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On Course, Fourth Edition
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Additional Success Strategies - Learning from Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. We all know that. But what is a mistake?

We make hundreds of choices daily, maybe thousands. Each choice has one of three effects on our lives. Some choices move us toward our goals and dreams. Some choices leave us right where we are. And some choices move us away from our goals and dreams.

When Victims make a decision that moves them away from their destination, their Inner Critics point the finger of judgment inward, saying, It was my fault. I'm to blame. Then their Inner Defenders immediately point the finger outward, blaming others and excusing themselves. This inner chorus of blaming and defending distracts Victims from the reality that they did have other choices. They just didn't see them.

Here, then, is a nonjudgmental way to think about a mistake:

A mistake is a choice that gets us off course from our dreams when a choice existed that could have kept us on course to our dreams.

No blame. No excuses. Our choices either lead to desired results or they lead to undesired results. This is the way your Inner Guide sees it.

Everyone makes mistakes, but Victims repeat theirs. Over and over. Worse, they often judge themselves for having made the mistake or they judge others for having caused them to make the mistake.

By contrast, Creators learn from their mistakes. As a result, they seldom repeat them. Also, they resist judging themselves or others for their mistakes.

The following choice evaluation process can help you profit from past mistakes. To illustrate the five-step process, let's look at how it helped a student named Tina. Tina was a twenty-three-year-old wife and mother who dreamed of becoming a buyer in the fashion industry. To achieve her dream, she needed a college degree.

Step 1: What Choice Did I Make That Got Me Off Course?

"I've missed my night class two weeks in a row," Tina acknowledged.

Step 2: What Did I Make More Important Than Taking a Step Toward My Goals and Dreams?

"I waited until my husband came home from work so he could take care of our baby. When he works overtime, he doesn't get home in time for me to get to school. Surely you don't expect me to make this class more important than my baby?"

"So," I said, ignoring Tina's Inner Defender, "last Monday, you made taking care of your baby until your husband got home more important than coming to class."


Step 3: What Other Choices Could I Have Made?

"I didn't have any other choice."

"I understand that at this moment you don't see another choice. But if you were able to see another choice, what would it be?"

"Well, maybe I could have brought my baby to class," Tina said, her Inner Guide starting to cooperate.

"Great. That's one option. What else?"

"I could have asked the day care center to keep my baby later than usual. I already know they don't want any kids there after 5:30, but maybe they would have made an exception just this once. Or, I could...." She paused.


"Well, my sister has a baby, too. She's not working or going to school right now, and she lives near me. Maybe she would have watched the baby until my husband got home. I could watch her baby when she wants to go out on the weekend."

"Great! So you did have other options. You could have brought your baby to school, you could have asked the day care center to keep your baby later, and you could have asked your sister to watch your baby until your husband got home."

"I like the last one. My baby will be fine with my sister."

"So, it looks like missing class was a mistake. After all, you did have other choices that would have moved you toward your goals."

Step 4: Is My Original Choice Part of a Pattern in My Life?

"Well, I guess it is. I don't like to ask other people for help."

"And you don't ask other people for help because...?"

"I guess because I'm afraid they'll say no."

"It sounds as though you make avoiding rejection more important than getting help and getting what you want. Is that right?"

"I guess I do."

Step 5: What Did I Learn?

"I learned that I don't have to miss class so often," Tina said. "I learned that I can ask my sister to baby-sit. Also, I have more choices than I thought I did. I learned that I don't always have to choose between taking care of my baby and getting my degree."

"Great. Anything else?"

"Sometimes I don't ask for things because I'm afraid of being rejected."

"Great. Anything else?"

"Nope. I think that's it."

Now, you may not have a baby as Tina did. And you may not be missing classes, either. But if you're making choices that lead you away from your dream when better choices exist, you're making mistakes, too.

Many Victims put themselves in an "either/or" mind set. Either I meet this need or I meet that need, but I can't possibly have them both. The choice evaluation process shows you that often you can have them both. When you explore your options with the choice evaluation process, you will often see that you can create much more in life than you ever thought possible. Additionally, this process gives you a way to identify limiting patterns that get you off course from your goals and dreams.

With practice, Creators begin recognizing their mistakes closer and closer to the moment of choice. A man I know denied for more than ten years that he is an alcoholic, despite losing his wife, being fired from his job, and going bankrupt. Finally, after a decade of denial, he listened to his Inner Guide, evaluated his choices, and recognized that his drinking was a serious mistake. He decided to stop making alcohol more important than his relationships, his career, and even his life. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, stopped drinking, and during the next five years pieced his life back together. He found a new job, got remarried, and regained his self-respect.

At a party one night, he decided that he could handle a glass of wine. One glass led to many more. On the way home, he drove off the road, and when he regained consciousness, he found himself upside down and badly bruised, but still alive. Lying there in a ditch, still groggy from wine, he evaluated his choice to drink again and recognized immediately that he had made a mistake. With that recognition, he was able to correct his mistake and resume his sobriety within hours (instead of years) after his mistake. Perhaps the next time that he considers drinking alcohol he'll realize his mistake even before he takes the first sip.

So, when you make a mistake, don't abuse yourself or others with judgment. Judgment keeps you off course. Judgment keeps you from learning from your mistakes. And Judgment keeps you from seeing that blessings sometimes come disguised as mistakes. Instead, profit from your mistakes: Learn your lesson and get right back on course.

Journal Entry

In this activity you will have an opportunity to learn from a past mistake by applying the choice evaluation process. People who profit from their mistakes can minimize their misery while achieving much more in their lives than they ever thought possible.
  1. Use the choice evaluation process to examine a choice you made that got you off course. Write the five questions and your answers in your journal.
Remember: A mistake is a choice that gets us off course from our dreams when a choice existed that could have kept us on course to our dreams. Think of a choice you made regarding your family, college, friends, job, a love relationship, or anywhere else in your life and how this choice got you off course. This choice might have been a broken commitment in this course or elsewhere in your life.

Step 1: What choice did I make that got me off course?

Step 2: What did I make more important than taking a step toward my goals and dreams?
(What did I do instead?)

Step 3: What other choices could I have made? (Make a long list.)

Step 4: Is my original choice part of a pattern in my life?
(Do I often think, act, feel, or believe as I did in this situation?)

Step 5: What did I learn?

  1. Write a paragraph (or more) exploring your thoughts and feelings about evaluating your choices and learning from your mistakes.
    As before, you will probably benefit from first writing a list of Creator questions to answer. Everyone makes mistakes. What matters is what you do after you make a mistake. Victims listen to their Inner Critics and Inner Defenders; then they repeat the mistake over and over. Creators listen to their Inner Guides, find better options, and learn valuable lessons from every mistake.
Relax, think, write.