Useful Tips

Rules of Living

Every society has rules for interpreting life. These rules explain the way things are. Some rules help you create and maintain resiliency and other rules hinder you. A common rule in our society is that, "Mistakes are bad." Following this rule you try not to make any mistakes because if you do, it means that you too are bad. You try to be perfect.

Let's say you adopted the rule, "Mistakes are bad". While working on a project (building a table, baking a cake, or completing a work assignment) it did not turn out as expected. Somewhere along the way a mistake was made. Once the mistake is discovered that inner voice starts talking and you hear, "Well, look at this. You really screwed up. You canít do anything right. You are so stupid. Why do you even bother to try. You should just give up." Soon you begin to feel miserable. Your mood plummets. You are angry and frustrated and ready to give up.

If a friend comes along, finds you in despair, and asks what is wrong, you might say, "Well look at that table I was making. See how it wobbles. It is all wrong." You are suggesting that the table is responsible for your mood.

What has actually brought about your distress? Was it the mistake you made or your reaction to the mistake? The answer is that it was your reaction to the mistake. It was the negative inner dialogue that you engaged in. All that inner criticism upset you. A mistake is just an event and there can be many possible reactions to it. The reactions all depend upon what you think the mistake means. What you think the mistake means depends on your rule for mistakes. Many of us learn that a mistake is a bad thing and a sign of failure. Our rule says simply that, "Mistakes are bad. If you make one then you are bad."

This is just one rule. There are other points of view. When my daughter was six years old and trying to learn to ride a bicycle she taught me a different rule. After falling off the bike many times as you do with this learning process, she observed that, "When you learn to ride a bike you have to start with the falling down." This was true. Fall off enough and you learn to ride. So, we learn by making mistakes.

A mistake is actually the first step in learning. When trying to learn something that is new to you, the learning comes from making a mistake and correcting it. If you make no mistakes, you don't learn. I like snow skiing and when I take a lesson the instructor usually reminds me, "If you are not falling, you are not learning." So mistakes are not bad, they are good. Maybe you should make as many mistakes as you can in order to more quickly learn. The next time that you make a mistake become excited and say to yourself, "This is great. I am going to learn something now!" Try this "rethinking" approach to any problem and your mood and behavior will improve.

Once my wife was baking a cake for our daughter to take to the school bake sale. She does not like to bake but was willing to make the effort. After several hours when the cake was removed from the oven and the icing was applied, it began splitting down the middle with a large crevice. The cake was "ruined." It was late in the evening. Too late to start over or to go to the store and buy a "real" cake.

My wifeís inner dialogue was stated loud, clear, and audible, "This is terrible. I canít send that cake to school. What will people think? I know I canít bake. Why did I try? Everything I do fails. I will never bake again!" A mood of anger and frustration filled the kitchen. As an outside observer I took a chance and suggested a theme cake. "Why not put a sign on it that says, ĎGrand Canyon Cake.í" This bit of humor helped her to change the inner dialogue. It was no longer a disaster. It was only an annoyance and it did not have to be that. The mood changed, the cake was sent to school, and it did sell.