rubbing out mistake

Why making a mistake might be the best thing you ever did

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We all make mistakes. They’re part of human nature and ultimately, help us evolve as human beings. Sometimes they’re tiny mistakes; like chatting on the phone too long and burning the dinner. Sometimes they’re humungous mistakes, like marrying someone you knew was wrong for you or getting into debt. As we grow older, we have the benefit of hindsight and being able to pinpoint which mistakes were catastrophic and which were definitive moments that shaped what came next.

Mistakes Helps with Character building

I admit, it sounds like a cliché – especially when you’ve done something silly or potentially embarrassing, but mistakes really do help build your character. Think about it, every mistake you make, forces you to own up to what you did, re-evaluate what happened and try not to repeat again.

Look back at when you were a teenager and had to navigate your way through hormone-fuelled female friendships. We all learnt that gossiping about someone (or being gossiped about) hurts feelings, so as we get older, we censor what we say because we’ve learnt that hurting people is not OK.

Research carried out by Puzzler Mind Gym 3D, found that the average person makes around 773,618 decisions during their lifetime, but lives to regret 143, 262 of them. Admittedly most of the bad decisions you make will be small – eating the whole packet of biscuits for example; and have little impact on you other than an evening of guilt. Then there’s the small mistakes that make a big difference, like letting a good friendship slide away because of a silly remark.

The Comparison Trap

A mistake we all unwittingly fall into is comparing ourselves to others. From daily updates of perfect lives on Instagram, to competitive school-gate mums, exercise guru friends and that one person in your social circle who seems to ‘have it all’.

“When I was younger, my biggest mistake was caring too much what people thought of me,” admits Erica, 35. “It affected my confidence at work and in turn made me make bad decisions like buying expensive clothes on my credit card and getting into debt.”

Focusing on what you don’t have, rather than what you do have, means you waste energy on negative emotions like envy and resentment. It’s much healthier to change your mindset into accepting that at different points in our lives we’ll all have different things – we might earn lots but be lonely or be skint and in love. We might have our dream career, but have health issues, or fall out with our parents but adore our kids. Getting the balance right in life is a tricky juggling act, and making mistakes is all part of the journey.

A key factor in enabling you to learn from the mistakes you make and turn them into positives, is accepting none of us is perfect; you and I make mistakes, ‘perfect’ people make mistakes and famous people most certainly make mistakes.

Paloma Faith sums it up: “Once you accept that we’re all imperfect, it’s the most liberating thing in the world. Then you can go around making mistakes and saying the wrong thing and tripping over on the street and all that and not feel worried.”

Mistakes and Regret

Some mistakes can actually be characterised as regret; they don’t impact or hurt anyone, but are more about a sense of loss. Sarah, 41 admits her biggest regret was not living it up more before she had kids: “With three kids and two cats we can rarely be spontaneous, and everything costs a fortune. I often wonder why we didn’t see the world more when it was just the two of us with disposable incomes and we weren’t tied to school holidays.”

Sense of loss can also be recognised as regret at something which never came to fruition, for example, if you’d taken the job you were offered in another country or you’d gone on the girls’ holiday instead of being too busy at work. Alice, now in her forties knows what the shape of regret feels like: “I dated someone for five years, but we had a fiery relationship and I eventually allowed a friend to talk me into ending it with him. It’s only now, years later that I truly believe he was my soulmate and that I wasted what we had by listening to someone else.”

Wasting time on ‘what if’

Agonising over ‘what if’s’, can eat away at you because you’ll never know the answer to what might have happened. Alternatively, ‘what if’ you’d stayed with your supposed soulmate and it still hadn’t worked or moved countries for a job and hated it. Be confident in your convictions at the time – you did what you felt was right and that led you to where you are now.

Test yourself

Do you obsess about what others think of you, or let people talk you into things you don’t necessarily agree with? It’s easy to put this to the test; think of the last three decisions you made and answer truthfully whether they were made based on anyone else’s opinion. It might have been pressure to pursue a career your parents wanted for you or being persuaded to buy something expensive even though you were broke. Kate agrees: “Fifteen years ago my friend talked me out of buying a flat, because she thought I was too young to be saddled with a mortgage,” she explains. “I took her advice, left it too long and ended up being priced out of the market. My stupidest mistake was not following my instincts.”

Massive mistakes

Huge mistakes are usually followed by that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realise you’ve messed up. It could be down to poor judgement – you trusted someone who double crossed you or made an embarrassing mistake at work, costing your company money. Sometimes you know you’re making the mistakes when you’re making them – a good friend of mine knew she was marrying the wrong person on her wedding day; but went ahead anyway and they were divorced after two years.

We have to make mistakes in order to make different decisions about the course our life will take. How many times have you looked backed and thought: if I hadn’t messed up at that job interview, I wouldn’t be where I am now?

Melissa, 48, came to this conclusion: “After my divorce, I agonised over the mistakes we’d made and how it might have been better if we’d never met. But then I looked at my children and thought, if I hadn’t met him, I might be with someone else, happier, but with different children. I realised I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Positive mistakes

If you think about the most impactful mistakes you’ve made so far, you can usually plot the path you took out of them and although they caused you to wobble, they may have sent you on a new more positive direction.

Every bad relationship we have, enhances our ability to recognise those characteristics again. It’s essential to remember the most important mistakes we make are the ones we don’t regret. It doesn’t mean you didn’t want the world to swallow you up at the time (sending the wrong text or email to someone for example) but may have opened up a few truths that needed to be realised.

Changing your mistake mindset

Write a list of the biggest mistakes you think you’ve made and what you learnt from them. Are these mistakes you regret, or are they mistakes you’d repeat if you had your time again? Getting gazumped on a house you loved, only to find your dream house next, or being made redundant and then landing your dream job are all examples of how you never know which mistakes will turn out for the best.

Alina Tugend, in her book Better by Mistake: The unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, says that we agree as adults that we can learn from our mistakes, but at the same time protect children from making them: “The truth is children (and, indeed, all of us) need to succeed at some things but not at everything. And that is why, while they shouldn’t fail all the time, they must fail sometimes.”

Don’t punish yourself for the mistakes you’ve made, instead focus on what they changed in you and how you learnt not to make that mistake again. If you hadn’t had all those disastrous relationships you’d never have found ‘the one’, if you hadn’t bought the house with subsidence, you’d never have become friends with the lovely neighbour next door. If you hadn’t had that toxic friend, you’d never have learnt the ability to recognise the toxic traits of other people who have crossed your path.

Remember, some of those 773,618 decisions are ones you are yet to make. It would be unrealistic to think you’ll never make another mistake, bad decision or will always remember not to ‘copy all’ on an email. Yes, you’ll make more mistakes, but the learning never stops.

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