One of the first steps to accomplishing great things in your life is to cease dwelling on the negative things in your past. Carefully assess your present strengths, successes and achievements. Dwell on positive events in your life, and quit limiting your potential by constantly thinking about what you have done poorly.
Lewis Carroll illustrated this concept so well in an exchange between Alice and the Mad Hatter in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”:
Alice: Where I come from, people study what they are not good at in order to be able to do what they are good at.
Mad Hatter: We only go around in circles in Wonderland, but we always end up where we started. Would you mind explaining yourself?
Alice: Well, grown-ups tell us to find out what we did wrong and never do it again.
Mad Hatter: That’s odd! It seems to me that in order to find out about something, you have to study it. And when you study it, you should become better at it. Why should you want to become better at something and then never do it again? But please continue.
Alice: Nobody ever tells us to study the right things we do. We’re only supposed to learn from the wrong things. But we are permitted to study the right things other people do. And sometimes we’re even told to copy them.
Mad Hatter: That’s cheating!
Alice: You’re quite right, Mr. Hatter. I do live in a topsy-turvy world. It seems like I have to do something wrong first in order to learn what not to do. And then, by not doing what I’m not supposed to do, perhaps I’ll be right. But I’d rather be right the first time, wouldn’t you?
I vigorously disagree with the Mad Hatter. It is most definitely not cheating to learn from the right things other people do and copy them.
In fact, I think it is a very good idea.
Or as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
President Ronald Reagan put it another way: “What should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on.”
Mistakes are part of the human condition. “To err is human,” said Alexander Pope, back about 300 years ago. Clearly some things never change.
Try as you may, you will eventually mess up something. How you respond to your error determines just how smart you really are.
Look for the silver lining in the cloud, even if it’s just an opportunity to learn how not to make the same mistake over (and over) again. Even better, think about what you may have done well and build on that element. It goes along with my crusade for lifelong learning:
We will have plenty of chances to learn from our inevitable mistakes.
Think about some of the colossal mistakes in history, and how they have shaped our lives. For example, Christopher Columbus found a place he wasn’t even looking for. Once here, however, he and his crew found a new world beyond their wildest imaginations. That we benefited from his mistake to become a great nation speaks volumes about focusing on the positive.
Some social science researchers once videotaped two teams of bowlers during a match.
After the match, for Team One, they showed them a videotape from which all the team’s mistakes had been removed. During the review, the researchers focused only on the strengths of the players and everything they had done right. They did not show mistakes.
Team Two, however, was shown an edited video that contained only the mistakes that had been made during the match. During the review with Team Two, the researchers offered helpful suggestions on how to improve its performance.
How did it all turn out?
After receiving the feedback, there was a rematch during which both teams showed signs of improvement. However, the group that received the positive criticism improved 100 percent more than did Team Two, which had received only a review of its mistakes.
There is a helpful lesson here. The next time you are giving feedback to someone – whether as a manager, parent or friend – remember that building on the positive aspects of people’s actions or behavior achieves far better results than focusing on negatives.
There are really no mistakes in life – there are only lessons.
Mackay’s Moral: If you don’t learn from your mistakes, there’s no sense making them.
Harvey Mackay is author of the New York Times best seller “Pushing the Envelope.” He can be reached through his Web site, www.mackay.com, or at Mackay Envelope Corp., 2100 Elm St., Minneapolis, MN 55414.