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A Life of Mistakes


Many people try to predict the Kentucky Derby winner, and before the first Saturday in May, there are a lot of different theories as to why one particular horse will be this year’s winner.  The sport commentator’s analysis of Mohaymen, a horse who only career loss in the Florida Derby last month, caught my attention. His theory says the loss was treated as a major learning opportunity, and the small adjustments made since that event has caused his performance to be more consistent. They said the loss was a win since without it, they would have never made the changes resulting in this new success.

We spend a lot of time and energy to hide, cover up or mask our mistakes and failures. It’s not popular or comfortable to fail, and our wins are rewarded and satisfying. But what if the opportunity to succeed could be found in how we make mistakes? How we learn from them? Could we succeed by having “life of mistakes?”

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research shows the differences in a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities like intelligence, are fixed traits.  In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed with hard work. This perspective values learning and resilience for success.

Her research shows people’s success lay in the beliefs about why they had failed. If it the reason is lack of ability, people will become discouraged even in areas where they might be capable. Failure is information – we are the ones who create the label of failure! What if we used that information to know what didn’t work, focused on solving the problem and tried something else? This is a growth mindset.

Think about the implication this could have on a team, customers, and most any relationship… If we want to motivate others, having a growth mindset can influence the way we collaborate, set goals and give feedback. If we focus on mistakes as opportunities to problem solve and master something new, it’s the basis for creative thinking, innovation and breakthroughs.

Honestly looking at what isn’t working and having the courage to take responsibility for new ways of doing things is hard work….. It takes a willingness to be open, vulnerable, and trust ourselves and others.  Blame is a shield that keeps us protected and safe and all to easy to block discomfort.

So what are some practical ways we show a growth mindset? In our busy, fast-paced lives, we can slow down. Building the muscle to down shift and really listen to someone’s perspective and ideas. It increases the opportunities we stay out of judgment zone and not jump to conclusions.  Being right and quickly judging limit the ability to learn.

Be open to feedback. By regularly getting other people’s perspectives, it can strengthen the ability to see the feedback as information and not feel threatened by it. In the book “Thanks for the Feedback: by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, they suggest asking “what am I doing or not doing that is getting in my way of being successful?”

Recognize and praise effort, not just the outcome. Dweck’s research says to focus on the strategies that produce results, and this fosters the belief that the brain is like a muscle that can grow stronger through hard work. Finding ways to recognize what works can positively impact the learning process.

Will Mohaymen’s breakthrough win be a result of mistakes? The first Saturday in May will tell the story. What can a growth mindset offer you? How can a recent stumble be a turning point? What can a mistake reveal about how your write your next chapter?

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