I was a pretty bad student for most of my school career. I was an extremely right-brained person living a couple of decades before people broadly understood the differences in these learning styles. I once tested as the 3rd highest IQ in my school—the two guys above me went on to become a brain surgeon and a rocket scientist—but as far as the school system was concerned, I was just slow. It wasn’t until I hit grad school that I really began to understand how to learn effectively, and then I realized just how bad the high school method is.
The attitude of the school system is very anti-mistake. You study up for a test because every wrong answer is a missed opportunity. Once we get into the wider world, we tend to hold a similar view. Of course, we’ve all heard phrases like, “fail forward,” or “you learn more from your mistakes than your successes,” but it’s very difficult to think like that in the moment. There are a lot of platitudes floating around about this one, so what practical applications can we find here?
First and foremost, you can’t learn or grow very much without making mistakes. This has been repeated often enough that it may be a platitude, but it is so fundamental that it should be repeated anyway. What sometimes goes unsaid is that it’s not an automatic process. They give us an opportunity to learn, but it’s on us to make use of it or not—and that tends to be difficult because in the moment they tend to create tension and pain. Clearly, the first thing we need to do is work on changing our mindset toward our mistakes.
The process starts with a willingness to make mistakes. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re trying to make mistakes, but that you accept them as a necessary part of the process. Learning anything is a process of building a foundation. Circumstances will force you to reconsider assumptions or consider new perspectives, and bit by bit you’ll make your foundation more stable and complete. The key is that your mindset is relaxed enough to adapt according to your mistakes and constantly improve the sum of your knowledge. On the other hand, if you’re constantly worried about the short-term, not only will it make you tense and rigid, but you’ll end up overreacting to every little mishap, swinging back and forth like a pendulum instead of falling back on the stable foundation you should be building.
In my case, this all falls in naturally with the core of my beliefs that I call, “living in love in the present moment.” If you’ve been with me for long, you know that one of the key parts of this is giving up the end results, and that’s exactly what we need here. Ultimately, you can treat each step of the way as either a learning process or a final exam—and even if it literally is an exam, it’s really not useful to think of it in strict success/failure terms. After all, life is a process. When you break it down, all we’re really talking about is keeping things in perspective, and striving to be relaxed, flexible, and open to change.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd