Picking up on where I left off in my last blog about Mastering mistakes – Part 1, there is a bit more to explore about this subject. To be honest, you could write a whole book about this topic, but for the purpose of keeping it a bit shorter, I’ve selected six points to further ponder about.
1) Was it a mistake or…?
I just have to bring up my footballer-brother as an example again. (Yes, nepotism. And he has never been an ACTUAL, paying client of mine, so I do not feel any breach of confidentiality here.)
I remember being at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki watching him and the Finnish national team play a scrimmage against another country (the opponent was, according to the memory centre of my brain, apparently of no importance to register).
I love following a game where I know someone and hold them dear – and absolutely hate it at the same time. Every time my brother tried to zigzag his way through the defence, my heart went cold. As much as I enjoyed the successful moves, every time he lost the ball or didn’t complete a pass, I nearly choked. Needless to say, my focus was very much on mistakes, as I labelled them.
After the game, he was in good spirits (which means he must have scored, don’t remember that either), when I met him. However, how I had analysed the game, he had made about a zigillion bloopers. I wondered how he felt about them, and my smile was a bit cautious. This is what is embedded in my memory: “Hi sis’! Did you see my great moves out there?” Sis: “Er, yeah…and you lost the ball quite a few times.” Bro: “Ah that! Who cares! Did you that one time, when….(bla, bla)”
Without going into more detail about high-quality conversations between siblings, he taught me a lesson that day (and many times thereafter). It was obvious that our definitions of “making a mistake” on the pitch varied greatly. He is a born goal-focused striker, whereas I am a midfielder/defender with a workaholic-mindset.
My learning was that often our mind tends to jump to conclusions, and it can automatically label certain deeds as mistakes depending on our personal attitudes and values. For my brother, losing the ball when doing something he believed would benefit the team was a necessity, a calculated risk to take, nothing else. He didn’t carry the mistake with him, because to him, it was something completely else.
2) Redefining mistakes
There is a saying, that there are no mistakes, only feedback.
I love that approach, and it has helped me greatly both when I was still playing competitively and now when working as an entrepreneur. (However, I prefer the term “feedforward” since it allows instantly my mind to focus on opportunities for learning which I can apply in the future.)
What I have noticed both with myself and with many of my clients is that we really need to stay awake regarding our definitions about mistakes. It is too easy to either blame them on others, shunning responsibility (and missing out on the opportunity to grow) or carry them with us, letting them whip ourselves and bring us down, until we’ll slowly start to identify with them (“I’m a failure”, “I’m lousy at this” etc.).
“In every mistake there is a potential for growth.” – Unknown
So, one crucial pillar of mental toughness – or resilience – is the willingness and ability to analyze mistakes and take in their learning asap.
This is important for anyone. For leaders this presents a great, yet many times still under-used opportunity for creating cultures where mistakes are approached with a learning-mindset and treated in a routinely fashion objectively and non-personally. Some hospitals and airline companies have even systemized mistake- and risk-situation-handling, as well as the way they are spreading the learning. While this might be a must for being in their line of business, I think many more organisations and teams could benefit from this kind of thinking and systemization.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again,
but expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
3) But what if mistakes just stick around?
Yes, I know it’s not always easy to approach mistakes with a stoic attitude. Often, our mind tends to let us relive the mistake like an unwanted horror movie. Approaching the mistake with an objective, curious attitude (think of a scientist drooling for new insights) like described above, often actually helps us to create some distance and take the volume down of those self-whipping emotions.
If that doesn’t help, embrace the mistake fully and let your body relive the emotions, like I wrote in my previous blog (Mastering mistakes – Part 1). It’s what we push away (often negative emotions, like embarrassment, guilt, uncertainty and fear) which tends to haunt us the most.
Here we also face the great opportunity to practice self-compassion (note, this is not the same as martyrdom) which is one top ingredient in emotional intelligence.
One athlete-client of mine actually finessed this approach and said: “Before every competition I forgive myself in advance for all the mistakes I’m going to make.” (Wow! I surely needed that reminder for myself when engaging in cold-calling to potential customers.)
4) Using humour
In addition, there is always the humour-approach. I know it doesn’t work in all circumstances, especially if our mistake has affected others, but in many cases it can be very effective. There are special exercises for this, but in essence it means reliving the situation through a humour-lens.
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
– Bob Ross
For instance, one leader felt like her presentation to her team regarding change actions had gone down the drain. After going the whole circle of blaming others, blaming herself, analysing and planning new actions, she imagined the words coming through her mouth as tiny little frogs, jumping around, impossible to catch, catching everyone’s focus.
“That felt weird and funny, but I actually told my team in the next meeting that some things I had presented might have jumped out a bit quickly. We agreed on “catching those frogs” together and discussing them. We actually drew frogs around the issues they identified as concerns. I wouldn’t do that with any team, but luckily these guys didn’t send me directly to the asylum.”
5) Preparing for mistakes
Successful serial entrepreneurs often highlight the fact that they always prepare in advance for a certain number of their investments or ideas to fail. Of course, this means being smart about maintaining cash-flow and embarking on risky projects only to the degree you can take the hit without going under financially.
But anyone of us can benefit of doing some “potential risk or mistake”-analysis and creating plans in advance on how to handle these situations both attitude- and behaviour-wise.
By doing this either by yourself or with your team, the potential for many future mistakes can be nullified or reduced, as well. So, we take the best parts of mistakes – we plan and learn from them, without some of them ever even taking shape for this reason. (Such as ALWAYS packing your football shoes in your hand luggage in case your baggage should disappear. Important life lesson!)
“Always make new mistakes”
– Esther Dyson
6) Fail forward
This last point of failing forward is just a recap and summary of the previous points. But having witnessed many workplace and sports team cultures, I think we could benefit a whole deal more of harnessing the power of mistakes for learning and creative purposes, as well as for offering relief to many when approaching “mistakes and failures” with an empathetic, non-personal (I know, it is a paradox), “let’s learn from it together” -routine.
Employees and athletes are often let alone to ponder over their mistakes, making them worse in their heads. The same applies to coaches and leaders – and to most of us. At the same time, many mistakes go unnoticed. They are either slowly piling up to grow into a robust mountain, or not recognized as potential pearls for creative growth, disappearing under every-day-tasks.
I truly believe we could to a greater extend create opportunities for failing forward together.
With whom would you like to fail forward, and regarding what?
“The only sure way to avoid making mistakes
is to have no new ideas.”
– Albert Einstein
(I just have to conclude with that quote – love the guy!)
Inspiring moments of moving forward!