When we make personal character judgments about our decisions (“I’m bad.” “I suck.” “I can’t do anything right.”), it can get us stuck and ruminating in an unproductive way on those judgments.
We’re so consumed with how imperfect we feel, that we don’t leave time or space to reflect on our decisions and learn from them.
But when we look at trials as learning opportunities, we recognize that whether the results are bad or good, there’s an opportunity for growth. The only permanent failure is when we stop trying. Until then, our failures become lessons learned that help us make better decisions in the future.
We can’t say we’ll never make mistakes, so it’s all about how quickly we course correct.
A plane traveling from San Francisco to New York, doesn’t fly in a perfectly straight, undeviating line. There are small variations outside of course due to a variety of factors, and so the pilot or navigation system must regularly make course corrections.
A variance of a few degrees over a short distance doesn’t amount to much, but over larger distances can be the difference between getting to your destination and winding up somewhere totally different.
Individual choices or mistakes may not be leading us towards our goals, but if we take time to regularly reflect on our decisions and course correct, we'll stay on course with those goals.
Learn from others
You don’t have to touch the hot stove to learn - you can learn from the best of what others have already learned. This, however, takes humility and a willingness to practice. Sometimes you learn not to touch the hot stove, and other times you learn how to design a glove that can protect you from the hot stove.
When we’re learning from or taking counsel from others, however, it’s important that we grade that counsel.
We should be much more willing to listen to those who have been in the arena and come out successfully vs those who are on the sidelines telling us all the ways we might fail, yet have never tried the thing themselves. The advice we get from others is sometimes based on their fears vs our abilities.
(Remember, some people have 20 years of experience, and others have 1 year of experience, repeated 20 times).
“It is not the critic who counts; not the [one] who points out how the strong [one] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [one] who is actually in the arena…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [they] fail, at least fail while daring greatly.” - Theodore Roosevelt
Think like a scientist
And contrary to what we might often think or feel, finding out what doesn’t work can be just as valuable as what does work.
“I have not failed 10,000 times—I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” - Thomas edison
Decisions as data points
You can use all your decisions as a guide to make wiser and better decisions in the future. When you make a mistake or when things aren't working out how you expected, it doesn't mean you need to scrap everything. Take the good that you've learned and then add to it the wisdom of others and the wisdom of your own experience.
Mistakes can be stepping stones to greater levels of learning, growth, and success.
Success vs failure
If you look at Steve Jobs when he got kicked out of Apple - his own company - then you would likely look at him as a failure. But if you fast forward to the late 2000s with the introduction of the iPhone, and even further forward to today when Apple has a market cap of $2.2 trillion, then we see his efforts as an incredible success.
"Whether or not something is deemed a 'failure' is dependent on when performance is measured.” - James Clear
Process vs results
Sometimes we can make poor decision and get good results
Sometimes we make good decisions and get poor results*
If we look at results only we can ignore the times that poor decision-making led to sub-par results
Making mistakes and learning from them is a necessary part of life – watch any toddler as they're learning to walk and run.
Mistakes aren't the problem – it's how we respond to them, and whether or not we're willing to learn.
Do we course correct when we get off track?
Do we learn from others?
Do we think like scientists?
Do we use decisions as data points?
How do we determine our successes vs failures?
Are we so focused on results that we never improve or update our process for making better decisions?