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"Learn from Mistakes" Photo by Constantin Stanciu on Scopio. Used by permission.

"I'll NEVER Do That Again!"

care and feeding of the mind courage empowerment forgiveness grief and loss self-love transformation Apr 17, 2021

How many times have you said this to yourself: "I'll never do that again!"

Did you follow that by giving yourself "a good talking to" and/or by depriving yourself of something you wanted as a "consequence" to make sure you never make that mistake again?

Have you heard anyone else say something like that to themselves? Or have you ever told someone else they'd better not make that mistake again? Or punished someone for their mistake? Maybe slammed a door or yelled at them or gave them the silent treatment perhaps? Fired them?

Did any of that really work? Or did that mistake or something similar happen again later, despite your (or their) best efforts?

Why is that? Is it just unwillingness to learn from the mistake, or rebelliousness? Or what?

What if the "common sense" approach to dealing with mistakes is all wrong?

Many people grow up believing things like:

  1. It's bad to make mistakes. (Go down a notch in self-esteem if you do.)
  2. Bad things happen when/if we make mistakes. (Watch out.)
  3. We shouldn't make mistakes. (Better be perfect then.)
  4. No one else should mistakes either. (If I'm not allowed, you're not either!)
  5. If we/they do make a mistake, then we/they better not do it again. (Or else!!!)
  6. The way to make sure a mistake doesn't happen again is to 1) judge ourselves or the other person, and then 2) give/take consequences (another word for punish) to ensure it doesn't happen again. (Rate the effectiveness of #6 here on a scale from 1-10. How's that working for you? For others in your influence/control? Hmm.)

Emmanuel Dagher (someone I highly recommend) is fond of saying:

"The mind structures, organizes and predicts everything to keep us safe."

Since he's absolutely right about the function of the mind, I'm rather fond of saying it too.

To protect us, the mind's way of dealing with mistakes is to keep using what it knows. The mind structures, organizes and predicts everything around mistakes—both potential and actual mistakes—using one or more of those six beliefs to try to keep us out of trouble.

As it turns out, however, the "common sense" management of mistakes works against our physiology and our ability to learn, retain and recall what we've learned more recently.

Here's why:

Our minds believe judgment (with the accompanying guilt, disapproval, anger and/or even punishment) will keep us safe from ever making that mistake again.

The problem is, when the situation comes up again, we're more likely to repeat it because we send ourselves back into stress/anxiety over it. Then we go into "survival mode."

In the physiology of survival mode, we lose access to the creative, wise parts of our minds, that is, our executive brain center, where our foreheads are.

In survival mode, the body prioritizes its resources to our older "reptilian" brain parts to keep us alive. Our brains prefer us to keep breathing and our hearts to keep pumping and our limbs to keep fighting or fleeing, and those functions are back there in the hind brain.

As a result, without access to that front "executive" compartment, our minds take us back to the survival strategies we learned in childhood. Not much fun, really. Not very effective in most present situations, either, is it?

In survival mode, we lose access to what we've learned and what we told ourselves we'd do instead should this situation come up again. It's a physiological mechanism that puts us back there, where we keep our knee-jerk reactions at the ready.

One of the best decisions we can make is to let go of judgment: towards ourselves and other people. Holding judgment is what keeps us stuck!

  • Physiologically speaking, judgment puts us and other people in a state of stress and anxiety (survival mode).
  • Emotionally, mentally and spiritually speaking, judgment keeps us holding the vision of ourselves or other people as whatever negative label we give them: "bad," "incompetent," "stupid," "immature," "lazy" or whatever we've decided about them and their behavior.

When we hold a negative vision of someone, we expect more of the same and we don't leave any room for anything new to happen. Moreover, we tend to treat them, or ourselves, exactly how that type of person should be treated.

To put it mildly, in survival mode, we (and/or they) lose access to our best (newer) choices and strategies that are housed in our executive brain centers.

  • It's like taking an anger management class when you're calm, cool and collected, only to find that you forget everything you've learned when you become stressed: triggered, anxious, overtired, too hungry, lonely and/or afraid.
  • Or like watching someone else go through something similar and wondering why they don't use what they learned.

To put it simply:

When stress hits, we forget what we've learned, despite our best intentions.

Learning, acquiring new habits and making better choices all work best when the mind (and body) feel safe and relaxed. In fact, the more safe and relaxed you feel, the easier and faster you can both learn and creatively solve complex problems.

When you're relaxed and alert, your physiology helps the brain and body to learn, retain, recall and put to use what you've learned, whenever you need it. This is half of the secret of study. (The other half I teach in my Secret of Study hypnosis recording, which you can request by contacting me.)

When it comes to mistakes, we have the power to create a culture of true learning. We can transform the "common sense" approach in our circle of influence by making one subtle yet major change:

We can get rid of judgment.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, we need to replace judgment with something that works better. I suggest replacing judgment with the following:

• Love for ourselves or whoever's made the mistake

• Compassionate discernment, that is, noticing with peace what is present, and

• Permission to make mistakes (and try new things!)

When we replace judgment with love, discernment and permission to make mistakes, we can relax in mind and body and keep access to our executive brain function.

We get to keep access to our creative, wiser, problem-solving selves.

Then we can remember that we have a choice, and we can do the thing we'd prefer to do this time for better results. And we make it easier for others to do the same.

(Also published on LinkedIn.)

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