Mistakes happen.  They always have and always will, at least from time-to-time.  Mistakes are part of the creating process and sometimes lead to breakthrough innovations.

For example, a chef trying to make thin-sliced fried potatoes resulted in what we know as potato chips.   A chemical scientist thought he had failed when his search for a strong adhesive resulted in Post-it® notes.

The fear of making mistakes limits learning.  How many of us have tried to learn something new and mastered it perfectly right away?  Right – none of us!

In the first of the 3 Vital Questions® — “Where are you putting your focus? — it is SO easy to focus on a mistake as a problem that triggers anxiety and may cause you to react.  In this mindset, you can easily react in ways that engage the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT).

It can trigger the “inner critic” Persecutor, which intones: “You dolt!  Look at what you did!  You better not let anyone see what you have done.”

There is a tendency to want to deny, minimize or explain away mistakes to Rescue ourselves from not looking good.   We do all kinds of things to dis-own them.

We want to challenge you, and ourselves, to see the value and importance of owning your mistakes.  If the cook and scientist mentioned above had not recognized and owned their mistakes, we would not be blessed today with potato chips and Post-it® notes!

The mistakes we own need not be monumental or lead to some breakthrough or invention.  They may be everyday ones, such as these two recent mistakes from our own experience:

  • Just this morning, David was in a hurry and sent incorrect information to a client – TWICE! In the third email, he acknowledged his embarrassment at the mistakes, apologized, added a smiley-face, and received a kind response in return.
  • In one of our “TED* Works!” essays around the time of the December Solstice, we made a reference to the “earth shifting the tilt of its axis” as a metaphor for shifting our focus in life. The thing is, as several readers pointed out to us, it is not true that the tilt of the axis changes.  We thanked them for correcting us, which led to the idea of writing this essay – and learning a little more science.

Instead of reacting to a mistake as a problem, we encourage you to see mistakes as just one Baby Step along the path of creating. Whatever your mistake, it was made in relation to some Outcome that you care about.  (If it wasn’t, you would not care about the mistake in the first place.)

From that mindset, you can consider the mistake as a Challenger that calls forth learning and growth in the TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® way of relating to life and others.

Here a few tips for making an empowered response to mistakes:

  1. Pause and acknowledge the mistake to yourself. Take a couple deep breaths and remember “mistakes happen.”
  2. Reflect on what there is to learn from the mistake. Sometimes becoming aware of what NOT to do is a valuable Baby Step.
  3. Choose how you want to respond to the mistake. Use that response to define the next Baby Step you will take toward your Outcome.
  4. If the mistake impacts others, own and share the mistake: apologize, describe the mistake, and communicate what you have learned and how you have chosen to move forward.

Mistakes happen.  As a Creator, you can own them and learn from them.  Who knows, maybe your mistake will be a breakthrough that also benefits others!

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