Why “Learning From Your Mistakes” Doesn’t Work

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What do you do when things go wrong? Face it, in today’s economic climate there are a lot of people who have lot a lost of net worth, and maybe lost their houses, savings accounts, investments and businesses as well. If you’re one of them, then this is a very real question.

There are two predominant approaches. First, you could get lost in the depression. You could blame yourself or others. “It was all that partner of mine’s fault.” Or, maybe you justify: “It’s the market, everybody lost.”

And the better solution that many people strive for is to look for the lesson. Now, by no means am I saying that the first response is right – blaming and justifying turn you into a victim. The “I can’t help it, it’s not my fault” attitude will keep you exactly where you are right now. There’s no power in that, you’re just tossed about on the sea by whatever wind or wave comes your way.

As much as I dislike option 1 (blame or justify), I’m still not a fan of option 2 (“learn the lesson from what went wrong”), at least when it’s the ONLY solution.

The problem with focussing ON the mistake is that’s exactly what you are doing – focussing on the problem. You’re attempting to switch it into a solution and that makes sense if (and only if) you have a pattern. But if you just made a stupid mistake or a partner lied to you or an employee embezzled from you, and it’s not a pattern, I think it’s a mistake to focus on it.

What you focus on is what you get! So by making a bigger deal out of the problem then it actually is could create a bigger and worse result in the future.

It’s the old seminar trick. Look around the room. Just scan what you see. Now, look around the room and whatever you do – don’t look at blue. Don’t see blue. Don’t even recognize blue. Look at everything in the room EXCEPT what is blue. Now stop. How many blue things were there? You probably saw a whole lot blue then you did the first time. Why? Because I told you to focus on it by telling you to ignore it.

My preference, when things go wrong, is to take Option #3. Instead of focussing on what went wrong, focus on what went RIGHT. Find your biggest wins. Celebrate them! Now, how can you have more of what went right? How can you make that even bigger? How can you make that happen so much that it just overshadows the mistakes?

Everything is relative. For some, like my neighbor in San Diego, a loss of $160,000 in the stock market has depressed him for a month. Others react with no reaction because they know they can make that back in no time flat. In fact, if they spent time dwelling on the loss, they’d end up losing more because their time is so much more valuable then that.

So for today, focus on what went RIGHT this past year.

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