Are you afraid of making mistakes? I think we all are at some point in time. My biggest challenge right now with my second daughter is trying to convince her to try her best in spite of her fear. She freezes. She balks. She laments. And then it usually ends with her sitting at the table with her chin forlornly in her hand while her sisters go to play. Her forehead continues to crease. Reason doesn't change her mind.
But if we are honest, there is a part in us all that is afraid to fail. One thing I try to remember is that I can choose to feed that part that craves fear, or I can starve that part that craves fear.
How can we starve fear? Well, I'm not expert, but one way I try to starve fear is to help guide my mind when it encounters thoughts of "what-if's". What if I fail? What if everyone laughs at me? What if I forget what I'm saying in front of a large group of people? What if I drive off a cliff?
It's easy to allow my brain to think about the negative outcomes. What if I force myself to think about the positive outcomes?
Maybe I can change that last "what-if" to...
What if I drive off that cliff and am pleasantly surprised to find that I have only veered off the path to see the most gorgeous sunset and to find a whole new path to travel?
As a homeschool mom, I find that I have to encourage my kids to think through the possible positive outcomes when they are faced with fear of failure. Or when they are not motivated to work on their multiplication facts or their U.S. History assignments, I engage them in conversations about their future and what they will get to use that information for someday.
And what do you do when, though you did your best to think about the positive potentials that could come from your decisions, you fail? Well, I think we could take a lesson from Philosopher Daniel Dennett, who maintains that there is an art to mistake-making. He actually believes that we should look for ways to make mistakes, so that we can be improved by it. What do you think about that?
I know what I think! If I wasn't afraid of fear, I think I might be afraid of being excited about failure. That just doesn't sound right.
But...maybe...just maybe Dennett is actually on to something!
"So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them." -Daniel Dennett
I'd love to hear about one of your recent mistakes and what you learned from in the process. It can be simple, such as cooking scrambled eggs on high instead of medium-low, or more intrusive such as implying to your second-grader that she is being lazy when she truly did not understand her assignment. I take ownership over both these scenarios. I am learning patience in the kitchen, and am learning to have much more patience with my students. Each day I can take the mistakes that I make (and I guarantee there will be many) and eagerly learn from them, instead of allowing it to cause discouragement.
What about you?