Creativity Reflections podcast

Reframing Mistakes

Mistakes are not the enemy

So many of my clients are afraid to make mistakes and they beat up on themselves pretty hard if they do.

I’m raising my hand here. I have been addicted to getting it right at all costs, needing to be perfect.

As I continue to learn about transformation, self-development and creativity, I’m learning how valuable mistakes are. They are absolutely essential to the process – so we need to reframe them to allow us to make them and reap the benefit from them.

Consider this: when a musician tunes their instrument they’re a little flat, a little off key too little or too much and they adjust. No one says, “oh yeah, he made 15 mistakes but now his instrument is in tune”. They just say, “He’s tuning his instrument”. In other words, he’s calibrating to the right sound perfectly balanced between too little and too much.

The same is true of performance or painting or drawing or transformation. There’s a certain amount of oscillating between too much and too little until you learn the right balance.

The coolest part is that most of the learning that comes from going a little too far or falling a little too short is done subconsciously. You don’t have to do anything but allow the so called ‘mistake’ and then allow the feedback from that mistake to calibrate you closer to the goal.

Make sense?

In my watercolour class last night, the students had to do some tricky exercises – leaving a hair of white space between two colours. Too little and the white space is big and ungraceful. Too much and the colours run together in a smudge. But each time, your brain calibrates to the weight of the brush, the length of the bristles, the fluidity of the pigment. We need to allow this calibration.

In isolation it looks like a mistake but zoom out and we see lots of little adjustments closer to the goal: the very thing that enables wonderful progress and work down the line. It all hinges on this basic calibration.

Reframe mistakes in your life.

Let’s apply this to your creative ambition in a personal sense.

Imagine an upside down U. We’re looking for the balance point right at the top that has us on track to our dreams. Too far either side and we’re sliding down the edge into the ditch.

On the left side, too little, we lack motivation. Here, we’ve bought into doubt – we don’t believe that it’s possible – you can’t make money with your art, it’s risky, you’re not good enough.

On the right side, too much, we clutch and grab trying to bring it closer but we’re actually pushing it away. Here, we believe it’s possible but we’re impatient. We want it now, we need it to be happy and our awareness is focussed on the fact that we don’t have it yet.

The sweet spot is between these two sides. We believe it’s possible and we’re motivated by how we’re going to feel when we attain success. We trust things are unfolding exactly as they need to and so we also trust the timing. In this sweet spot, released from doubt and impatience, we feel excited and driven to take action, confident to make valuable connections and willingness to practice our craft – and it accelerates us into our dreams.

A guitarist who plays out of tune isn’t going to reach his dream. One who does, stands a better chance – right?

If you find yourself sliding off the U, beating yourself up for making a mistake will have you crashing to the bottom. Instead, reframe it. Recognise that you’re calibrating. Congratulate yourself for noticing it so early and make the necessary adjustments.

If you adjust too far, slipping from impatience to doubt, catch yourself again. Remind yourself how well you’re doing, how quickly you’re catching yourself and how good it’s going to feel when you tune in. Make the adjustments.

Just like an instrument, getting in tune once doesn’t mean we stay in tune. Circumstances, people and our own thoughts and behaviours are going to bump and stretch us out of shape. That is not failing or making a mistake – that’s normal. Just recalibrate, get into tune again.

Let’s borrow a rule from improvisation and say, “there are no mistakes.”

How do we embrace mistakes?

Step 1: Realise how valuable and necessary mistakes are.

Understand that there is a cost to continuing to see mistakes as bad. The cost is not realising your creative ambition and being stuck in doubt, fear or impatience instead.

Step 2: Practice Self-Compassion

Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend. As soon as you notice you’re out of tune, congratulate yourself – that awareness is huge and such a gift. Reassure yourself that it’s normal, that there’s nothing wrong with you and everything is working out exactly as it should. Carry on championing yourself until you feel excited and motivated by your dream again.

Step 3: Once you’re calibrated, go and take action towards your dream.


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