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3 tips for making the most of mistakes

It’s happened again: that great idea of yours turned out to be a big fail. You spent a lot of time and energy on something that went nowhere, which has left you feeling demoralized, frustrated and – most of all – vowing to never let this happen again.

But the truth is, it will because if you want to personally grow or help your company grow, you have to try new approaches and take risks. And anytime you try something new, you increase the odds of making mistakes. But this isn’t a bad thing. Mistakes are undervalued in the business world, but acknowledging them and learning from them is vitally important to your success. Here are some suggestions from notable sources who believe that failing is just as important as succeeding:

Assume That More Mistakes Are On The Way

Alice Boyes, PhD, an author who focuses on translating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and social psychology into everyday tips for her clients, thinks that the best way to avoid future mistakes is to assume that the mistake will happen again. “When you do this, you can change your focus to developing practical strategies that will help you make less severe mistakes, less often.”

She also suggests that we make many “seemingly irrelevant decisions,” decisions that seem minor or insignificant but can point you in a direction away from success and toward failure. For instance, you might schedule a networking lunch with someone on the other side of town simply because you have already rescheduled twice, yet there is little evidence that this person will end up being a good contact for you. These small decisions can be self- sabotaging and waste time, energy and resources. Over time, they can also leave you feeling resentful and defeated. Addressing these unproductive patterns and making some small moves toward improving upon them will help you establish a better pattern of self-care, awareness and business savvy.

To be Successful, Play the Devil’s Advocate

The environment you’re in influences how much due diligence you need to do before taking a risk. A Harvard Business Review article reminds us of this, and asks, “how many educational mistakes do people get to make when a company says ‘we want you to take risks but we will hold you accountable for results’? We all know what ‘accountable’ means.” Making mistakes and taking risks is an important part of the process toward true professional growth, and looking for signs that you are wrong is a necessary step toward ensuring the success of a project. In other words, don’t try to avoid risks. Instead, challenge your own ideas about what is right. Play the role of your competitor and look for reasons why you might be wrong. Once some of these smaller issues can be ferreted out, the road will be paved for better, stronger and more sustainable results.

Try a Self-Reflection and Activation Exercise

Karen Kirchner, from Her New Standard, uses a Creation and Completion. exercise with her clients to get them to reflect on what worked and what didn’t over the past year. Here is a summary:

Phase One – Completion: List your wins, successes and breakthroughs from the past year. Then do the same for your losses, disappointments and breakdowns. The next step is to choose five to seven lessons that you want to carry forward. For example, a lesson might be “listen and trust my intuition.” This exercise is a helpful reminder that mistakes are the catalyst for important learning.

Phase Two – Creation: This second phase involves imagination and visualization of new wins and successes you’d like to achieve. Kirchner encourages her clients to “be specific and write them as though they have already happened,” which can be a powerful exercise to help solidify your plan. It is also important to use your visualization as a guidepost for the constant “yes” or “no” situations that confront you at work and home every day.

All the “yeses” will bring you closer to your goals.

Progressing towards your professional goals will be easier if you adopt a new mindset, one that does not turn away from mistakes, but instead acknowledges their value.

So embrace those past failures– get a good look at them – and then turn them into learning as you head toward a very promising future.

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