So here’s a question: Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? Do you allow yourself on the deepest level of your being, to make a mistake and carry on nevertheless? Or is there some unconscious belief still hidden in your mind, that tells you it is wrong? It is a big question, I realize that, but it makes it even more interesting to find out the answer!
On a Monday evening in January, I hosted the coaching workshop `Who are you & How are you doing?´ in Berlin. It was such a beautiful experience to dive into the journey of self-discovery and growth together with other people and it brought up quite some interesting themes. During one of the exercises, in which we use a technique from Cognitive Behavioral Psychology, we discovered our underlying beliefs or our so called core beliefs. Beliefs about ourselves, others or the world, of which we might not be aware that we have them, but they influence our behavior nevertheless.
Core Believes: underlying believes about ourselves, others or the world, that influence how we think, feel and behave.
Examples of core beliefs could be that you are not good enough, that you will never be happy, or that the people around you are always out to hurt you. Just imagine what consequences such beliefs can have on how we treat other people, how we interact with other people, how willing we are to meet new people and step into new adventures. A core belief usually comes from an experience in the past, where you got hurt or someone taught you to think like that and subsequently this experience was converted by your mind into a belief.
Am I Allowed to Make Mistakes?
So coming back to the workshop, it turned out that for a couple of people the same core belief came up: I am not allowed to make mistakes. Which resulted in them holding back in opportunities at work or their personal lives. This behavior obviously didn’t actually make them happier, it just protected them from something they thought to be wrong. Besides the people in this workshop I remember from working as a psychologist for students, and from my own experience discovering my core beliefs, that many people tend to have this underlying belief. Interestingly enough, we often think we are okay with making mistakes (or it is okay for other people to make mistakes) but we still believe unconsciously that it is not okay.
Knowing such underlying beliefs can have a massive impact on our day-to-day life and behavior. Because as soon as we are aware of our core beliefs, we can decide to act or behave differently anyway. We can decide to not be driven by our unconscious thoughts anymore, but to make deliberate choices to act according to what makes us happy (e.g grab that opportunity for a new job, leave our old lives and go travel, ask that person out for a date, etc).
So what does it actually mean to ‘not be allowed to make mistakes’? It means that there is no space in our lives for trial and error. It means that our learning curve would always be an exponential line. It also means that whenever we would make a mistake, instead of comforting ourselves we would be disappointed and harsh on ourselves because we did something we told ourselves we shouldn’t. Moreover, it means that when we are in a situation in which we are trying something new, or trying to achieve something we would never be able to relax, because we would always have to worry about making a mistake. As you can see, this is a very unpleasant and even unrealistic lifestyle. How would we ever be able to grow, develop and enjoy adventures if we wouldn’t allow ourselves to make mistakes? I can imagine that most of us would say right now “Yeah I know, mistakes are good to learn from. But it still feels like a bad thing”.
Learning How to Fail
And that is okay as well. However, the reason why it is so hard sometimes to deal with a mistake is because we never learned to become good at failing! As Pema Chödrön describes so beautifully in the book Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: we are not prepared to fail. We put so much focus on having success, that we just don’t know how to fail properly.
Chödron suggests us to look at failing as a gate to creativity, to try something new, leading to something better. Because in the end, you can actually never know where your mistakes might lead you to. She advises us to look at failing with an open and curious attitude. To research what just happened - what really happened. Taking a position of observer and researcher will also allow us to take a step back from the bad feeling and stop the identification with the mistake. Because you are not your mistake (you can read more on this topic in the article about The Ego). So allow all feelings and thoughts to arise after you did something wrong. And know that as quickly as they came, they will also go away again, but you will have learned something and you will have grown to become an even better version of yourself.
Why Should We Make Mistakes?
So coming back to the question. Why is it okay to make mistakes?
Because there is no life without mistakes. There is no growth without mistakes. Mistakes do not make you less of a person, they can only enrich your life. Our job is to start to understand the art of making mistakes and get really good at it. We can learn to embrace our mistakes and all the feelings that come along with them, and to just keep trying, exploring and enjoying ourselves anyway. Read here for more info and upcoming workshops.