Why You Should Celebrate Your Mistakes

When you make a mistake, big or small, cherish it like it’s the most precious thing in the world. Because in some ways, it is.

Most of us feel bad when we make mistakes, beat ourselves up about it, feel like failures, get mad at ourselves.

And that’s only natural: most of us have been taught from a young age that mistakes are bad, that we should try to avoid mistakes. We’ve been scolded when we make mistakes — at home, school and work. Maybe not always, but probably enough times to make feeling bad about mistakes an unconscious reaction.

Yet without mistakes, we could not learn or grow.

If you think about it that way, mistakes should be cherished and celebrated for being one of the most amazing things in the world: they make learning possible, they make growth and improvement possible.

By trial and error — trying things, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes — we have figured out how to make electric light, to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to fly.

Mistakes make walking possible for the smallest toddler, make speech possible, make works of genius possible.

Think about how we learn: we don’t just consume information about something and instantly know it or know how to do it. You don’t just read about painting, or writing, or computer programming, or baking, or playing the piano, and know how to do them right away.

Instead, you get information about something, from reading or from another person or from observing usually … then you construct a model in your mind … then you test it out by trying it in the real world … then you make mistakes … then you revise the model based on the results of your real-world experimentation … and repeat, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, until you’ve pretty much learned how to do something.

That’s how we learn as babies and toddlers, and how we learn as adults. Trial and error, learning something new from each error.

Mistakes are how we learn to do something new — because if you succeed at something, it’s probably something you already knew how to do. You haven’t really grown much from that success — at most it’s the last step on your journey, not the whole journey. Most of the journey was made up of mistakes, if it’s a good journey.

So if you value learning, if you value growing and improving, then you should value mistakes. They are amazing things that make a world of brilliance possible.

Celebrate your mistakes. Cherish them. Smile.

Why You Should Celebrate Your Mistakes was originally posted on Zen Habits on 1/26/09.

How to Be Childlike

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

Sometimes I lounge lazily in bed, in the middle of the day, with a couple of my kids and just abandon my worldly concerns, and just play.

Or I’ll sit and just watch them play, pretending they’re superheros or princesses or playing house or shooting each other with stick guns.

It never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder, of pure joy, of a return to innocence and a simpler time.

As grown ups, we’ve lost this childlike sense of life. And that’s actually a sad thing.

It’s not just about happiness and innocence either — being more childlike also helps us to be more creative, more imaginative, more innovative and open to worlds of possibilities.

Consider: as children, we are naturally imaginative, curious, able to play without a worry in our minds. Some qualities of young children that happen naturally:

  • they live in the present
  • they have no concerns about money, productivity, or being cool
  • there are no limits to their imagination, except what they’ve been exposed to
  • they play and lose themselves in play
  • they create with abandon
  • they are endlessly curious, and ask questions … without end
  • they love showing off to their parents

We could learn a lot from children. Sure, they have qualities we might not want, but in my eyes, they are already perfect. We don’t need to mold them into people, we need to be more like them.

We lose this childlike nature, the nature we’re born with, because of society — it has certain institutions and systems in place that beat childishness out of us, so we can be more productive citizens and consumers. I think it’s unfortunate.

We shouldn’t abandon all responsibilities, but we can learn a lot from children and be more like them in some ways.

How to be childlike
We must first acknowledge that no change is instantaneous, that any change worth keeping takes time. But you can start today.

Start by deciding to abandon caution and to give this a try. Start by identifying the qualities of children you’d like to emulate: curiosity, play, living in the moment, abandoning worries, imagination, creativity, pure joy.

Observe children. Watch how they play, how they live, how they create, how they ask questions. Sure, sometimes they do dumb things like throw tantrums, but even in that you can see their pure abandonment of everything but what is happening to them right now. Watch and learn.

Play with children. If you have some of your own, great. If not, play with children of friends and family. Lose yourself in the play. Be a dinosaur, or a gorilla, or a villain. Have a joyous time. Make them squeal in delight, and feel free to do the same yourself.

Talk with children. Ask them questions. Answer theirs. Don’t talk down to them with baby talk, but don’t be too grownup either.

Play by yourself. Go outside and run around, jump, slide, kick a ball around, pretend. Forget about who might be watching.

Create like a child. Don’t be constrained with what people expect, what you’re used to. Be wild and have fun. Imagine that things can be different, that there are no limitations, and see what happens. Most of your childlike drawings will be tossed in the trash, but some might be put up on the fridge.

Be curious like a child. Look at things with a child’s eye, and ask questions you’ve never asked before, explore with a beginner’s mind. Don’t be afraid to ask why, and what if, and why not?

Live in the moment. Forget about all you have to do. Forget about what happened yesterday, or that conversation you had. Forget about that meeting that’s coming up, or those deadlines. Just do, and be.

See the world with new eyes. It is a wondrous place, a miracle happening every second, a source of immense fascination that can knock you on your ass if you let it. You are a miracle, and every moment you have is a gift. What will you do with that gift?

And last, if you have children, let them be childlike. Stop trying to make them grow up. Stop trying to shape them, criticize them, make them your own piece of clay, as Marvin Gaye said. Let them be, and enjoy the beautiful way they already are.

“Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they’re looking for ideas.” – Paula Poundstone

How to Be Childlike was originally posted on Zen Habits on 9/16/09.

The Comparison Trap

I love reading about other people’s work setups, I really do. It’s one of my guilty pleasures.

I’ll read about another blogger’s computer setup, or what kind of notebook and pen he uses, or how he works standing up or on a treadmill or while doing handstand pushups and growing a vegetable garden.

And when I read about some cool setup someone else has, some cool new way of working, I inevitably want to try it. I’m only human.

You’ve done this too, probably. You might read a review of some new software that will help you create, or a new fashion style or some cool shoes or beautiful furniture or the newest iPad, or the latest iPhone app. Or maybe you’re a minimalist and read someone’s barefoot running article, or how they’re living out of a backpack, and want to try that.

It’s a trap.

We’re endlessly looking at how others do things, for inspiration and ideas … but we end up wanting to try those things too. That sounds harmless until you realize that you’ll buy almost anything because someone wrote about it and made it sound amazing. You’ll live a life of an endless series of purchases because of what other people are doing. And it never ends.

Even if you don’t buy stuff, you’ll change your life endlessly, based on what others are doing. You’ll give up your couch, you’ll stop buying Ikea furniture, then give up your cell phone, then give up your computer, then start doing yoga, then become a Zen monk, then create a tech startup. Those things are amazing, sure … but when does it ever end?

When do we ever feel content with the life we’re living?

If you look to the lives of others,
you’ll always find yourself lacking.

Look instead at what you have,
and be grateful.

Reduce your needs,
and be content.

And your life of striving
for perfection, for the future,
will become a life of balance,
of the moment, of inner peace.

The Comparison Trap was originally posted on Zen Habits on 6/1/11.