Mistake or failure? You choose!


Photo © Kevin Connors
Take a look at these acrobats. Let's suppose one of the top girls did something that caused her to fall down. Would that be a mistake or a failure? The real answer is: you can't know. To the world mistakes and failure look the same: she fell to the floor. So only she can tell if it was a mistake or a failure. And that can have major consequences for her work and her life. The same goes for you. Being aware of the difference between a mistake and a failure can do a lot for your life. Care to explore this topic a little deeper? Let's go...

I stated that only the artist could say whether falling to the floor is a mistake or failure. The same goes for you and me. Why? Because both are things we create ourselves. You get to decide if something is a mistake or a failure. There is a crucial difference you need to be aware of: a mistake is something you do or say; a failure on the other hand is something you experience. Most people however (including me for a long time!) don't look at it like this. They see a failure simply as "a huge mistake". Even though this is wrong thinking, its also quite understandable.

Where do "failures" come from?

Take a look at this scenario: when you first start out learning a new skill you don't think about mistakes. Not even if you botch things. They are just "learning experiences". After you gain some experience and build a small part of this new skill, you start to have a certain expectancy-set about your abilities. If the things you do don't live up to this expectancy-set, a "mistake" results. Still no big deal right? You're only learning. So you correct the mistake and move on. But what if your expectancy - perhaps based on what you think you ought to do - far exceeds your present skills? If your expectancy-set is based on what you think others expect from you. That's where "failure" rears it's ugly head!

As I said, a mistake is something you say or do and a failure is something you experience. If you look closely at that, you'll see that making a mistake is an action, whereas a failure is a feeling. Most of your mistakes you can correct, although sometimes you can't and have to live with the consequences. In the latter case: make sure you don't make that mistake again. Also, mistakes often turn out right in the end. The mistake itself or the way you handle it might open the door to opportunity. But there is no way you can "correct" a feeling. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they simply are. You sure might want to feel different though!

I believe that the choice of experiencing something as a failure or not is made right at the start of your actions, based on your belief. If you start thinking: "I can", you tend to regard mistakes as stepping stones toward your goal. Necessary elements on the road to your success if you like. But if you start out thinking "I can't", then you look at mistakes as failure: proof that you can't indeed. And even though I called it a choice, it is mostly a subconscious choice, based on your own vision of yourself and largely shaped through your past experiences. Now it is beyond the scope of this site to go deeply into that, but being aware that failure is a feeling and not an action can already make an enormous difference. What do you choose?

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