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How to Learn From Your Mistakes

… And Put Those Lessons Into Practice

How to Learn From Your Mistakes

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again.”

… And Put Those Lessons Into Practice

Think back to the last mistake that you made at work. Even if it was a minor one, like spilling coffee on a document seconds before you were due to present it, you’ll likely have felt a rush of panic and then had the inconvenience of putting things right.

No one is immune to making mistakes – we are human, after all! But if we simply apologize and carry on as before, we’re in danger of repeating the same errors.

When we don’t learn from our mistakes, we inflict unnecessary stress on ourselves and on others, and we risk losing people’s confidence and trust in us. In this article, we look at how to ensure that we take those lessons on board, and then use what we learn.

How to Stop Repeating Mistakes

Here are five steps to help you to learn from your mistakes, and to put what you discover into practice.


“Making a mistake” is not the same thing as “failing.” A failure is the result of a wrong action, whereas a mistake usually is the wrong action. So, when you make a mistake, you can learn from it and fix it, whereas you can only learn from a failure.

1. Own Your Mistakes

You can’t learn anything from a mistake until you admit that you’ve made it. So, take a deep breath and admit to yours, and then take ownership of it. Inform those who need to know, apologize , and tell them that you’re working on a solution.

Saying “sorry” takes courage, but it’s far better to come clean than to hide your error or, worse, to blame  others for it. In the long run, people will remember your courage and integrity long after they’ve forgotten the original mistake.

If, however, they hear of it from another source, your reputation will suffer and you may not get another opportunity to learn.

2. Reframe the Error

How you view your mistakes determines the way that you react to them, and what you do next.

Chances are, you’ll view your error in a purely negative light for as long as any initial shock and discomfort about it persists. But, if you can reframe your mistake  as an opportunity to learn, you will motivate  yourself to become more knowledgeable and resilient.

When you’ve acknowledged your mistake, think about what you could do to prevent it from happening again. For example, if you didn’t follow a process properly, consider introducing a more robust checklist or a clearer process document.

Stop beating yourself up, pause for a moment to reflect, and start thinking about how you can gain from the situation.

3. Analyse Your Mistake

Next, you need to analyse your mistake honestly and objectively. Ask yourself the following questions:

What was I trying to do?

What went wrong?

When did it go wrong?

Why did it go wrong?

Our article, 5 Whys , describes a straightforward yet powerful tool for identifying the causes of simple or moderately difficult problems. To use it, start with the error and keep asking “Why?” until you get to the root cause.

4. Put Lessons Learned Into Practice

The danger at this stage is that work pressures force you back to your routine tasks and habitual behaviors. The lessons that you identified in Step 3 could languish, unfulfilled, as mere good intentions. In other words, learning lessons is one thing, but putting them into practice is quite another!


Your mindset plays a significant role in how you view your mistakes and, importantly, in how you react to them.

If you have a “growth” mindset, you likely see mistakes as an opportunity to improve, and not as something that you are doomed to repeat because your mindset is “fixed” on the belief that you can’t improve.


A learning opportunity is not the same as an excuse for careless behavior!

Rather, admitting to your mistakes and showing that you have learned from them can help others to understand that making mistakes is OK. That is, as long as you act intelligently, in good faith, and keep your risk-taking within agreed boundaries.

Model this approach to encourage your people to take responsible risks, and to be more creative.

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