According to the story, a young person asked an older, wiser person, “How do I avoid mistakes?” The mentor said, “Get experience.” The young person rejoined, “Then how do I get experience?” The reply: “Make mistakes.”
Of course, this assumes that one learns from his or her mistakes. Unfortunately, many of us make mistakes again and again but never learn from them. How do we learn from mistakes? Let me suggest several steps.
First, pray that God will give you a teachable spirit. If we are unwilling to learn from our mistakes and adapt our behavior, we won’t improve. We will continue to do the same thing again and again and expect different results. Albert Einstein called that insanity.
Second, give yourself the space to reflect on exactly what happened. Don’t obsess about it, but make sure that you have a well-rounded picture of events. You might even ask a trusted friend who observed the event or action to give you some honest feedback. The perspective may well be very different from your own.
Third, consider some alternative ideas, approaches, or ways of acting. This is another place where a trusted mentor or friend may help by offering suggestions. Try to find out what others have done in the same situation. Their experiences may not be replicable in your case but may stimulate your thinking.
Fourth, practice a new way of doing what you did before. This is more than “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This is “If at first you don’t succeed, try a different, more informed approach.”
I once confessed to a supervisor that about half of the things that I was trying in my ministry situation were not working. His advice was, “Don’t stop trying.” Even failures can fuel successful if we use them wisely.
This post originally appeared as an ABP blog in January 2014