Life Changing Mistakes

I have a theory (I know, I am full of them). Like most of you, as I have gotten older I have also tried to improve as a person. I am not just talking about being better at what I do with my career and hobbies, but I want to be a genuinely good person across the board; a good husband, father, son, friend, colleague, and dude who you bump your shopping cart into when buying milk. My theory is that people fundamentally improve by (a) making mistakes and (b) understanding and learning from those mistakes to not only prevent making the mistake again, but to also uncover the cause and effect of why the mistake was made, thus improving your life.

Now, the (probably illogical) logical continuation of my theory is that to make improvements (a) you need to make more mistakes (which opens up the opportunity for learning), and (b) you need to develop CSI-like capabilities in assessing those mistakes and their root causes. Continuing the theme, if we can figure out ways to identify ways of triggering making more mistakes in a way that doesn’t get you arrested and we can identify ways to help us understand why we screw up the way we do, we should have a golden ticket for rocking our lives. Incidentally, this theory was boiled in my head while driving out to pick up Thai food on Saturday night, so this is no Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity in terms of completeness.

While I am rather thin on the ground in terms of what is the next logical part of my theory, I suspect that the way in which we invite more none-life-threatening mistakes is to break out of our molds and take more risks; if we never take chances, we lower the opportunity for risk and mistakes, but also lower the opportunity for learning. Likewise, for the latter understanding our mistakes part I suspect the key is not figuring out ways to prevent the mistake (“I got angry and shouted at my dog today so I will try to keep my cool”) but more about understanding the cause of the mistake (“I am stressed from work and bringing that stress home and taking it out on people and animals”). Much as I love dogs, the goal here is not to stop shouting at the dog but to repair the root cause. So I ask you, dear friends, does my theory wash with you, and if so, how can we increase the number of mistakes and the quality of our self-assessment of those mistakes?

  • Jef Spaleta

    Interested in taking a new risk? Try curling!

    Want to set up safe opportunities to make mistakes? Active role-playing crap emotional/mental states in a social setting with individuals that trust you. A method acting approach. Act like yourself in a horrible headspace. Just make sure you have people on standby to put you back into a good headspace. Puppies help.

    Or, try asking people who know you well and trust to delibrately push your buttons and then assess your response after you calm back down. Because the people who know you best are the people who can most effectively throw you off balance if motivated to do so. Have them use that power for good and experiment with uncomfortable situations.

  • Lars Zobbe

    An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. -Niels Bohr.

  • Alistair Munro

    I urge caution. I have Bi-polar disorder which has several times, wrecked my life, and left me mentally adrift. After 20+ years of studying the disorder so that I might cope with it, I am not at all sure if it’s an inherited predisposition to bio-chemical imbalances, or a series of problematic learned thinking behaviours. Quite possibly, it’s a mixture of both that aggravate each other. What I do know , is that some of the ways of thinking in your post, worry me a little.

    The source of the concern is the introspection upon mistakes. I very strongly believe that the path into personal hell, starts with small steps towards unrealistically high expectations of yourself. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, these high expectations develop into what practitioners of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, sometimes call “Hot Thoughts”. These are regular self criticisms that eat away at self confidence and self respect.

    Learning from your mistakes is a great way to learn. But care must be taken to ensure that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater along the way. For instance, avoid extremes when evaluating your own behaviour. Listen to your internal monologue. When learning an alien skill, are you telling yourself “I’m terrible at this”, “I’ll never get the hang of this” or are you more realistic “I did as well as could be expected for my first time”.

    Good mental health is more precious than any gift I’ve received, any achievement or skill I have. Losing it is a mistake that you can trust my word, you never want to make.

  • Stevie

    I’ve often said to people “The biggest predictor of behaviour is environment” in direct comparison to “The biggest predictor to behaviour is past behaviour”. I believe becoming a better person is optimisation in programmer speak and you optimise for a life you are aware of. Getting to my point: Putting yourself (or another person) in a situation you completely don’t understand requires understanding that situation and growth comes with that. The longer you are in that environment the more you become tuned to working in it. The more environments you’ve been in the more abstraction of thought you can apply using that skill. The more abstraction you can apply to a skill the more it is transferrable to unknown environments. All which are different forms of growth inspired less by your own effort and more by being required to grow because of a new situation. Thoughts anybody? Does my reasoning make sense?

  • Tim Blokdijk

    The next logical part of your theory: learn from mistakes others make.

  • Caleb Majeski

    The Dalai Lama says something applicable here ‘Approach love and cooking with the same reckless abandon’.

    You’re a griller right Jono? Well do you get better at grilling because you pulled off one recipe really well and now all you do is that one recipe? No, of course you don’t, you get better by doing tons of different recipes, ones you think you know by hand and others that you have almost no experience in. Absolutely take risks and push the boundaries of what you know and what you don’t know. Obviously this should be done in reason. ‘I wonder how far I can drive down the California freeway with my eyes closed…’ is probably not the best path to take. ‘I wonder if I’ll get a different texture if I heat these ribs differently…’ perfectly valid as is ‘I wonder if I can writer better (easier to read, more efficient) code if I break with a couple of these traditional paradigms…’

    Endless (almost) reckless experimentation is the way to grow, and I personally think this project is best carried into everything all the way to our deepest held beliefs. Remember Aristotle ‘It is the sign of an educated mind to entertain a concept without accepting it’. Don’t be afraid to play with different ideas and different methods, even if they seem so counter to everything you’re familiar with.

    The next logical step in terms of analyzing and learning from mistakes would be cross application of the lesson. Let’s go back to grilling. Grilling steaks is not the only way to get better at grilling steaks. Grilling other things will teach you other lessons about heat convection or some other general grilling principles which help you grill better steaks in the future. This is what I see as the critical element, applying what you’ve learned in one area to a different area. Of course this too is just another form of experimentation or, since we’re not really in a strict laboratory setting a form of ‘play’.

    What do I think is next for your theory? Engage in this thoughtful, experimental play with everything you do. It can be as simple as ‘Instead of my morning coffee I’ll have a morning tea and see if that changes how I feel about my day’ or it can be as grand as ‘I am going to critically and mercilessly re-evaluate every value and belief I’ve ever held’ and of course, it can be somewhere in between.

  • Rob Boudreau

    One thing I learned about anger and stress, there’s only one cause: “I’m not getting what I want.” Think about it. I’m stressed because I don’t want to deal with this; I’m stressed because I have to do things I don’t want to; I’m stressed because people won’t leave me alone and I don’t want to be bothered. Notice the pattern?

    Same with anger. I want the dog to behave and it’s not. I want my co-workers to get that done. I want that person not to cut in front of me in traffic. I want. I’m not getting what I want.

    That is the ONLY reason we lose our cool. We aren’t getting our own way. We try to rationalize it, justify it, and make it someone or something else’s fault, but it still boils down to “I’m not getting what I want.”

    When I feel angry, or stressed, I try to ask myself, what is it going to cost to get what I want? I’m sure you’re astute enough to know I’m not talking about money. What is the cost?

    Throughout our lives we make mistakes. You don’t need to look for them, they will find you.

    One last thing. Life is kind of like a car. If you spend all your time trying to fix it, you never get to drive. Drive Jono, enjoy the trip.

  • Someone

    Light is the only thing that will help you see. Bringing more darkness will make it harder.

  • Joe

    I agree with this theory so long as it is within a controlled environment.

    In education, children are ecouraged to take risks within the classroom so that they can discover and grow. Learning is doing. If you’re afraid to make mistakes then you won’t do anything.

    In the science lab, new (young) scientists are often hired with the idea that mistakes will be made, and discover something new that the “older” conventional scientist wouldn’t have found.

    In Ubuntu, I think the same should apply instead of just trying to please all the loud people (impossible). Innovation is the result of mistakes. I tried to say that here:

    Obligatory quote that always stuck with me: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordon

  • Joe

    Mistake! Michael Jordan…… (O_o)

  • digitalcheese

    A philosophy professor of mine put it that way: The necessity to learn from mistakes is in reverse proportion to intelligence.

    Your theory seems to suggest the best way to become a Jedi is to become a Sith first. That’s just wrong and I am sure your dog would agree! 😉

  • tri nu

    Apart from not getting what we want, we want whole world to play by our rule or at least by one which we know of. Sometimes too much I and not we can be a problem too. “I” often plays as a motivating factor by playing with our ego. I or ego can get the jobs done, even things that we thought were impossbile before (by our own standards), but it can play as a poison to get you out of your cool too. E.g Someone does not obey you. If your first thought is, “how can he/she not obey me?”, you are suseptible to that problem. A view from even top of these thoughts is, can we see all of this happening from a higher level (even to us). Accepting the complex social structure, and not playing against it, but with it, knowingly, is a sign of a really cool person. If someone cannot play with you at level one (e.g hurt your ego for making mistakes, cannot hurt your feelings when you get out of comfort level they created for you) you can continue to make mistakes.

  • Martin Wildam

    You cannot only learn from your mistakes, but also from the mistakes of others and further it anyway not necessary to make mistakes to learn.

    When you make mistakes you should of course dig to the root cause and learn from the mistakes (I have also written about this) but you can improve and learn even without making big mistakes.

    To give you an example: Fortunately when learning to drive you don’t just do it and learn to drive by making a lot of incidents. Fortunately you are assisted to learn it either in save environment first or/and learn it in a way (make everybody else know by signals on your car that you are a beginner for example) that reduces the risk. Learning things without big negative impacts (to others) is the preferred way.

  • Philipp

    There is a trade of between exploration (making mistakes) and exploitation (learn from your past mistakes to avoid future ones). This trade of has been extensively studied in the (mathematical) literature on rational learning (see for example The key inside of this literature is: start your life by making many mistakes (exploration) and then go into a phase where you avoid any risk of making a mistake (exploitation).

  • Martin Owens

    Taking risks in safe environments is called ‘play’. A person needs to play with all sorts of things in order to become proficient or just safe. When young playing with water is an important development goal, and parents make sure the environment is safe for their child. Likewise for older children , safely playing with fire, electricity, physics lead to important executive understanding of their world.

    Part of what makes social play so hard in the teenage years is that every mistake seems at the time to be so important and the safety of the environment isn’t always apparent to teens. This is why bullying at this age needs to be dealt with by adults to improve the ability to play and develop key skills.

    Lots of adults reduce their play time. They tend not to play with each other, nor with their toys. I think this is bad for them as it doesn’t allow them to practice safely without risk. I think play time in a community is important to get people with different ideas to come together and know each other’s boundries.

  • Hampton Hotels Santa Clarita

    Inspiring articles to read, thanks jono

  • Hampton Hotels Santa Clarita

    I believe becoming a better person is optimisation in programmer speak and you optimise for a life you are aware of.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. I like your theory.

    Was reading something similar this week:

  • Anonymous

    And to complete your theory, I think this article applies even more to the current situation of you and your whole team :)

  • Kat Kinnie

    Couldn’t agree more Jono. In fact, this is the exact reason why I am writing my book & blog at the moment. The focus, inspiring positive change through learning and sharing those learning’s with others. So the clue might not even necessarily to make as many mistakes as possible (although I’m well up for risk taking), rather to also seek to learn from and be inspired by other people’s mistakes too. It’s a bit of a paradox that one.

    The crux of everything that I write about is this though, the Universe wants us to be peaceful, joyful and loving beings. Therefore it will continue to throw us curveballs and challenges to ensure that we follow the right path and for our lives to be as easy as possible. If we are working too late, it’ll send us a message to remind that we shouldn’t be doing that. If we’re not taking care of our bodies, again, another message. If we’re not being kind to our loved ones, a message.

    The key is for us to be as present as possible to receive these messages and take the learning’s, otherwise the Universe will keep sending us the same lessons until we get the message. Pretty simple really. :) But yes, take risks, live life to the full, and most importantly follow your heart and live a life full of love. X x x