"Whew, I almost got caught. What a close call!" If you're like most people, you try to cover up your mistakes, hoping nobody sees them. Or, if you do get caught, you may blame them on something or someone else. Although this may seem to be an easy way out, in the long run you'll suffer because you won't learn from your mistakes.
"When you make a mistake, think of it as the best thing that ever happened," says Danny Cox, president of Acceleration Unlimited in Tustin, Calif., and author of Seize the Day. "Instead of hiding from your mistakes, you'll now be able to learn from them and increase your chance for success in the future."
Admitting you made a mistake is scary. Fear of criticism is a major factor. You may not want to look less than perfect, you may not want to lose the respect of people who are important to you or you may even be frightened of losing your job.
Your fears of revealing mistakes may be exaggerated, however.
"Think about it," says Mr. Cox. "Don't you have more respect for someone who admits a mistake and then does what he or she can to rectify it?"
If you're participating in life, you're going to make mistakes, he says. But, if you don't learn from them, you're likely to repeat them.
Face your fears
Because owning up to your mistakes is frightening, your first step is to gather courage. Knowing you're doing the right thing will give you a start.
Here are three other powerful courage builders:
1. Make a list of all your achievements, skills and good qualities and read them out loud.
2. Make a list of famous people who have benefited from their mistakes. For example, Thomas Edison tried many types of fiber and metal in making the incandescent light bulb. He kept on searching for the right filament material and finally achieved success.
3. Get encouragement from people you trust. Everyone needs at least one cheerleader; several are even better. Make a list of possible cheerleaders.
Study your mistakes
To learn from your mistakes, write the answers to each of these questions on a separate page for each mistake. You may add your thoughts to these pages at any time.
1. Describe your mistake in detail.
2. Why did it happen?
3. What did you learn from it?
4. How are you going to repair it?
5. How can you keep it from happening again?
Get a different viewpoint
If you limit your analysis to your own viewpoint, you'll see only one perspective. There may be ideas or views that won't occur to you. To remedy this, advised Mr. Cox, ask a trusted friend, "Let me go through this with you, and will you please help me understand what happened?" Write his or her insights in your notebook.
Take a few days to clear your mind and come up with more ideas.
See the bigger picture
Sometimes you have to back away from the actual mistake to identify the cause of the problem. The mistake could have been caused by or made worse by your behavior patterns, so you may need to examine your habits to learn from your mistake.
Here are some examples of negative behavior patterns. You can make a list that's appropriate for you.
Do you tend to procrastinate?
Are you impulsive?
Do you overlook details or overlook the bigger picture?
Do you fail to get input from other people on important matters?
Do you fail to double-check your work?
If you have a behavior pattern that contributed to your mistake, analyze why you have that habit. When did it first start? How does it hurt you?
Next, replace it with a positive habit, and keep track of it in your notebook.
"Learning from your mistakes is worth the effort because you'll become a stronger person," says Mr. Cox. "Have the courage to own up to your mistakes in spite of your fears."