I remember one time when I was in my late twenties I made a mistake at work. I thought at the time that it was a huge, humiliating horror. I felt literally sick about it. I told no one and I avoided those who knew. My boss brushed it off as nothing but that didn’t stop me from worrying about it over many nights.
For some reason I had a copy of a huge, thick Anthony Robbins book. With nothing to lose I followed one of the simple NLP processes to eliminate my feelings of shame and self-loathing. With the snap of my fingers the bad feelings disappeared! I was shocked and thankful.
For the first time I had an inkling of how my thoughts could create and discreate my feelings. And I also realized that mistakes are not THAT bad.
Fast forward 20 years and I’ve now learned many more techniques to manage my feelings. Along this road, mistakes have gradually become something I value.
In a seminar with Denpo Roshi on the Big Mind Process, we discussed the personality within all of us that we call ‘stupid’. And I realized that being stupid was something I used to avoid at all costs which has now become a highly valuable and even enjoyable role.
When I’m stupid I can ask all kinds of questions that I would otherwise not be able to ask. This is very valuable when you are operating in a foreign culture where some aspects of the way things are done are a complete mystery. In a child-like ‘stupid’ way, I can make terrible mistakes that would be highly embarrassing to someone proud, but are only shared jokes or new opportunities for mutual understanding. Sometimes my mistakes create special moments of rapport because other people accept me more easily when they realize I can laugh at myself.
Mistakes are also excellent memory enhancers. A surefire way to remember the tone of a Cantonese word is to say it wrong and invoke a reaction of shock or horror. I always remember the time I got a packet of sugar with my rice instead of the soup I was expecting. (Tong vs tong!)
Yes, making mistakes is fun and useful as long as you have the right attitude. There are 4 keys to loving your mistakes.
1) Handle the automatic negative emotional reactions that are programmed into you. This is personal development 101, and there are many easy and excellent ways to do this.
2) Allow your hidden mistake-maker to come out and play. Discover that lovable child inside you who plays freely, is curious, experiments, learns, and is adored for all the mistakes he/she makes.
3) Practice making mistakes, especially small mistakes. Do something new, where you don’t know the answers. Enjoy any emotional jolts you experience as you make mistakes and realize you’re creating memories and laughter.
Big mistakes, and I mean really big ones where people get hurt, are of course deeper issues to handle. Build your mistake-making muscles on the small ones so that in case you make a really big mistake one day, you’ll be able to save yourself from suffering over the mistake and focus your energy on handling the outcome.
4) Expand your perspective. Even our most tragic mistakes are opportunities for growth, for us and for future generations.