Everyone makes mistakes. Yeah, I know: big fact cliché. But it’s the truth, isn’t it? Yet not everyone learns from their mistakes and there’s something to consider. Why do some people keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, even people who are reasonably intelligent?

Here’s why you may not be learning from your mistakes:

You don’t want to learn

Yep, fairly obvious one. But a crucial factor nonetheless. Too easily, we dismiss our mistakes as ‘bad luck’ or something like that. Or we engage in clichés like ‘it could happen to anyone’ and ‘we all make mistakes’. Anything to avoid actually dealing with our own mistakes.

How we attribute our mistakes is important. External attribution, the tendency to always look for a cause outside ourselves or outside our control, makes for lousy learning experiences. Internal attribution, seeking the cause within your own behavior, may lead to feelings of regret, guilt or anger, but is a far more constructive route to personal growth. Do you actually want to learn from your mistakes, even if that means changing your routines, your belief system, your attitudes and habits?

I’m not wired for a lot of change for instance, whereas my husband is far more flexible that way. It takes conscious effort for me to change things in my life, anything really. This has in general a negative effect on my ability to learn from my mistakes. Willingness to learn, to adapt and change is a key ingredient in learning from your mistakes. It’s why I’m forcing myself to embrace change, knowing it’s what I need to grow.


You don’t think you can learn

This may seem like psychobabble, but it’s actually a determining factor in whether or not we learn from our mistakes. Do you feel like you could learn something? Then you’ve just considerably increased your chances of actually learning from your mistakes. But if you’re convinced it won’t matter because you’ll never learn it, that all your efforts won’t make a difference, you’re far less likely to learn. Research has proven this! (I guess that’s why I never got the hang of math in high school, I was completely convinced I was genetically unable to do math)

You don’t take the time to learn

While we automatically learn from simple mistakes (after burning your mouth once on a hot pizza where the melted cheese gets stuck to your bottom lip and leaves nice big blisters, you learn about digging in more carefully – just saying), we need to take the time to learn from more complex ones. Learning experiences don’t just happen by themselves, you need to make a deliberate effort.

Reflection is key here, when necessary with others. Analyze what went wrong, study the cause-and-effect chain, create a helicopter view as to assemble the hole puzzle. Only then can you identify where you went wrong (or where others made mistakes for that matter) and come up with changes that will prevent you from making this mistake again.

So take a step back and ask yourself: are you really learning from your mistakes? Or do you find yourself making the same kind of mistakes over and over again? If that’s the case, you may want to take some time to examine your attitude to see why you’re not learning from your mistakes.

How do you learn from your mistakes? Do you find this process emotionally straining?