They say that smells evoke the most potent memories – and they do it fast! Everyone knows that feeling.
You’re walking down the street and you turn a corner. A smell hits you out of a restaurant’s open door and you’re seven years old again, right back in your childhood home or wherever your sense-memory takes you.
It works the same way with strong feelings. We remember them. Shame, regret and embarrassment are powerful forces, like getting burned on a hot stove. The burn teaches us to be careful around hot stoves. Our memories of our biggest mistakes and fumbles teach us powerful lessons, too.
Everybody has made mistakes and failed in some way or another. Of course, it isn’t really failure – it just feels that way at the time. Every experience teaches us, but we’ve been taught to classify some of our learning experiences as triumphs and others as dismal failures. They’re all triumphs in the end, but getting that message can be the hardest lesson of all!
Here are five lessons we only learn by messing up. How many of these battle scars have you collected?
How to Back Up and Reflect
When everything goes right for you and you’re flying forward along your path, it feels great. It feels normal, and we can go into a kind stupor.
It is easy to lose focus on any of the many irons we’ve got in the fire at any point — at home, at work and elsewhere.
All of us are busy. We drop the ball. Sometimes the damage is slight and other times we can fumble badly enough to hurt ourselves professionally and in our relationships.
There are a million ways to screw up. You might blow off an important project at work and disappoint your co-workers. You might get fired from a job you would have quit if you had been paying closer attention.
You might mis-handle an important relationship with your friend or someone in your family. Whatever kind of mistake it was, you’re dealing with it now.
What do you? You stop and think. That’s the first lesson a mistake teaches you. It teaches you to stop the frenetic forward motion and say “Okay, that happened. It forced me to think. What went wrong?” You tell yourself the story. You replay the tape. We don’t learn how to stop and focus unless Mother Nature gives us a shove.
Her message is “Slow down there, partner!”
How to Fix Something that Breaks
When we feel like we’ve made a big mistake, emotions can flood over us. We might feel guilty, embarrassed, angry or resentful or all of those things. We might have to apologize to someone, or to more than one person. We have to look in the mirror, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.
We are all time-pressed. Stopping to fix a mistake takes time. We are conscious of the clean-up work we have to do, no different than sweeping up all the glass bits that fly across the floor when a glass drops on the floor and shatters.
You might have to sweep three times and mop the floor twice to make sure there aren’t any tiny pieces of glass lying around to slice your family members’ feet open.
When we make a mistake we learn how to backtrack and fix whatever we broke. Whether that clean-up work is operational or relational, identifying the breakage point and fixing it is a critical life and business skill we all need to learn.
How to Soften the Energy
Everyone we meet has too many obligations. We are all overloaded. When something goes wrong at work or anywhere, our emotions spike. Fear might be the first emotion that shows up. When something important falls apart and we are in the middle of it, our first thought might be “Don’t blame it on me!”
Sometimes we know we messed up bigtime. We heard from Chris, who told us “We had a huge meltdown in our last new product launch. I was as upset about it as anyone, and I was pretty angry and defensive too, because people made commitments to me that they didn’t keep.
“I’m the product manager for the product whose launch went so badly, so obviously I was right in the middle of the disaster.
“I was steamed for a week while we sorted out the problems with the launch. A week later, I went to my daughter’s violin recital and somehow, while I was sitting there listening to the kids playing violin, my mood changed. I stopped being angry and I thought ‘The real victory here would be figuring out what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again.’
“I saw my own screw-ups in the product launch failure. I guess I’d been too defensive to see them before. The next day at our team meeting I stood up and walked my colleagues through my mistakes — just mine. That softened the energy. People started talking. They started to say ‘Here’s what I could have done differently.’ Now there’s no anger left over from the botched launch and just as importantly, we won’t make the same mistakes again.”
When you mess up, you learn how to soften and stop being defensive.
Most of us have been trained since childhood to protect ourselves and blame the other guy. It takes practice to soften and open up when something important has gone wrong.
How to Set Intention
What is your first thought when you realize you’ve made a mistake? Right after unleashing a colorful string of curse words, your first thought is likely to be “How could I be so stupid?”
You’re not stupid — you’ve just got too many balls up in the air, the way we all do. One great lesson we learn when we mess up is how to set intention.
Setting intention is the simple process of saying “Right now, I’m working on this report. I’m not going to get distracted. I’m going to focus and make sure it’s perfect.”
Setting intention is simply telling ourselves and the universe what we intend to do, and then doing it.
Setting intention is personal. It doesn’t rely on policies or systems. It’s a personal commitment to yourself and anybody who relies on you.
You can tell the difference between setting intention and making airy, blanket statements with no commitment behind them, the way corporate spokespeople do on TV when their companies get caught doing unethical and illegal things.
They say “Every step will be taken to correct whatever system breakdowns occurred” and you already know that no steps will be taken. Fingers will be pointed, instead, and people will be fired or put on probation. The person in charge won’t change a thing in his or her approach.
Mewly excuses and finger-pointing are weenie tools. As you step into your power you will say more often and more easily “I will make sure this doesn’t happen again, because I don’t like the feeling I get when I dropped the ball.” That’s a simple statement, but a profound one.
Your ownership of your success and failure (not that there is really such a thing as failure!) is within your control.
How to Make a Mistake and Keep Going
Above all, the lesson you learn from your mistakes is that you can survive a mistake and keep growing. Ask anyone you admire about their fumbles and failures and they will be happy to regale you with stories!
Dealing with failure and other letdowns is a big part of your journey. Overcoming adversity is a theme in every heroic story we’ve ever heard or read. Getting knocked down and getting up again is not only part of life, but it’s how we learn to roll with the changes life throws at us.
None of us looks forward to making our next mistake, but we all know that we have many mistakes yet to make in this lifetime – thank goodness! How could we call ourselves successful if we’d never had to surmount any obstacles along the way?
source: forbes.com by Liz Ryan