The Importance Of Making Mistakes –   Leave a comment

The Importance Of Making Mistakes — And Learning From Them!    

If you are like me, you were brought up and schooled to get things right — and not to make mistakes.
Whenever, for example, I’d try to build something out of wood, and wasn’t getting it right, my father would grab his tools away from me and do it himself.
Then he’d give me a lecture on, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all!”
Gradually, in spite of what were no doubt good intentions, he taught me not to do things I couldn’t do — at least in the area of working with tools and materials.
For years, I was afraid to even touch tools. I was afraid to even try to fix things — unless I could do it with duct tape.
In the words of positive psychologists, my father was instilling in me a sense of “learned helplessness.”
One Right Answer? Or Many Perspectives? When I grew up and became a teacher, I found “the system” of schooling to be as stifling to me as it had been as a student. I was taught to teach “the discovery method” in which students were provided with a question, a wide range of resources and expected to come up with their own answers.
Although it was a fun, exciting and effective way to teach, and although I learned a great deal practicing the discovery method in my own life, it was hard to practice in the public high schools in which I tried it.
Other teachers didn’t like it. They found it threatening to their right-answer-driven, notes-on-the-blackboard, memorize and regurgitate, exam-focused teaching styles.
Administrators didn’t like it because instead straight rows of quiet students, my classroom was an organic mess of small groups talking, arguing and raising their voices about topics they felt passionate about.
Even parents didn’t like it. I got called into the office once because a bright student of mine had written three essays instead of one on the topic of “economic systems” – one on a capitalist system, one on a communist system and one on a social-democratic system. The parents were horrified and I was accused of trying to convert their son to “Communism.”
Actually, I was trying to teach the kids to see things from different perspectives. That there was more than one right answer to most questions. Ironically, the student went on to become Minister of Finance in a conservative government. So much for converting kids.

If You Can’t Do It Right, Do It Again — Until You Get It Right
I quit teaching high school and immersed myself in experiential education. I found my niche in hands-on education in which mistakes were a critical part of learning, and failure was merely feedback. 
I taught skiing at night during my last year teaching. I developed wilderness-based environmental education programs for teens. I helped develop a climbing and mountain leadership school, and taught basic rock and ice climbing. I developed and ran experiential team-building retreats for organizational executives. 
Later, I focused on teaching and coaching people from all walks of life how to create what they truly want in their lives, work and relationship. 
The process I use has clients learn to create small, concrete results, learn the generic process of creating, and then scale up by applying that process to larger, more complex and more meaningful results.
A key to this creating approach is the process we call “create and adjust, create and adjust…”. Try something, note the result (get feedback), make adjustment to your action and try again. Repeat until your creation is completed.
Mastery: Channeling A Torrent 
Along the way, I learned about mastery. 
“Mastery,” wrote George Leonard, “is the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice.”
Practice, I learned, involved the opposite process to that which my father had taught me with his, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all,” lectures. It was the opposite of the “regurgitate the right answer on the test, then forget it” approach that remains the mainstay of much public schooling.
But don’t blame teachers for not changing. It’s a tough job.  “It takes a lot of energy,” Leonard, who became a fifth-degree, black belt Akido master in his fifties, wrote in Education and Ecstasy,” to turn a torrent into a trickle.” 
As I took on new challenges and learned new skills, I learned that I could channel that torrent of interest and passion — in learners and in myself. I also learned about the importance of making mistakes.
I learned that mistakes were a natural part of learning. I learned that mistakes and failure were opportunities to learn, change and grow. Create and adjust…!
I learned that practice, especially deliberate practice, is more an “If you can’t do it right, keep doing it until you do get it right.” 
Indeed, research in positive psychology shows that practice multiplies natural talent and skill. 
Generic Competence and Confidence
Mastery in anything increases confidence; authentic, capacity-based confidence. Not only in the things you master, but in your ability to master things. It increases your generic competence—your “can-do” capacity—which makes it easier to create new things.
Together, practice and mastery equip you to handle life’s challenges and adversity. They empower  you to create what truly matters to you. To envision desired results and bring them into being.
And when your skills and your challenge are almost in balance, you often enter that focused state of optimal experience and effectiveness that psychologists call “flow.”
“Ah, mastery,” wrote Gail Sheey, “what a profoundly satisfying feeling when one finally gets on top of a new set of skills… and then sees the light under the new door those skills can open, even as another door is closing.”

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