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A Path to Growth Mindset via Mistakes: Overcoming Negative Emotions

A path to growth mindset through overcoming mistakes

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience. Yet, when these inevitable missteps occur, we often find ourselves critical of ourselves and our loved ones. Why do we associate mistakes with negative emotions? And how can we overcome those emotions? 

The reasons are deeply ingrained in our psychology, social interactions, mental processes, and emotional responses, shaping how we perceive and react to mistakes. Recognizing these influences empowers us to develop growth mindest byt overcoming negative emotions towards mistakes.

Reasons We Have Negative Emotions Towards Mistakes

1. Perfectionism

Many individuals strive for perfection, believing any deviation from flawless execution reflects personal failure. This mindset can lead to harsh criticism and an inability to accept mistakes as a natural part of growth. For example, if we believe a grade below A is a failure, we perceive a B+ grade as a complete failure instead of what it is: a rather good grade. 

2. Self-esteem and Identity

We often associate our self-esteem with our achievements and how others perceive us. Making mistakes can trigger feelings of inadequacy and threaten our self-worth. For example, when we play Trivia and say the wrong answer, we might perceive ourselves as stupid instead of realizing that we're not supposed to know everything and appreciating that we are learning through the game. 

3. Cognitive Biases 

When we attribute mistakes to personal flaws, we fuel harsh judgments toward ourselves and others. In this case, the distortion is that we look at WHAT someone does and judge WHO they are. For example, suppose someone is late to meet us. We conclude that they don't care about us or are irresponsible when, in reality, they made a mistake and took a wrong turn or wrote the wrong time on their calendar. 

4. Social Comparison

We frequently compare ourselves to others in a society that values success and achievement. Witnessing others' successes can amplify our feelings of failure when we make mistakes, leading to self-criticism. For example, we envy someone who we view as a professional success. However, we do not consider the hard work, sacrifices, and failures they experienced on their way to success.  

5. Cultural Expectations

Cultures emphasizing individual responsibility and achievement may foster a harsher attitude toward mistakes. For example, western society expects parents to work, raise kids, exercise, eat healthy, and have a perfect body. As a result, parents experience a feeling of failure daily. In tribal societies, parents share the responsibility of raising children with family and the community, so the pressure to be perfect is much lower. 

6. Fear of Rejection and Judgment

Fear of being judged or rejected by others can drive us to seek perfection and avoid making mistakes at all costs. This fear can intensify self-criticism and block self-compassion. For example, an individual afraid to be rejected by others may avoid talking to others at social events and miss out on meaningful relationships. They would rather be alone than face the chance of less-than-perfect social interaction.  

7. Emotional Vulnerability

Making mistakes can evoke feelings of vulnerability and shame, which causes us to be overly critical of ourselves and others. This defensive response protects our ego but hinders connection. For example, a person hosting a dinner party accidentally burns the main dish. Instead of asking for help or finding an alternative solution, they criticize themselves or blame their spouse for not assisting enough in the kitchen.  

Fostering Growth Mindset Towards Mistakes

Practice Self-Compassion 

Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend facing a similar situation. Do not talk to yourself like you would not speak to a friend. For example, if you failed to close a deal with a potential client. Instead of criticizing yourself for your mistakes, think about what you would say to a friend who came to you with a similar problem. Then, consider what you can do better next time due to your experience. 

Challenge Perfectionist Tendencies 

Shift your mindset from striving for perfection to embracing progress. Set realistic expectations for yourself and create opportunities for small successes. For example, when you write a book, it is unlikely that you will write 100 perfect pages daily. Instead, set a goal of writing two pages a day. Do not worry about the quality of the writing; write. In less than four months, you will have 200 pages ready for revisions and editing. 

Develop Empathy

Cultivate empathy towards yourself and others by recognizing that everyone makes mistakes. Instead of judging, seek to understand the underlying factors contributing to the error and offer support and encouragement. For example, if your child failed a test, don't assume they were lazy. Instead, try to understand if their struggle is academic, time management, or personal problems and find out what support they need to do better next time.  

Promote a Growth Mindset

Embrace a growth mindset in which you can develop abilities and intelligence through effort and practice. View mistakes as valuable feedback that can inform future actions and improvement. For example, when you learn to play music, you cannot play it perfectly immediately. It takes many hours of practice to learn to read the notes, work with the instrument, and develop muscle memory to the point where the instrument becomes a part of you. 

Communicate Openly

Foster an environment of open communication with loved ones and acknowledge mistakes without fear of judgment. Encourage constructive feedback and collaborate on solutions to prevent similar errors in the future. For example, if an employee does not perform satisfactorily, don't wait for the annual review to give them feedback. Have a conversation to understand where they struggle and what kind of support they need to improve their performance.

By practicing self-compassion, empathy, and communication, we can foster a healthier relationship with ourselves and others, allowing mistakes to become opportunities for growth rather than sources of shame and judgment. 

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