We all make mistakes. If there is one thing that absolutely all human beings share in common is that we all screw up. One way or another, sooner or later, we all do it. If you’ve made mistakes in this life, know that you are not alone. You have more in common with everyone on the planet than you imagine.
Mistakes are the ultimate sign that we are human.
If we were a race of people who felt comfortable making mistakes, admitting them and sharing them in full vulnerability with one another, from an early age, perhaps our relationship with making mistakes would be much healthier. Perhaps we would be more accepting of our own humanity and feel much more at ease with each other. Perhaps we would be much more supportive of one another also.
But that is so often not the case. Collectively, we tend to be quite afraid of making mistakes. And we feel immensely uncomfortable in the aftermath of making them. It could be that throughout human history, our survival has relied on us not making mistakes. One mistake and you would be dead out in nature. This might very well be stored in our actual biology and instinctively come through still. Not to mention the many social structures, religions and cultures around the world that have severely condemned people for making mistakes throughout the ages. Research shows us that our brains actually flash an error message when we go against social norms.
Generally speaking, we are not at ease with making mistakes, with being wrong, with failure, with falling outside norms, and that much more, we are not at ease with disappointing those whom we so badly want approval from. The more public our mistake is, the worse usually. We are just not very comfortable with our own humanity. The school system alone teaches us from a young age that being wrong won’t lead to success – think about the red marks on tests. So many of our systems, along with our upbringing, can so often create shame, pain, and tell us that we are ‘bad’ people. Or simply not enough.
Mistakes are natural though. It’s how we learn, how we grow, it’s how we discover who we are; what is important to us, what our values are. It’s how we wise up. We’re wrong a lot more often than we’re right, so embracing our wrongness is imperative.
Tools for handling mistakes in a healthy way
Here are a few suggestions for learning how to handle mistakes in a much more natural way:
1. Never hide your mistakes – especially not from yourself.
Don’t turn away in denial when you make a mistake, become instead a connoisseur of your own mistakes. Be honest with yourself, and know when you have done something wrong. This isn’t easy, our human reaction is normally embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than we are at ourselves), however don’t let these emotions to prevent you from admitting to your mistakes. Acknowledging our mistakes is the first step towards learning from them and making better future decisions.
2. Become comfortable with feeling your own emotions
The only way to become comfortable with yourself and with your own mistakes is to first become comfortable with your own feelings. Allow yourself to feel – in full honesty. The good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t avoid your internal world, but instead learn to come to terms with it. Shame, pain, anger, embarrassment, frustration, feel them all as they naturally arise within you. And don’t hold them in. Cry, curse, scream, punch a pillow if necessary. Only once you are in touch with your own feelings and are fully expressing them, do you finally make room for a more rational, logical mind, that can look at the lessons that come with our mistakes.
3. Savor your own mistakes
Try to acquire the weird practice of actually delighting in uncovering all the details of what led you to screw up. Suck out all the goodness out of them, it’s your best chance to get in touch with yourself, to uncover things that you might have missed about yourself – it’s an excellent exercise of self-knowledge. Not only that, but actively seek to make mistakes even (although not at the cost of other people), just so that you can become more aware of yourself and actively improve your own shortcomings and turn your weaknesses into strengths.
4. Find strength in what your mistakes are teaching you
Mistakes make life real. They put us in touch with the nature of existence, and the nature of what it means to be a human being. They pave our journeys in this universe, they teach us about our habits of thinking, behaving and adjusting. They teach us our true strengths and weaknesses; our truest and deepest interests and passions. They teach us what our morals and values are. They teach us about boundaries – our own and the boundaries of those around us also. Mistakes are the navigational tools that get us through the world, the tools that keep us grounded, and keep our egos in check as well. For as painful and destructive as they can be, mistakes give us a chance to become better, to make better decisions, to create a better future.
Learn to see your own mistakes as the fuel that will help you evolve towards a better version of yourself.
5. Learn to show your mistakes to others
Surprisingly, people love it when someone admits to making a mistake. Showing vulnerability, showing our own humanity – it inspires people. It inspires others to be confident with their own mistakes, with their own weaknesses, it inspires people to be confident in who they are. It creates the opportunity for dialogue, for connection, for people helping one another also. It’s through our own humanity that we can recognize one another and learn to be there for each other, in acceptance and compassion. This is how we heal one another.
6. Practice saying ‘I’m sorry’
Learn to say that you are sorry both to yourself and to those whom you’ve hurt through your mistakes. By apologizing to those you’ve wronged, you take responsibility and offer a chance for closure and healing. You also offer them a chance to forgive you. By apologizing to yourself, you offer yourself compassion, for not knowing any better, or for simply screwing up in spite of knowing better. We all have our own baggage, and we need to learn to cut ourselves some slack and learn to forgive ourselves. Self-love goes a long way.
This is also an excellent chance to engage your own inner critic and recognize the patterns that are sabotaging your ability to forgive yourself. Learn to quiet that harsh inner voice and look beyond the mistake – be kind to yourself.
In many ways, being wrong is the only thing we can count on as humans. The story of humanity is after all built on endless mistakes – and it is only by learning how to acknowledge them to ourselves and one another that we can truly heal our story, and inherently our planet. The more obsessed we are with our rightness, the more walls we put between ourselves and the world. We need the walls to come down, and we need to normalize being wrong, so that we may heal and evolve in a fundamental way as a collective.