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2022 Vol. 1

Do you learn from your mistakes?

Every manager makes mistakes. In the professional sphere and personal life, every manager and leader can make mistakes. But learning from our mistakes makes us better professionals.

Back in 2014, I wrote about a movement gaining popularity among entrepreneurs and managers. In 42 cities around the world, entrepreneurs began to meet for the so-called F*ck Up Nights. These events were exactly what one imagines when hearing those words. Their goal was to allow entrepreneurs to share their biggest failures. Since this article was published, the movement has grown to 185 cities.

Given that sharing stories about your biggest failures doesn’t sound like a particularly fun experience, what’s behind the popularity of these events? Creating a sense of belonging to some kind of community is one factor. Failure is not so unpleasant when one understands that there is nothing unique about one’s failures. Another factor is learning. Few things can be more effective learning tools than making mistakes and learning from them.

The unexpected popularity of these “Nights of Failure” demonstrates the enormous potential of learning from mistakes. However, research shows that most of us do not reap much of the benefits that come from inevitable mistakes. Research by Lauren Eskries-Winkler and Ayelet Fischbach of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business shows that even when incentives are high, people tend to bury their heads in the sand and not learn from their mistakes.

Fortunately, this research pair’s work on the topic also includes ways to not let your ego and emotions get in the way of learning from your failures. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center recently expanded on these findings, shedding more light on what prevents people from making the most of their missteps and how to overcome these common mental blocks.

You think everything revolves around you

Ego is the enemy of learning. When a person admits they have made a mistake, they damage their self-image as a competent and intelligent person. However, it helps you correct misunderstandings, absorb new information and expand your horizons.

What can you do to ensure that your ego does not get in the way of your cultivation? One technique for achieving this goal is to create mental distance between yourself and the mistake you are trying to learn from.

“It involves thinking about your personal experience from an outside perspective. In other words, you might ask yourself “Why did Jeremy fail?” instead of “Why did I fail?”. It may sound ridiculous, but it works,” explains the Common Good Science Center.

The manager refuses to share

“People tend to cover up their failures out of a sense of shame,” notes the science center.

However, one of the best ways to learn from your mistakes is to turn them into inspirational stories that can benefit others. Just as inspirational speakers turn past mistakes into motivational speeches, presenting failures the right way turns them into useful life lessons.

Events like Failure Nights formalize the process, but even just informally sharing your experiences with other entrepreneurs or online will help you solidify the lessons learned from some of your most challenging experiences.

A leader who suppresses his feelings

How do you feel when you fail? It feels awful, doesn’t it? Failure is not pleasant, but it is necessary. Pain is nature’s way of encouraging us to learn not to do something. So when you suppress pain, you suppress learning. If you want to become wiser in the long run you must not allow yourself to feel this pain. Don’t run from these emotions and don’t dull them with various substances and distractions.

“Sadness appears to improve memory and judgment, which can help us succeed in the future.” Regret can sharpen motivation,” the science center points out.

You forget why it has come to this

When you make a mistake it’s easy to get into a state where you question every step you’ve taken. Reflection and unhappiness are part of the process of dealing with failure, but obsessing over the smallest details doesn’t help you get back on your feet and apply what you’ve learned. What helps? Focusing on the reasons you ended up in the situation that led to your failure.

“Having a clear long-term goal in mind, such as becoming a doctor or learning to swim, can help you tolerate short-term setbacks,” the researchers explain.

The manager continues to blame himself

As we have already said, failure does not constitute a particularly pleasant experience. However, if you keep blaming yourself for the mistakes you made, you don’t allow yourself the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from the failure. Of course, you should reflect on where you went wrong, but you should not waste energy with endless analysis and incessant reprimands.

Instead, research suggests that you should take a more empathetic approach to yourself. “Many recent studies show that you are more likely to grow as a person and as a professional if, after failure, you talk about yourself the way you would talk about a loved one,” the science center says.

Also, instead of viewing failure as evidence of your shortcomings, you should accept it as an integral part of human reality. “It’s not a question of if you’ll fail, but when. The only real question to answer is what you can learn from this experience,” they add.

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