Do you call yourself a failure when you make a mistake? Mistakes are typically made because of an error in judgment, or because we lack certain information or a particular skill. These are valuable life lessons, bringing to light areas in our lives where we need to educate ourselves or make little self-improvements. Unfortunately, many of us develop a habit of interpreting mistakes as something much worse — an indicator there is something wrong with us.
For people with depression or anxiety, this misinterpretation comes easily. The depressive brain channels practically every event through a filter of negativity, painting our lives in a humdrum hue. Mistakes seem catastrophic, and the towel is quickly thrown in. There are some key differences between mistakes and failures, and learning to recognize them can help you reclaim lost self-esteem and avoid worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Door Opened, Door Closed
Imagine your mistakes as open doors – opportunities to learn. For instance, when we take up a new hobby or start a new job, we are likely to screw something up at least once. This is commonly known as the learning curve, but it becomes a show-stopper for many of us. Our brain processes the screw-up through its negativity filter and we receive an “I’m just not cut out for this” message. In most cases, the error is nothing more than a lack of information or practice. As we persist — we improve — and eventually those early mistakes become part of the distant past.
Now, there ARE times where we really are NOT cut out for something. If American Idol has taught us anything, it’s that not everyone is cut out to be a rock star. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try new things or pursue a dream, but rather, in chasing our dreams we must also be willing to see and accept reality. Not doing so can lead to despair. Failures – like mistakes – are also a learning tool. Failure is a closed door – an ending to our journey down a wrong path. Although painful, failure sometimes protects us from our own self-destructive ways by telling us, “Don’t do that again.”
This don’t do it again message is why it is so important to separate our mistakes – which are many – from true failures, which are actually quite rare. The band Genesis did a song called “Misunderstanding” which helps to illustrate the difference. It’s basically the story of a man who misreads the signals of a woman he is romantically interested in. This is the mistake part. The opportunity here (or open door) is for him to become more self-aware and communicative to ensure he is receiving other’s messages clearly and not projecting his own feelings onto them. When he realizes she is already in a relationship, this is a door closed – a signal to move on. In other words, he can learn from the mistake and try again — this time as a better communicator — but in another relationship.
Sometimes, as in “Misunderstanding”, our mistakes DO lead to failure. However, the mistakes we learn from are the ones which lead to great successes. We are going to make mistakes throughout our lifetime – lots of them. It is in overcoming the “I’m a failure” mindset and learning to live with and learn from our mistakes that we can restore peace of mind and experience new and wonderful things.