5 Reasons Why your Past Mistakes Don’t Define You

“If you are not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks.” ~ Debbie Millman

We all make mistakes, don’t we? Yet, our culture instills this fear of going wrong in our lives, right from childhood. There is a universal addiction to being right, and we take extreme measures to avoid or hide our mistakes, largely because of how we are made to feel when we commit a mistake. We tend to justify ourselves to avoid taking responsibility for our actions.

Let’s take a simple example of a child who makes a mistake in Maths, and he is made to feel that he isn’t good in that subject, how could he make a mistake, he doesn’t know anything, does that ring a bell? At home, in school perhaps, it is easy to feel that making mistakes means something is wrong with you. We carry those labels or emotions with us even in our adult life. We not only lose confidence in that subject (in the above example) but also begin to question our worth.

For a recent school event, I asked my 11-year-old son to play the recorder at the event, since he played a particular song pretty well. His first response was, “No, what if I make a mistake, everyone will laugh at me.” Apart from lacking confidence, somewhere along the way he has picked that going wrong is a crime, and it has become a part of his psyche.

But to err is human, and mistakes become a tool to become a better version of ourselves, to develop empathy, hope, confidence and courage. What makes a real difference is owning your mistakes and not letting it define who you are.

“However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.” ~ Kathryn Schulz

Here are ways not to be defined by your past mistakes and perhaps help us make better mistakes ~

1) Overcome the fear of making mistakes

“If you want to grow, you need to get over any fear you have of making mistakes.” ~ John C. Maxwell

Overcoming our conditioning and societal pressure of being right all the time is difficult, as it can paralyze us, prevent us from thinking differently, and keep us in a repressed mindset. It eventually reaches a stage where you would want to break free.

2) Accept that you made a mistake

Humans are fallible beings and mistakes are a part of becoming a better person. Many times we take extreme measures to cover up a mistake, because of the self-perception we hold of always being right, which in turn results in a series of errors.

“As fallible human beings, all of us share the impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for any actions that turn out to be harmful, immoral or stupid.” ~ Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Acceptance is a very important feeling to build on, as it defines the course of our entire life. When we resist something in life, it keeps popping up and manifests in undesirable ways. But when we accept something, life begins to flow, besides, we don’t have to be hard on ourselves all the time.

3) Forgive yourself for your past mistakes

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

It is okay to make mistakes, sometimes it could be the worst mistake of our life. But see it this way, it happened in the past now and that moment cannot be changed, it’s gone – but what can be changed are our thoughts about it.

We have to learn to forgive ourselves. Let go of the shame, guilt or embarrassment it might have caused, few deep breaths always help in this. Here’s an article on self-forgiveness and how you can free yourself from your past mistakes!

Letting go of past mistakes

4) Reflect and rectify

If your past mistakes can be amended, then go the extra mile to fix it. For instance – if in the heat of the moment you said things to a friend or a loved one, take the steps to apologise to them, to make up for what you said. At the same time, figure out what was it that caused these triggers or anger.

The ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi shows that even a broken pot can be fixed and mended with gold. It is a beautiful symbolism for embracing all our imperfections and fragilities and, instead of fretting over it, celebrate them. In the process of fixing, you will create something beautiful and new.

5) Develop a new way of being

“If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You are doing things you have never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something.” ~ Neil Gaiman

When we make a mistake, we are pushed out of our comfort zones and forced to think differently. We should be thankful that we made a mistake, because it gave us an opportunity to look at a situation with a different lens and also understand ourselves better.

There was a time in our lives when we made a huge mistake by sending our 4-year-old son (he is 11 years old now) to a mainstream kindergarten school. He was overburdened with homework, he started to look pale, occasionally the teacher also hit him, and within a couple of months we pulled him out of the school.

It was only because of this mistake that we discovered a beautiful philosophy started by Rudolf Steiner known as Waldorf education, that focuses on the holistic development of the child. The challenging bit was that the school was located 53 kms away one way from home and Clyde had to drive for an hour every day to drop him. Having said that, it has been a fulfilling journey.

Imagine if we never made mistakes and everything was just perfect, life would stagnate, our mind would stagnate as well, and there would be no growth, no self development or healing. Making mistakes opens up new doorways and gives us new possibilities to deal with a situation or event.

Understand it’s natural to make mistakes

Mistakes are a part of nature too. I have watched Scaly-breasted Munias carry blades of grass to build their nest. They pick one and try to weave it and it falls on the ground, this process repeats multiple times before the nest can actually start being built.

Even the ants carry food before it rains, it falls out of their mouth several times before they actually carry it safely to their home. Nature makes mistakes too, and yet, it is beautiful and full of awe and wonder. It is a proof of resilience, strength and perseverance.

Like Daniel Dennett said, “The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them – especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are.”

We have all heard the forlorn refrain “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance.”

Image Source:

Yann Houri

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