Things My Dog Taught Me: Don’t be afraid of making a mistake


My last blog had a misspelled word in the title.  The word was “persevere”.  I added an additional “r”.  Now, a year ago, I would have beaten myself up incessantly about that.  I would have gone down a bad road.  It’s my nature.  And there are some good things about that.  I am always trying to learn and improve.  But the downside to that is what I call “the downward spiral to hell”.  We all do it at times.  We all beat ourselves up over even simple mistakes and by the end of the day, we are worthless human beings.

But my dog has taught me that mistakes are more than okay.  When Ginger poops or pees in the house (and she does this more often as she gets older) she doesn’t fret about it. She doesn’t beat herself up.  She doesn’t agonize over it.  She just moves forward.  Once, she tried to chase a squirrel and attempted to jump the short retaining wall in the back yard.  She missed and bounced off the wall, landing in the yard.  Did she look embarrassed?  Did she fret over that mistake?  Did she beat herself up about not making the jump?  Not hardly.  She jumped back up and ran around the wall to get to her quarry.  Nothing stopped her from that task.  Her mistake just told her that she had to figure out some other way.

Before publishing my books, I agonized over the layout and read them hundreds of times trying to find mistakes.  What if I published them and then found a mistake?  It would be the end of the world for me.  What if people didn’t like the books?  What if they wrote a bad review?  But I have finally learned that those mistakes are not the end of the world.  I published them anyway, and have found several mistakes since then.  I will continue to refine them and make them better.  They were easily changed, since it is publish-on-demand.  But if I had waited until the books were “perfect” (there is no such thing), the books would still not be published.

There is an exercise where teams build a tower from spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow that has to be at the top.  The highest tower wins.  There is a single group that does the best at this exercise due to their knowledge:  architects and engineers.  But other than architects and engineers, there is one group that does consistently better than others:  kindergarten kids.  And there is one group that does consistently worse than others:  recent business school graduates.  The reason for this is that the kindergarten kids just start making towers, not worried about making mistakes.  They find what DOESN’T work and keep refining their towers.  The business school students jockey for power, fret, plan, and try to follow the “process” they have learned in school.  Check out this video:  http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower.html

But beyond agonizing over mistakes that are relatively easy to fix, being afraid to make a mistake inhibits your performance in the present.  Ask any athlete about that.  They have to be positive about their performance and visualize everything going perfectly.  The minute they start thinking about NOT making a mistake, the mistake is made.  For all of you golfers out there, if you are visualizing your shot going over the water hazard and onto the green, you have a much better chance of getting there if you are not thinking, “Don’t go in the water.  Don’t go in the water.”  What happens when you think that?  The mind doesn’t hear the word “don’t”.  It just hears, “Go in the water.”  And that’s what usually happens.

So, don’t be afraid of mistakes.  Silicon Valley calls it the “F” word, or FAILURE.  You have to fail an awful lot to succeed.  Stay tuned for more on what my dog taught me.

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