How Can We Learn From Our Mistakes?
One of my favorite metaphors in the Art of Persuasion involves a guy whose daily life requires that he walk down a dark road. There’s a hole in the road. The first time he walks down that road, he doesn’t notice the hole, and he falls in. It hurts like heck to fall in that hole. He’s in deep, and it takes a while, but eventually he manages to climb out go on.
Next day, he is walking down that same dark road. Again, he fails to notice the hole and falls in again. It hurts, even more, because he remembers that this happened before. He climbs out and keeps going on his way, cursing at himself along the way. Next day, he’s walking down the dark road, and he gets distracted at just the wrong moment, and the same thing happens, he falls in. And the day after that, and now he’s really cursing out loud about it.
It really burns him up inside. He gets mad at himself, mad at the hole, mad at the road, mad at the dark. But his anger doesn’t protect him, and neither does feeling bad about it after the fact. Somehow, he keeps falling in. Only now, when he goes down the dark road, he knows there’s something in it to be careful about, but it’s a dark road, and he keeps guessing wrong about the location of the hole. And, he falls in again. And the next day. And the next.
One day, he’s walking down the road and he knows there’s a hole in it, and he notices there’s a hole in it just in the nick of time. He stops. He looks in. And as he stands at the edge looking in, he somehow still falls in. He climbs out. He’s furious. And the next day, notices it. Falls in. And the next day.
And then one day, he notices the hole, goes right up to the edge of it, gets a really good look at it, and almost as if he’s seeing it for the first time. And he doesn’t fall in. He stops just short of it, just in the nick of time. And he goes around it. And now he goes down that road all the time, and never falls in.
Nobody changes because they feel bad. But wrong is instructive. Wrong is nature’s feedback mechanism, a way of signaling to you, THERE IS A HOLE IN THE ROAD! NOTICE IT, AND YOU HAVE NEW CHOICES TO MAKE.
Our nation keeps going down a dark road and falling in a hole. Our leaders form committees and make policy about falling in holes. People talk about the holes around their water coolers. You’d think, with all the discussion, we would go around the hole for a change. We’re in a dark road right now. There’s a hole in it.
How do you keep from falling in a hole? How do you keep from repeating the same mistake over and over again? Notice it. Pay attention as it happens, or right after it happens. Be grateful/glad for the feedback, because that feedback is part of our self correcting mechanism for remedial change. Derive the feedback from it, extract the lesson from it. Appreciate your ability to learn from your experience (nature’s design for you, for all of us). Commit to a different course of action if given another chance.
Bucky Fuller talked about how NO answers (wrong results, bad choices) are more useful in human evolution and development than YES answers (right choices, positive results), because we learn so much in life from doing what doesn’t work, IF we take the learning of it and apply it. YES answers tend to lull us into feeling successful when we were merely lucky, so no learning occurs.
The more you have screwed up in life, the more mistakes you have made and learned from, the smarter and stronger and more functional you can be.
SO join me in celebrating the many blessings in our lives that we have gained from our mistakes, and then, as we go down this dark road together, you and me, a couple of real screw ups, let’s notice the hole and go around it this time.
I’d love to hear your comments about how you learn from your mistakes and ‘wrong’ choices.