Why making mistakes is important

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” – Albert Einstein

Unsurprisingly, as far back as history allows, there has not been a time where humans have been celebrated for making mistakes. In one form or another, human culture has always maintained that it’s ok to make the odd mistake, as we learn from them; however, we also do whatever we can to avoid making them. Because of this, there is generally a deep sense of shame when a mistake is made, even when it results in an inconsequential outcome or is something that was completely unavoidable.

We all know that, as humans, we are not perfect, so really, there should be more acceptance – both from others and from ourselves – when mistakes are made. To err is human, as they say, but when even something as simple as getting the lyrics of a song wrong can result in a blushing denial when our faux pas is pointed out to us, how do we overcome this status quo?

The Benefits of Making Mistakes

Well thankfully, there are definite benefits gained from making mistakes. In fact, some of the world’s most important innovations – such as penicillin, microwaves, Teflon, Velcro and even Coca Cola – were discovered by complete accident!

Winging it

People that avoid mistakes like the plague often end up missing out on those vital life lessons that help them improve what they are doing. It has been discovered that perfectionists who are pitted against those who are ok with a few flaws in a task (such as writing), perform worse.

This is because some perfectionists (not all) are so scared of not getting their task right the first time, that they avoid practicing, because practicing involves making mistakes. Similarly, if they do practice, they avoid gaining constructive criticism, so they don’t give themselves the chance to learn from any mistakes that are made.

Delving deep

Researchers have discovered that a fear of making a mistake and an emphasis on getting things right the first time can result in a lack of overall understanding in what we’re doing. A person who learns by trial and error has a much higher chance of learning the underlying concepts of a task than a person solely focused on aiming for the perfect end.

A good example of this is cooking – a person afraid of failure might follow a recipe to the tee, whereas somebody with less fear of making a mistake might throw together the key ingredients, then add a few more just for the sake of trial and error. Sure, they may end up with a disaster, but through trial and error, they may also hit on that one masterpiece dish. By doing this, they have gained a better understanding of the way foods work together to produce different taste sensations, which will improve their cooking skills overall.

Developing Confidence

In some cases, the fear of making a mistake can mean we suppress our own beliefs, needs and confidence. In avoiding the dreaded ‘foot in mouth disease’, we may plough ahead against our better judgement, inadvertently allow others to take advantage of us or fail to prevent others from making their own mistakes, that may end up hurting others.

An extremely famous example of this is thought to have occurred on the Titanic, when First Officer, William Murdoch, decided against his better judgement not to wake Captain Edward Smith when he suspected they were entering the ice field. It is thought that a combination of Captain Smith’s lack of confidence in Murdoch, and Murdoch’s lack of confidence in himself, contributed to this infamous tragedy.

Remaining humble

If we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, we may end up believing that we aren’t making any. Similarly, if we fail to see mistakes that others make, we may follow them blindly. Both are extremely dangerous circumstances, where overconfidence can lead to a sense of invincibility or inflated egos. Just think of the way in which cult leaders are worshipped!

Relating to others

Gaining insight from our own mistakes can help us relate to other people in an empathetic manner. People are much more forgiving of transgressions when they themselves have made the same mistakes in the past.

Growing in strength

We all know that – as much as we want to – wrapping our children in cotton wool likely turns them into mollycoddled, spoiled little brats who cannot handle the bumps and knocks of the real world. Well, this continues to apply long into adulthood too. The act of making mistakes builds resilience and teaches us how to recover from whatever life throws our way.

‘Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat’ – Fortune Favors the Bold

It stands to reason – if we dread making a mistake, we are less likely to experiment with the unknown and push our boundaries, in fear of getting it wrong. This fear isn’t necessarily a fear of injury or dire consequence either – it can be a fear of simply looking or feeling foolish that can clip our metaphorical wings and prevent us from achieving something great.

So, as you can see, we all make mistakes – it’s how you choose to respond to them that’s important. We certainly don’t need to love our mistakes, but maybe next time you – or someone you know – screws up, you’ll be able to see the hidden positives in this amazing life lesson!  

The CFS Team
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