When you make a mistake, big or small, cherish it like it’s the most precious thing in the world. Because in some ways, it is.
Most of us feel bad when we make mistakes, beat ourselves up about it, feel like failures, get mad at ourselves.
And that’s only natural: most of us have been taught from a young age that mistakes are bad, that we should try to avoid mistakes. We’ve been scolded when we make mistakes — at home, school and work. Maybe not always, but probably enough times to make feeling bad about mistakes an unconscious reaction.
Yet without mistakes, we could not learn or grow.
If you think about it that way, mistakes should be cherished and celebrated for being one of the most amazing things in the world: they make learning possible, they make growth and improvement possible.
By trial and error — trying things, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes — we have figured out how to make electric light, to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to fly.
Mistakes make walking possible for the smallest toddler, make speech possible, make works of genius possible.
Think about how we learn: we don’t just consume information about something and instantly know it or know how to do it. You don’t just read about painting, or writing, or computer programming, or baking, or playing the piano, and know how to do them right away.
Instead, you get information about something, from reading or from another person or from observing usually … then you construct a model in your mind … then you test it out by trying it in the real world … then you make mistakes … then you revise the model based on the results of your real-world experimentation … and repeat, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, until you’ve pretty much learned how to do something.
That’s how we learn as babies and toddlers, and how we learn as adults. Trial and error, learning something new from each error.
Mistakes are how we learn to do something new — because if you succeed at something, it’s probably something you already knew how to do. You haven’t really grown much from that success — at most it’s the last step on your journey, not the whole journey. Most of the journey was made up of mistakes, if it’s a good journey.
So if you value learning, if you value growing and improving, then you should value mistakes. They are amazing things that make a world of brilliance possible.
Celebrate your mistakes. Cherish them. Smile.
It is the Zen Habits way.