed to take advantage of because you were afraid of making a mistake? How often has your fear of failure, or making a mistake and looking foolish in the eyes of others prevent you from engaging a task or activity that you’re interested in, but it is one in which you have no knowledge or experience? Would you agree that this perspective on mistakes and setbacks would cause anyone to second-guess him or herself and lead to worry and self-doubt?

“Resilient people”, according to Brooks and Goldstein, “interpret mistakes and respond to mistakes much differently than those who are not resilient. Resilient people see mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth, while those who are not resilient attribute mistakes and failure to conditions in which they are powerless and have no control”. Developing a resilient mindset replaces ineffective coping strategies and replaces them with coping behaviors that lead to a sense of progress.

Managing Mistakes and Setbacks

The process of learning how to see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow is not without its hurdles. Brooks and Goldstein identify three steps that will help to facilitate your journey. The steps are as follow:

·        Examine Your Assumptions about Mistakes – The authors contend, “The assumptions that we hold about why we make mistakes exert significant influence in our live. We typically do not identify, reflect on, or challenge these assumptions, so they remain powerful but unrecognized forces directing our actions”. The assumptions that you have about mistakes can be acknowledged with questions along this line:


1.    Think of a time you made a mistake.

2.    What is the story that you told yourself about the mistake?

3.    What was your reaction?

4.    Did you ask yourself, What can I learn from this?

5.    When you refused to seize a new opportunity, how did it make you feel? What did you think about yourself as a result?

6.    Of all the times that you made a mistake, which made you feel the proudest? Which made you feel least proud?


When we attribute both our mistakes and setbacks to outside forces which we have no control over and fail to do what we can to improve a circumstance we begin to disconnect from the power of the divine dwelling within. We shrink back from challenges instead of taking them on.

On the other hand, when we accept that mistakes are a part of life and we exercise our personal control as to how best to respond to improve a situation we remain in harmony with the power of the divine dwelling within. We are more apt to approach mistakes and setbacks with an “I can handle this!” attitude.

·        Challenge Self-Defeating Attributions – Brooks and Goldstein say, Attributions are assumptions within a mindset. When these assumptions serve as roadblocks to leading a resilient lifestyle they must be defined, understood and challenged”.

1.    Do you have a habit of making all or none statements (such as I will never learn)?

2.    When you make a mistake in one area of your life, do you allow your perception of how you view mistakes discolor your outlook on all areas of your life?

When our mindset is dominated by negative thoughts, it is difficult to see the trees from the forest. We often view our entire life from the negative perspective we hold about a mistake we’ve made. If you’ve been conditioned to think negative about mistakes, you will respond automatically to them until you choose to reframe how you think about them and become willing to take effective actions that helps build effective coping strategies as to how you see and approach mistakes and setbacks in the present and future.

·        Learn Something Positive from Every Situation – According to Brooks and Goldstein, “A vital step to overcoming self-defeating attributions for mistakes is to address the question, What can I learn from this situation? It is not always easy to discover the learning potential in our mistakes, especially when negative self-evaluations dominate our thinking. Even if one’s self-esteem is high, mistakes are not necessarily greeted with the statement, I’m so glad I made a mistake because it’s another opportunity to improve myself?”

As we focus on learning from, rather than feeling condemned by, mistake and failure we will be more apt to examine what we can learn from them and develop healthier coping strategies.

·        Decide on a Plan of Action that Reinforces the Shift in Your Perspective

The authors maintain, “Once we have become aware of and challenged negative attributions about mistakes and failure and once we have adopted the view that mistakes are experiences to learn from, our next step is to translate this new, more positive mindset into a specific action plan”. Brooks and Goldstein suggests:

1.    Ask yourself what are different things you can do either to change your behavior so that mistakes are less likely to occur or to change how you view and respond to mistakes when they do occur.

2.    After considering the possible options, select one that you believe has the highest potential for success.

3.    Once you have decided on the best possible option, consider the obstacles you will face in manifesting it.

4.    Respond to mistakes, failures and setbacks based on the new script that you have created. Assess your results.

5.    Reframe the script as necessary to manifest your desired result.

 Last Words…

Mistakes and setbacks will happen in our lives. Even if you are fearful of making a mistake or looking foolish in the eyes of others by taking on new possibilities the fact remains that your human experience will involve mistakes and setbacks. By examining your assumptions about mistakes, challenging self-defeating attributions, learning something positive from every situation and creating a plan of action which has the intention of you displaying new behaviors representing that script you will develop the healthy coping behaviors necessary to manage mistakes and setbacks effectively and bounce back from them a better, wiser and stronger person.

I share these words taken from a report issued by the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility:

Mistakes are a natural part of life. We learn by experimenting; mistakes and failure can be important parts of our learning process. Einstein flunked grade school mathematics. Edison tried over 9,000 kinds of filaments before he found one that would work in a light bulb. Walt Disney went bankrupt five times before he built Disneyland. If we accept our setbacks, we can continue to risk, learn, and move on with excitement and satisfaction.

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