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  • Writer's pictureJerry Brook

We Learn from our Mistakes

Do we, really, learn from our mistakes?

Well, no. I’m afraid that we don’t.

But why not?

The truth is, we do learn, but it is highly unlikely that we will learn the correct thing or even anything that’s very useful to us in the long run.

So how does it really work?

If you make a mistake, what you learn is “not to do that again”, which isn’t to say that you learn what you should have done instead.

I ask you: when you took a test in school and answered a question incorrectly, did you somehow through osmosis learn the correct answer? Or, did you simply learn that this wasn’t the correct answer?

I don’t know about you, but I am just not smart enough to pick the correct answer out of the infinite number of possible answers.

If it were true that we learned the correct answer as a result of our mistakes, I for one would be racing to make mistakes, just so that I could find out all of the answers. And we certainly wouldn’t need teachers to teach us, as we would be able to “learn from our mistakes”, and not from teachers (both the formal and informal type).

You could then tell people – your parents, your teachers, your boss, your friends – that you answered all of their questions incorrectly simply because you wanted to see the light and discover all of the correct answers. And if you did, in all probability, it wouldn’t work out well for you.

What you would learn in that case is that people would get annoyed with you. You may also learn that people may not have the innate sense of humor that you think they do.

So how do we learn – not just what not to do, but what to do?

We all need direction and/or feedback. Even before we try to do something, we need a clear direction. If we veer off course while in the process of doing something, we need that feedback to get us back on the right track.

Learning is an iterative process. It is a slow, and sometimes painful process, a back-and-forth. Just like crafting a statue from stone, the artist must chip away at it, piece by piece, first coming in close, and then standing back to view their work and see what needs to be done next.

So how does any of this pertain to relationships?

Not long ago, I was having drinks with some friends when the topic of a couple that we knew came up. The couple had just recently broken up, and we could all see that they weren’t “good together”. Every one of them said, “finally, they have both learned that they need to establish better relationships.” I, of course, said, “No, actually, all they have figured out is that dating each other was a bad idea.”

Both of them surely blamed the other for the dysfunction in their relationship. Neither of them, either, had a clear direction going into the relationship or had received any feedback during their relationship to actually have learned anything of value.

Relationships are a learning process, a constant back and forth. It all begins with us, ourselves having a direction, and it progresses by checking in periodically, and asking each other: “are we on track?”

So, how do you get that direction? What do you need to check for? And how often do you need to check?

Relationship Directions Challenge

This week’s challenge is to choose just one of your relationships – it could be family, friends, business, or intimate – and really think about the direction that you would like this relationship to take. Make a list and share it with me. I’d like to compile a list of the various directions that people would like their relationships to progress towards, and we’ll continue the conversation from there.

Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships

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