How to Learn From Your Mistakes

Sep 06, 2018   |   Success Tips
How to Learn From Your Mistakes

Believe it or not, there is a science behind making mistakes. It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in almost any field, also known as the “10,000-hour rule”.1 While it can be beneficial to know the kind of work ethic needed to lead to expertise, it’s also important to understand that mistakes and failures are integral to that process. That’s where deliberate practice comes into play; it involves isolating what’s not working and mastering the difficult area before moving on.1 The same principle can apply to your online education and schoolwork—mistakes and failures are a part of the learning process. But, you can make the best of them. Here are a few ways to help you move forward.

  1. Be specific about your errors.
    Take responsibility for your actions, and be specific about your errors. What kind of mistake did you make? Knowing that you got an answer wrong doesn’t mean much, but acknowledging that you don’t understand a specific concept within a certain subject is huge and can provide a baseline for improvement. Allow your mistakes to shed light on the subjects, concepts, or theories that may require more of your attention. Oftentimes, the mistakes that seem so dire are usually careless errors, or a single concept applied incorrectly. Whether it’s reaching out to your online class instructor for help on a certain subject, or spending additional time with a career development coach, sometimes the “fix” is more straightforward or smaller than how big the problem feels.2

  2. Do not let your mistakes define you..
    Most successful people find value in error; they admit and discuss their mistakes and failures openly, and acknowledge that without them, they would’ve never learned what they know now, or ended up where they are currently. They know that it’s possible to laugh off mistakes, and then work hard to correct them. Avoid putting yourself down when you mess up – it’s a self-defeating habit that must be broken in order to fully appreciate who you are, mistakes and all. You are more than your mistakes.

  3. Let go of the fear of failure..
    One common thing that tends to hold students back is the fear of failure. They are afraid to act because they’re so concerned about making a mistake. Ask yourself if you’re procrastinating, making excuses, or waiting to act on your studies or career goals. Mistakes are proof that you’re trying, and without them, you’re not growing or learning. Push past doubts, embrace imperfections, and allow yourself to make mistakes, so you can continue moving forward in your education and career.3

  4. Reshape your goals..
    Throughout your educational journey and life in general, it’s important to reframe your view of mistakes.3 Learning how to make the most of them can help you rework and reshape your goals, redefine expectations and needs, refocus your school and work, and feel more positive overall, regardless of the situation. Making mistakes allows you to learn what you value, what you like, what you don’t want, and what you don’t need.3

  5. View Mistakes as Opportunities..
    When you shift your mindset, it allows you to understand that there are actually no mistakes, only lessons and learning opportunities. Viewing your mistakes as huge failures, and focusing on the negatives at-hand will only prevent you from reaching your goals. Don’t hold yourself back! Whether you’re switching your major, returning to school later in life or after a prolonged break, or making a new career move—know that some of the most frustrating mistakes can lead to the most significant breakthroughs.3

Be a student first, and keep learning. Examine your mistakes, take time to work through the problem areas, and use them as a way to reshape and refocus your educational goals. There is always a silver lining. Forgive yourself for past errors and embrace the growth that you can experience.


1. Maats, H. and Obrien, K. “Teaching Students to Embrace Mistakes.” George Lucas Educational Foundation - Edutopia. Published March 20, 2014. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-students-to-embrace-mistakes-hunter-maats-katie-obrien
2. Saunders Medlock, E. “Don’t Fear Failure: Nine Powerful Lessons We Can Learn From Our Mistakes.” Huffington Post. Updated January 4, 2015. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisabeth-saunders-medlock-phd/dont-fear-failure-9-powerful-lessons-we-can-learn-from-our-mistakes_b_6058380.html
3. Kaiser, S. “5 Pieces of Wisdom to Help You Let Go of Mistakes.” MindBodyGreen. Published July 26, 2013. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10215/5-pieces-of-wisdom-to-help-you-let-go-of-mistakes.html

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