A Healthy Idyllwild: Trial and Error: January 19, 2017

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By Callie Wight

Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult you own healthcare provider for any questions or issues concerning you own health status. 

If you’re like me, I bet you’ve heard the saying “trial and error” a hundred times. And that other favorite saying that always seemed to me to be loaded with buckshot, “The least you can do is learn from your mistakes.” 

Throughout our lives, we have been warned to avoid mistakes. A mistake is failure. “A miss is as good as a mile.” “Get it right.” “Don’t make a fool of yourself.” Most of our lives we are graded and evaluated, with our failings listed out for us. “Wrong,” “mistake,” “failure,” words that hurt, and depending on context and other factors, may impact some of us for life.

Now, I do believe strongly in the importance of getting certain things right and, preferably, the first time. As a health-care professional, psychotherapist and coach, there are many important actions I do not want to mess up, especially when peoples’ lives or feelings are at stake. Most folk I know feel the same. Throughout each day, we strive to get things right, be mistake-free and succeed.

But here is an interesting fact: The human brain is designed to learn through experimenting. In other words, not getting it right all the time is how we learn. 

To perform a task perfectly is a great thing and feels pretty good. However, we probably didn’t learn much that time. To learn, grow and develop, we need to try things out; to see what happens. If I do this, then what? Yikes. Or fantastic. 

Too much emphasis on avoiding errors, failures and mistakes can undermine self-esteem and self-confidence, and even stimulate feelings of shame, fearfulness and inadequacy. These feelings block our ability to try things out, learn, grow and develop.

By reflecting on our experiences, and then affirming and celebrating our strengths and victories, we create the confidence to improve, to keep moving forward. 

So how about if we change our old adages to something new like “trial and learn”; “trial and grow”; “trial and change”? Let’s try and just see what happens. 

Without those “mistakes,’’ there is no learning. 

Callie Wight is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.

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