5 Repeating Habits That Stop You From Learning From Your Mistakes

by Sean Foster | September 8, 2022 | Newsletter

Another one of Einstein’s famous quotes is:

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

I guess we all have a little insanity habituated in us. In fact, research findings from the University of Chicago have proved that even when incentives are high to learn from our mistakes, we tend to ‘bury our heads and NOT learn from our mistakes.

Now mistakes are a good thing, in moderation at least. Only this morning I read through Richard Branson’s newsletter where he reflected on some of the habits that have led to his successes. One of his most repeated quotes is: ‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.’

Possibly the under-emphasised words here are: "You learn by …."

Back to the research findings: these are the habits that you want to look out for: the habits that encourage you to ‘bury your head and not learn from your mistakes.

1. You Keep Them To Yourself.

We tend to automatically attach a sense of shame to our failures. Failures eat at our self-confidence and in most situations our perceptions of how other people view our failures are more negative than the real situation.

As I have got to understand some of the inner workings of AA through a good friend of mine, I now appreciate even more the necessity for openly sharing one's failures and threats.

The learning: don’t bottle up your failures. Share and discuss them, learn from them and get input from others as others will have a completely different set of insights about the causes and possible solutions.

2. You Repress Your Feelings

Failing sucks. How we respond to failure is very similar to what we experience in grief: anger, blame, sadness etc. When you experience a failure, allow yourself to express your emotions as you would grieve.

Some of the science behind this includes: failure leads to pain, and pain is nature’s way of encouraging us to learn something. Don’t overtly hide that pain away without taking on board the learnings. In addition to this, sadness acts as a ‘leveller” for us. Sadness tends to improve memory and judgement.

The Learning: after your next failure, think of it as a grieving process. Allow yourself the luxury to feel angry and sad and search for the learnings and insights.

3. We Tend To Make It All About Ourselves

You may observe that all of these points are interrelated. One of the reasons why we have an ego is for self-preservation, so ego is a good thing. But the flip side of ego is that it is often detrimental to learning.

To reduce the ‘ego’ effect after failure, it’s helpful to consider yourself in the third person. For example, ask yourself: ‘ Why did <Your Name> fail at this?’, rather than: ‘Why did I fail at this?”

The Learning: Take some of the emotion out of the reflection to reduce any self-defensive tendencies.

4. We Beat Ourselves Up

We probably all know at least one other person who beats themselves up far too much. It is so apparent to us from the outside but less apparent to them. If after reading through points 1 to 3 you thought: "this sounds like I need to beat myself up more", then the message here is to correct that. 

If you beat yourself up, i.e take your failure personally, then you will open up a downward spiral with little to gain. 

The Bible quotes: ‘do unto others as you would have done to yourself’. In the case of managing failure you can reverse the quote to read: ‘do unto yourself as you would have done to your child’. Yeah that’s right. How would you support your child who has experienced a similar failure and are beating themselves up?

The Learning: Demonstrate some self-compassion after a failure: if not, you will not learn and are likely to develop some depression tendencies over the event.

5. Clarify Your Why

Personally, I often remind myself that I am here to win the war and not necessarily the battle. We have so many decisions to make and more times than not, the information we have available to make these decisions is ambiguous. 

We operate with constant uncertainty, so some decisions, actions or inactions will result in failure. These are the battles, but winning the war is your bigger why!

For many (maybe the majority) of us, we don't really know our Why. In case you are one of the few who have not watched Simon Sinek’s Why video, then watch it now.

The Learning: see a failure for what it is, a speed bump in your journey. Despite all your preparation, you are guaranteed to hit some of these. Draw energy from your Why and put into perspective the failure as an event, not the finality.

So, from the 5 points explained above, what are your takeaways and insights?

Kind Regards Sean

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