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5 Ways to Turn Mistakes Into Valuable Life Lessons

Each mistake can be an opportunity to grow stronger and become better.

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Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’ll never do that again,” only to do the exact same thing just a short time later? You’re not alone. It’s likely that all of us have repeated some of our mistakes at one time or another.

But making the same mistakes over and over can be costly, in more ways than one. Perhaps your boss has lost faith in you because your behavior doesn’t match your words. Or maybe your financial mistakes have left you so far in debt that you can't imagine how you'll dig yourself out.

The good news is that you can take steps to learn from your mistakes. Then, instead of repeating them again, you’ll gain some wisdom that could help you in the future.

Here are five ways to learn from your mistakes:

1. Acknowledge Your Errors

So often, leaders say things like, “I’m sorry you felt that way,” or “It’s unfortunate it didn’t work out.” But blaming other people or minimizing your responsibility isn’t helpful to anyone.

Before you can learn from your mistakes, you have to accept full responsibility for your role in the outcome. That can be uncomfortable sometimes, but until you can say, “I messed up,” you aren’t ready to change.

2. Ask Yourself Tough Questions

You don’t want to dwell on your mistakes, but reflecting on them can be productive. Ask yourself a few tough questions:

  • What went wrong?
  • What could I do better next time?
  • What did I learn from this?

Write down your responses, and you'll see the situation a little more clearly. Seeing your answers on paper can help you think more logically about an irrational or emotional experience.

3. Create a Plan

Beating yourself up for your mistakes won’t help you down the road. It’s important to spend the bulk of your time thinking about how to do better in the future.

Make a plan that will help you avoid making a similar mistake. Be as detailed as possible, but remain flexible, since your plan may need to change.

Whether you find an accountability partner, or track your progress on a calendar, find a way to hold yourself accountable. Keep in mind that what works for one person might not work for someone else.

4. Make It Harder to Mess Up

Don’t depend on willpower alone to prevent you from taking an unhealthy shortcut or from giving in to immediate gratification. Increase your chances of success by making it harder to mess up again.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with people who have found some creative ways to become more disciplined. I once worked with a woman who blew her budget every month because she shopped online late at night whenever she was bored. To prevent herself from having instant access to her cards, she froze her credit cards in a big block of ice. She’d have to wait for the ice to melt to get the number. Whenever she found herself trying to thaw the block of ice, she would pause and realize how ridiculous the situation was, and stop short of spending money she didn’t have.

5. Remember Why You Want to Do Better

Sometimes it only takes one weak moment to indulge in something you shouldn’t. Creating a list of all the reasons why you should stay on track could help you stay self-disciplined, even during tough times.

I once worked with a woman who wanted to stop talking to her ex-boyfriend. She knew he wasn’t good for her but couldn’t resist answering the phone whenever he called.

She created a list of all the reasons why she shouldn’t talk to him—it was bad for her mental health, they were toxic together, etc. She laminated the list and taped it to the back cover of her phone. Whenever he called, she’d turn her phone over and begin to read the list. It helped her resist the temptation to answer.

Self-discipline is like a muscle. Each time you delay gratification and make a healthy choice, you grow mentally stronger.

Move Forward With New Wisdom

Sometimes, mistakes aren’t just one big blunder; they’re a series of little choices that lead to failure. So pay attention to your errors, no matter how small they might seem. And recognize that each mistake can be an opportunity to build mental muscle and become better.

To learn how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength, pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.

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