Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Learning from mistakes requires getting past your emotions

In his book "From Lemons to Lemonade: Squeeze Every Last Drop of Success Out of Your Mistakes," Indiana University professor Dean Shepherd discusses the need to separate actions from emotions to get the most learning from mistakes and failure. In this excerpt, Shepherd writes:

By recognizing that failure can trigger a negative emotional reaction, we realize that learning from failure requires time. It also requires a process of dealing with the emotions generated by failure to learn from the experience. That process, once learned, can become one of your strengths instead of a weakness. It can be a very positive force in your life.

I agree completely. And depending on the magnitude of the failure, that time will be shorter or longer. As I journal mistakes, I can usually come to grips with the trivial ones within a week (the journal is very important for keeping record of these). Deeper ones, such as an unexpected reversal with a sales prospect, take longer - a quarter to a year. And lessons from major setbacks, such as the failure of Shepherd's father-in-law's business (related in the excerpt), take years to absorb.

In the moment, when we realize something has gone wrong, we automatically self-protect - by blaming others, or circumstances, or denying the mistake. But after some time has passed and the hurt has dissipated, we can see what really happened, and what role our actions played in the failure. Our actions and reactions are the only thing we can change going forward, and must be the center of our learning.

[Hat tip to Failure Consulting.]

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