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Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Hate To Make Mistakes, Don't You?

What is a mistake? Don't we all hate to make mistakes? Mistakes are events that cause some degree of pain, loss or struggle. We don't like the consequences of such behaviors that we believe produce this self-initiated pain and hence we call them mistakes. Most teach us that mistakes are all bad. If we accept this view, we most certainly will experience negative self-judgments when we make mistakes. Some are raised with the idea of perfection, the notion that we must never make a mistake. These judgments can be debilitating. The irony though is that these events we try so hard to avoid may be precisely what we need to experience. Since mind can mean only "what it is like to be me" or "your experience of the world," it is a distortion of language to consider a mistake means a distinct mental substance universal to all. In fact, language makes a distinction between the word error and the word mistake. An error is a deviation from accuracy or correctness. A mistake is an error caused by a fault: the fault being misjudgment, carelessness, or forgetfulness. Look at this illustration of the difference. " Now, say that I run a stop sign because I was in a hurry, and wasn't concentrating, and the police stop me, that is a mistake. If, however, I try to park in an area with conflicting signs, and I get a ticket because I was incorrect on my interpretation of what the signs meant, that would be an error. The first time it would be an error. The second time it would be a mistake since I should have known better." (Robinson, P. "In the Matter of: The Gatekeeper: The Gate Contracts") Should we make mistakes? So, errors may indeed lead to mistakes. And, mistakes are based on actual experience that varies from person to person. We all err and we all have faults which cause these errors; therefore, often making a mistake is a very personal, subjective matter. We will continue to make major and minor mistakes during our entire lifetime. Mel Schwartz, a visionary psychotherapist and founder of The Emergent Thinking group, believes the fear of making a mistake is utterly imprisoning. He asks, "Who gets to be the judge of what constitutes a mistake?" From a spiritual perspective, it might be argued that there is no such thing as a mistake. Even the very notion of mistake produces a reaction that induces fear and conformity. Schwartz says, "In this state we tend to dishonor our intuition as our inner voice becomes stilled, and we choose the safer path." When we do not take risks, we decrease the chance of mistakes or accidents, but we also limit opportunities for discovery and learning.This certainly doesn't mean we should take stupid risks. But rather, we should make room for exploration that leads us to new learning. Accidents and mistakes can be the very best teachers. Can we understand how the following quote often stands true?
"A mistake is an event, the full benefit of which we have not come to realize."
The word serendipity is a great example of how what is viewed as a mistake can be an amazing discovery in disguise. Serendipity is defined as: "The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." (
Why do we make mistakes? The inevitable question is why do we make mistakes? Joseph T Hallinan, an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, thinks he knows why – humans are pre-programmed to make blunders. His book, Why We Make Mistakes, attracted winning reviews on its publication, with one critic predicting that it would change the face of mainstream behavioral science. Hannigan says that we are subconsciously biased, quick to judge by appearances and overconfident of our own abilities. Most of us believe we are above average at everything – a statistical impossibility that leads to slip-ups. Personally," he says, "one of the most surprising things I learned was how bad our vision is and how many tricks our eyes play on us." (Sophie Morris, "Oops, We Did It Again...," The Independent, March 16, 2009). In one Cornell University experiment Hannigan cites, subjects were asked to seek directions from a stranger, but a pair of actors carrying a door would pass between the two conversants in the middle of the exchange. As the door passed, the person giving directions would swap with someone else – and their interlocutor rarely noticed that they finished the conversation with a different person. What can we do after we make mistakes? Short of apologies and telling the affected parties about what happened, we can possibly take some actions. Thanks to Calvin Sun of Tech Republic for these suggestions:

#1: If possible, come up with a plan to fix the problem.

#2: Don’t blame others.

#3: Stop looking back.

#4: Determine whether the mistake can occur elsewhere.

#5: Put the best face possible on what happened.

"The higher up you go, the more mistakes you're allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered your style." Fred Astaire "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Leonard Cohen
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