Reframing Mistakes: Lessons From A Wrongologist

Let’s talk about that moment when you’ve realised you’ve done something wrong. We know, it’s not one you’d like to celebrate and probably led to some embarrassment and guilt. Despite the discomfort of these moments, Kathryn Schulz, an author and “wrongologist,” has made it her job to understand and ease the stigma around mucking up.

Her insight into what it means to be wrong supports the idea that maybe the problem is not so much the mistakes that we make, but the unease and obsession we feel over them.

In her humorous and engaging TED talk, Schulz points out how uncomfortable we are with being wrong and how it damages ourselves and our society as a whole.

“This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.”

According to Schulz, it all starts when we are young. We’ve grown up thinking that making mistakes means there’s something wrong with us--a sign of inadequacy. But the interesting (and eye-opening) thing that she points out, is that all our stories, creativity and lessons come from mistakes.

Ira Glass, an American radio show host, says that the personal stories shared on his show could all seemingly come from the same prompt:

“I thought this one thing was going to happen. And this one thing happened instead.”

What a helpful and more sustainable outlook for when things go wrong! It reframes the vilified “mistake” from one that seemed to imply that we are somehow lacking, to one that teaches us to accept things the way they are.

Why is it so difficult to be perfect? Because making mistakes is part of the human experience.

While we worry about what we should have done differently, ruminate over our perceived shortcomings, and judge others for their blunders, we are doing all parties a disservice.

It is far better to let go of being right and apply strategies to make the experience of making a mistake more palatable. And here’s where to start:

Keep perspective in play.

Is it really the end of the world, or is it just your emotions talking? You’ll probably look back at this one day and see either how little it had to do with where you are now, or how much it helped you get there.

Bring humour into it.

Self-explanatory: have a laugh about it! Laughing eases tension and while you’re judging yourself, the tension is building. Laughing is a great way to make any situation a bit more positive.

Learn a lesson from it.

So, you’ve done it. You’ve messed up. And now you have some real-life data to help you avoid doing it again. There’s no better way to learn than through your own faults.

Share it with others.

This puts the typical strategy of dealing with an error on its head. We’re not saying go and brag to your boss about all the things you’ve done wrong! But perhaps next time someone feels a bit like a fool, you can revel in your imperfect humanness, together.

Worrying less about a mistake and focusing more on what’s next, gives you space to just be yourself--and you are one unique human.