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Learning from Your Mistakes

By Brian Tracy

There are two ways to look at the world: the benevolent way or the malevolent way. People with a malevolent or negative worldview take a victim stance, seeing life as a continuous succession of problems and a process of unfairness and oppression. They don’t expect a lot and they don’t get much. When things go wrong, they shrug their shoulders and passively accept that this is the way life is and there isn’t anything they can do to make it better.

On the other hand, people with a benevolent or positive worldview see the world around them as filled with opportunities and possibilities. They believe that everything happens as part of a great process designed to make them successful and happy. They approach their lives, their work, and their relationships with optimism, cheerfulness, and a general attitude of positive expectations. They expect a lot and they are seldom disappointed.

As a result, people with a benevolent worldview are able to deal constructively and effectively with mistakes and temporary setbacks. When you develop the skill of learning from your mistakes, you are the kind of person who welcomes obstacles and setbacks as opportunities to flex your mental muscles and move ahead. You look at problems as rungs on the ladder of success that you grab onto as you pull your way higher.

Two of the most common ways to handle mistakes are invariably fatal to high achievement. The first common but misguided way to handle a mistake is the failure to accept it when it occurs. According to statistics, 70 percent of all decisions we make will be wrong. That’s an average. This means that some people will fail more than 70 percent of the time, and some people will fail less. It is hard to believe that most of the decisions we make could turn out to be wrong in some way. In fact, if this is the case, how can our society continue to function at all?

The fact is that our society, our families, our companies, and our relationships continue to survive and thrive because intelligent people tend to cut their losses and minimize their mistakes. It is only when people refuse to accept that they have made a bad choice or decision—and prolong the consequences by sticking to that bad choice or decision—that mistakes become extremely expensive and hurtful.

In life, the quality of “intellectual honesty” is one of the most respected qualities possessed by individuals, especially leaders. When you are intellectually honest, you look at your world and deal with your circumstances as facts and realities, rather than hoping, wishing, and praying that they could be different. And the minute you begin to deal straightforwardly with life, you become a far more positive, creative, and constructive person. You become far more effective in overcoming your obstacles and achieving your goals. You became far more admired and respected by other people, and far more capable of achieving the critical results that are expected of you.

On the other hand, the unwillingness to face the fact that you are not perfect, that you have made and will continue to make mistakes, is a major source of stress. One of the great teachings of history is the principle of non-resistance. Non-resistance means that when the wind blows, you bend like a willow tree rather than snap like a pine tree. You remain flexible, fluid, and open to new ideas, new information, and new inputs. You accept that, in a period of rapid change, nothing is written in stone.

The second common approach that people take with regard to their mistakes, one that hurts innumerable lives and careers, is the failure to use your mistakes to better yourself and to improve the quality of your mind and your thinking.

Learning from your mistakes is an essential skill that enables you to develop the resilience to be a master of change rather than a victim of change. The person who recognizes that they have made a mistake and changes direction the fastest is the one who will win in an age of increasing information, technology and competition. By remaining fast on your feet, you will be able to out-play and out-position your competition. You will become a creator of circumstances rather than a creature of circumstances.

Approach every mistake you make as a special learning experience, sent to teach you something valuable and necessary for your success in the future. Become an “inverse paranoid,” a person who is convinced that there is a vast conspiracy in the world to make you successful. Play with the idea that there are a series of guardian angels out there who are acting on your behalf. These angels are regularly planning “learning experiences” to enable you to grow as a person so that you can reach and achieve the great heights that are meant for you.

Whenever something happens of an adverse nature, immediately counteract your natural tendency toward disappointment and frustration by saying, “That’s good!”  Then, get busy looking into the situation to find out what is genuinely good about it.

Every day, all day long, you have problems in your work. In fact, if the problems did not exist, your job would not exist either. A powerful way to change your thinking is to realize that solving problems is what you are paid to do. Your job is to be a problem-solver, no matter what your title might be. All day long, you deal with problems and mistakes caused by you and others. The more of them you can spot and redirect before the consequences are felt, the more valuable you will become and the more you will be paid.

In both your personal and professional life, there are seven steps you can take to deal with almost any mistake you make. The first step is to approach the mistake with a positive, constructive frame of mind, using the techniques outlined above.

The second step is to define the mistake clearly. Exactly what happened? Write it down. Think on paper. The more clearly you can write about it, the more clearly you will understand the mistake and its possible corrections.

The third step is to examine all the known causes of the mistake. How did it happen? Why did it happen? What were the critical variables that triggered the mistake? Any attempt to pass over a mistake without identifying how it occurred in the first place will leave the roots of that mistake in the ground, to grow up again in the future.

The fourth step is to identify all the possible ways of mitigating the mistake. What are all the different things that you could do to minimize the cost of the mistake, or to solve the problem that has arisen? The more ideas you have, the more likely it is that you will come up with the approach that will prove most effective.

The fifth step is for you to make a clear, unequivocal decision about how to handle the mistake. Decisiveness is a characteristic of high performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all. Even the most effective leaders make mistakes, but then they quickly make decisions to offset those.

The sixth step is to assign specific responsibility for taking the steps necessary to mitigate the mistake within a certain time frame. Who exactly is going to do what, and when, and how, and to whom will they report? The failure to assign or accept responsibility to achieve results before a specific deadline will leave the situation open-ended, and it will often get worse as a result.

Finally, the seventh step in dealing with mistakes is to take action. Intense action orientation is a characteristic of the top two percent of the population.

The only guarantee in life is that most of the decisions you make and conclusions you come to will eventually prove wrong. How you deal with these situations is the chief determinant of your success or failure.

Mistakes and problems are good. Without them there would be no opportunities for greatness. When you take every challenge that life throws at you, accepting it as an inevitable part of the growing experience, you can turn it to your advantage in every way possible. Almost every mistake you make contains a hidden treasure that you can apply to your life to forge a future that is extraordinary and worthwhile.

Read other articles and learn more about Brian Tracy.

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