Human nature to avoid pain
Mistakes are costly — manpower, time, money, reputation, motivation, and it can cause failure. We don’t like the word's failure and mistakes. We have a stigma attached to them — we want to avoid them, escape from them, anything but dealing with them.
Yes, we talk about “learning from a mistake”, “failure is the mother of success” all the time. We all know that it is easier said than done. The truth is we don’t know how to deal with failure. Failure is something we avoid. We are wired to avoid making mistakes at school and at work.
When we make a mistake at school, marks would be deducted. When we make investment mistakes or make the wrong decision, we lose money or opportunity. We have learned that there will be undesired consequences when a mistake happens. And human nature is to avoid pain.
How to deal with mistakes
Schools and companies punish people who make mistakes. Besides the punishment, we are not taught or shown how to properly deal with the mistakes, or better yet, get the most out of the mistake experience.
Ray Dalio in his book “Principles” described how he systemize learning from mistakes. “Having a process that ensures problems are brought to the surface, and their root causes diagnosed, assures that continual improvements occur.”
And so Ray Dalio adopted an “Issue Log” in his company Bridgewater to track mistake — anything that goes wrong is recorded in the log. If employees make mistakes, it is ok as long as the mistake and its root causes and improvements are entered into the system.
As an investment company that focuses on making money, this is quite revolutionary. You can imagine in other companies where mistakes are punished, Ray Dalio encourages his staff to look beyond the mistake and into the causes and ways for improving the system.
My mistake log
Mistake log doesn’t necessarily contain financial mistakes. Any mistakes — relationship, career, work, anything that you think can be improved should be recorded.
Here is the entry sample of my mistake log. It is done in an excel file. You can use any software or choose any format you desire.
It was a painful process because you have to recall the mistake in order to record it. And most people would simply choose to escape and hide the head in the sand and pretend that the mistake never happened. So it really takes courage and determination to do the log.
But later in life, you will thank yourself because by filling this log, you realize that you have the power to improve. You have the choice to improve. The mistakes, no matter how painful, guilty, heartbroken, frustrating and angry that may feel, shifted into a lesson that facilitates your growth. You digest the mistakes by processing it. With the log as your tool, you shifted your focus on the mistake to problem-solving. You shifted from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. And that shift in perspective will benefit you in becoming a wiser person.