How to Make Mistakes Work to Your Benefit

Are you afraid to make mistakes –– worried about failing?

It is a sad irony that so many of us are afraid of mistakes and failures, because those are always opportunities to learn, and then to use that knowledge to develop greater skill.

If you accept this premise, isn’t it strange that the fear of making mistakes is so pervasive? Whenever an idea or attitude is pervasive, it means we tend to reinforce those perspectives in each other. We don’t fear mistakes and failures in isolation. “Failure” is only possible if there’s someone else around –– someone whom we expect to catch or shame or reject us because of our mistake.

It is astonishing that even the most intelligent people are not immune to this problem. Even therapists are not immune! 

Why is this astonishing? Because fear of failure and of making mistakes is an education problem, one that is easily solved but constantly overlooked.

Let’s solve it right here.

Simple Insights to Dissolve Fear of Mistakes and Make Them Work for You

1. All activity unfolds according to the unwavering laws of cause and effect. This means ALL activity, whether it be mental, emotional, or physical. Whether in nature or between people (and people are part of nature, too!) the laws of cause and effect are operating in a perfectly unbiased way.

2. If we don’t accomplish our desired outcome, it’s because we made some kind of mistake, because we simply failed to follow the laws of cause and effect that sync up with that outcome. It isn’t a character flaw!

3. It’s important to remember that failures and mistakes are the way the universe communicates to us how things work. If we really want to learn how things work, we need to pay attention to our mistakes and failures with open-minded interest, always questioning our previous assumptions. That way, we’re constantly learning, and building our skills.

4. Constant learning takes courage. Why? Because seeing clearly means that, once we see we’re wrong about something, we have to be willing to revise our assumptions. And letting go of favored opinions, changing our thinking to align with reality –– that’s a brave thing to do!

5. The most frequent mistaken assumption we make is that mistakes and failures in our activity somehow diminish our worth. We mistakenly assume that failure cancels our right to self-respect, and to move through the world as a living being in an easy, relaxed way.

6. We are typically programmed to buy into this mistaken assumption that failure is proof of unworthiness when we are young children who lack the personal power to override the mistaken opinions of adults (even when those adults are obviously wrong). A powerful adult can convince a small child that their innocent behaviors can be mistakes or failures that “require” punishment, rejection, or ridicule. Such an adult is merely repeating what they were taught, which was clearly a mistake. And if they don’t grow up and recognize the mistake their own adult caregivers made, they’ll pass it on.

7. It is a deep tragedy for the human race that so much chaos and suffering can be traced back to this shaming, attacking assumption about the nature of mistakes and failures –– to the ridiculous idea that punishment is required when we make them.

8. The required beneficial action is, instead, to recognize our mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn. With the benefit of that learning, we are empowered to proceed to our next challenge with the advantage of greater knowledge and skill!

Let’s stop shaming, mocking, and attacking ourselves and each other in support of this silly mistake about the nature of mistakes. Let’s stop this rampant failure to understand failures as what they really are: innocent, and necessary, stepping stones to accomplishment. 


Mistakes show us where we lack knowledge.
They alert us to where we’ve lost focus and attention.

––Jack Elias & Ceci Miller

The Outrageous Guide to Being Fully Alive