• Think intelligently: Four ways to learn from mistakes and setbacks

    by  • November 12, 2012 • Masterclass, Think Wisely

    Most of what we achieve has its share of setbacks. That can be hard to solve. We need to think intelligently about them. Because it is what we learn from them that leads us to success.

    The ability to see setbacks and failure as a learning opportunity is the key to success. They are not something to feel bad about.  Think of them as an opportunity to get things right. Ask what is wrong? Why is it wrong? And work hard to fix it.

    To be successful you must be able to learn from failure. Here are four ways to think intelligently about it. That you can use to have even more success in your life.

     1. Think without fear of failure

    When we are afraid to make mistakes. Making them upsets us so much. That we are unable to put them right. Which stops us from being successful.

    No matter how careful we are mistakes will happen. It is just not possible to avoid them. Even when we foresee them.

    Learning from them plays a key role in every area of life. When something we do doesn’t work. It highlights a problem we need to solve.

    If we are to achieve a successful outcome. We need to see failure as a learning opportunity that empowers us. We should not ignore it. But set about solving it immediaitly.

    When we face the challenge. It deepens our understanding of the issues. Dealing with mistakes is one of the basics of how we think. And we need to learn to think without fear of failure.

    2. Learn from your mistakes

    When you make a mistake or have a setback. Think about it. Ask yourself: What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? How can I put it right?

    Stop trying to think about a correct solution to the initial problem you were trying to solve. Focus on correcting the mistake you made. This can be easier to do. It will help you to learn more about the problem. And how to find a way forward.

    For example, when writing this blog I treat the weaknesses in my first efforts as mistakes. The strengths are fine but I need to improve on the weaknesses. I see what’s wrong with each of them. Think about it. And try to put it right. It sometimes takes me a few attempts to do so. But the finished product is always much better as a result.

    3. Think your way through challenging situations

    When faced with a challenging situation. Start by creating the best solution you can. One that does not take too much effort. And that you know may not be quite up to the job.

    Write your thoughts out each step of the way. Even though they are a little unsure and inaccurate. Your efforts will fall far short of solving the problem. Don’t be discouraged. Stay with it.

    Then read over what you have written. Focus on ideas that are right and ones that are wrong. Work at building on the ones that appear to be right.

    Then turn to the ones that are wrong. Analyse them by asking: What’s wrong with them? Where do the fall short? Correct them as best you can. As you do this you will begin to see the issues more clearly.

    This rough work helps you to think. See it as a process of uncovering a worthwhile solution. One that lies deep within you. As you work to find it you will begin to understand the issues more clearly. And possible worthwhile solutions will begin to emerge.

    4. Think of mistakes as opportunities

    Stop thinking of mistakes and failure as a sign of weakness. Learn from them. They are an opportunity to be creative. To think original thoughts. And come up with solutions that work.

    You can use mistakes to deal with issues you are not familiar or comfortable with. As you get better at it you will learn how to be creative and to think without fear of failure. Removing fear from your thinking helps you to deal with a wider range of issues than ever before.

    When things go against you. Or you are stuck. Do something. Take a calculated risk. Try and fail. Then use your failure to move forward. And to come up with a clearer understanding of the issues and a better solution to the problems that confront you. Be creative. Make mistakes and learn from them.

    We all have key problems and issues in our lives that we need to solve. They are difficult because we do not know how to solve them. If we did we would have done so. Living within a framework of things we can deal with easily is comfortable but limiting. To achieve to our full potential. We need to meet the challenges of our life by learning how to think about failure when it occurs. It is the quality of how we think about our failed attempts that is the key to personal growth and fulfillment.

    Suggested learning exercises

    1. Read pages 47 to 72 in The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Burger and Starbird.

    2. Imagine in detail how a more skilled thinker would learn from their mistakes.

    3. Identify the added knowledge, understanding and previous experience an expert would use to learn from their mistakes.

    4. Instead of thinking that learning from your mistakes is going to require more concentration and effort. Identify the knowledge, skill and strategy that would make it an easier task for you.

    5. Use this knowledge, skill and strategy to learn from your mistakes.



    Burger, E. & Starbird, M. (2012) The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. New Jersey: Princeton University Press


    We can use positive psychology to improve how we live our lives. So I love to share my understanding of it with others. To help them grow and flourish as I have. The posts on this blog set out to do just that. You need a lot of skill to make a relationship a happy one. So I write about relationship skills. Skills you can learn how to use in your own relationship. To keep it in good shape. To solve problems that may arise in it. And to improve the quality of your relationship. To make both of you happy.