Mistakes are the best way to learn
Mistakes are not only normal but necessary. Not only are they necessary, they are desirable. Why are they desirable? Because they are the best and the fastest way to learn. Can you imagine a person who never makes mistakes? How is it possible for such a person to ever learn anything? They are more likely to avoid new experiences and confine themselves to routine, robotic behaviors.
Educators, and hopefully parents, are aware that children (and adults) learn the most from experience, not from theories and words. As a rule, this experience is based on many mistakes. Each of these mistakes prompts our minds to switch into a higher gear. Not only consciously but unconsciously, we learn why something is a mistake at all (eg if we were not aware of the consequences), how it came about (whether it was a mindset, a mistake in perception, or a physical action), and how to reduce the likelihood of this error in the future.
Thus, the more mistakes we make, the more confident we can be, since it is from these mistakes that we learn how to avoid them and how to improve. Children who haven’t been allowed to make mistakes don’t have the opportunity to develop such confidence, so they can feel blocked and insecure all their lives. It’s frustrating how many parents don’t seem to understand something so simple and logical.
Education and society
Many parents act as though forbidding mistakes will enable their children to be perfect, while in reality the opposite is true. Whenever we learn something new and complicated, we must repeat some mistakes, but some parents seem to attribute repeated children’s mistakes to bad intentions or even stupidity. They may not really mean it, they may just repeat what they have heard from their own parents, but children don’t know that and such parental comments can easily take roots in their minds.
In addition, many parents criticize children for making mistakes, but rarely explain to them what to do instead. Children can then feel lost and insecure – they feel they need to come to a solution as soon as possible, but they have no experience to do it. Adult people may feel such childhood feelings emerging in new situations they lack experience with. Instead of recognizing that they need to create experience through mistakes, they may expect themselves to know everything at once, while at the same time knowing it is impossible. The stress this creates can further block them from using their adult resources.
Such an attitude towards mistakes often spreads from families to the society, so children will be belittled by one another, often belittled by teachers, and in adulthood, one can project intolerance of one’s own mistakes and self-criticism on others. When working with US clients, I often hear that some segments of US society are particularly intolerant and insensitive when it comes to (someone else’s) mistakes, such as wrong choice of partners, reckless or inexperienced young people’s decisions, financial decisions that prove wrong, all of which is often attributed to irresponsibility and bad character. Even if the consequences of such a mistake are much more painful than one deserves, it is not uncommon in US society for such a person to be further trodden down and disproportionately punished. This seems to be a consequence of the Puritan religion, which spread into the mainstream culture.
But in most parts of the world it is also pretty normal that if not adults, then at least children are disproportionately punished and disproportionately criticized for unintentional and petty mistakes. In this way, parents strive to make their lives easier and to ensure that children learn to control themselves as soon as possible. In doing so, however, they do long-term damage to both the child’s self-esteem and his or her own relationship with the child.
How to develop internal support
Perhaps you have learned to expect punishment, unpleasant results and unpleasant reactions by people around you as soon as you make even a small step outside of the familiar. It’s true that some people will try to control you or boost their own ego in such a way. If this is what was normal in your childhood, your mind can be focused on that and ignore or dismiss the more positive experiences. Yet if you allow yourself to acknowledge these, too, you might be pleasantly surprised by the number of people who will be sympathetic, tolerant or at least neutral to your imperfections. Most people are aware that most mistakes are done without bad intentions. Invest effort into training your brain to notice such people and acknowledge them, while ignoring the others.
While making decisions, learn to listen to and rely on the wast reserves of information in your subconscious mind. The article How To Teach Children To Use Their Intuition works for adults, too. Perhaps your parents trained you to disbelieve your gut feeling and your inner voice, but with some courage and practice, this too can be changed.
When you think about the possibility of making a mistake, what thoughts and images emerge spontaneously? Are they supportive, compassionate thoughts, or self-criticism, belittling, mental images of anger, derision and rejection by people around you? For many people, the latter is normal, and it stems from their childhood and the way they were raised.
For the childish parts of our subconscious minds, parents are still the supreme authority, even when we grow up, so it can be difficult to “erase” their images and voices from our heads. But with effort and perseverance, it is possible. First and foremost, practice making conscious changes to your internal dialogue so that you keep reminding yourself mistakes are not only normal, but useful and the best way to learn. If you can imagine such support coming from parents, even better, because parents still have an important impact on your subconscious.
When I work with clients, I pay a lot of attention to healing relationships with their parents. Part of this is to recognize that parents (as a rule) did not want you to develop toxic beliefs about yourself, but simply did not know better and repeated the parenting strategies to which they were exposed. Then you might consider how parents really wanted you to feel about your mistakes – usually, they simply wanted you to pay attention, to remember; not to sabotage, insult or demean yourself. If you can imagine your parents supporting you even when you make mistakes, this is the best way to reprogram your subconscious. And if you need some help with it, we are here.