How to Live with Mistakes


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How to live with mistakes is the number one question in all our lives. Mistakes can haunt our lives, making us feel we are a total failure and completely inadequate. However, we all make mistakes, some small, some big, and some life changing, but there are keys to dealing with those mistakes.

A Moving Testimony

“My husband and I were at the beach, on vacation. He had been sitting, reading a book. I said I was going to go rinse off in the water, then we could leave. He said, “I’ll come with you.” I almost said to him, ‘No, just stay in your chair, I’ll only be a minute.’ But I didn’t.

We both went in, waded out, and got drawn into deep water by sudden big waves and a strong current. We were struggling, but I managed to escape the current and swam in for help. I was not a strong enough swimmer to do a lifesaver’s carry with him. My husband did not make it out. Every day I regret that I did not make him stay in his chair. Every day for the last ten years.”

Another Testimony

“I should have insisted my husband go home the same old way, instead of a little used back road. Instead, I followed him in a second car and saw him drive off the edge of a bridge, landing upside down in several metres of water. Three came out of the car. My teenage daughter did not. Could I have stopped the tragedy?”

We all have a story like that, in lesser or greater degrees. “If only……. Why didn’t I……I should have……” Things that we regret all our life. Things that cannot be undone. Things that irrevocably changed our life for ever.

So, how do we learn to live with our mistakes, and not let them define who we are?

Thrown in the Deep End

Life is like being thrown into the deep end, not knowing how to swim. We are all human and humans inevitably make mistakes. The hardest part about a mistake is that it is humbling. The important thing is not to feel defensive, carry guilt, shame, or self-condemnation, or play the deadly blame game.


Mistakes cause pain, evoke feelings of inadequacy, failure and low self-worth. “How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I see that coming? When will I ever learn?”

The most powerful sight we have is hindsight, but it is only that, ‘hind’. After the fact we have 20/20 vision and the ability to see a situation with more clarity. We have a lot more information than we had before the event. Information we can learn from.

However, mistakes have a cost and cause pain. The greater the hurt, the deeper the pain. Mistakes are something we need to learn to live with and accept.

Pain Barrier

Just like a marathon runner, we need to break through the pain barrier. Children will never learn to walk unless we allow them to fall down and feel pain and encourage them to try again. Eventually, they will achieve their goal and new goals will be set.

Breaking through the pain barrier depends on where your mind is focused. Athletes know they will hit a pain barrier, but they do not think about the pain. They consciously concentrate on the task at hand and have the mindset they will break-through. They command their mind to concentrate on finishing the race to the best of their ability.

Vital Factor for how to Deal with Mistakes

A vital factor for dealing with mistakes, is that the mind only holds one thought at a time. To dwell on your mistakes is to miss out on today and tomorrow.

The two examples we gave at the beginning, are classical examples. Those two women could dwell on the past and what could have been different. Or they can choose to move on and rebuild their lives in a different and stronger way.

Their pain is real and overwhelming, but how greater will their achievements be when they learn to break through the pain barrier? It makes the difference between living in a rut or successfully moving on. They never forget what has happened, but they allow their lives to be enriched through what they have been through. This also applies to other life-changing events, such as an act of extreme bravery, or self-sacrifice.

The Inner Game

In every type of physical game, there is always an inner game being played. The stronger the inner game, the more successful the player will be.

Our memories have a special place in our life, as they are built into our very foundation and give us a sense of identity. However, memories only have the value that we attribute to them. They can hold us back or inspire us to move forward. It is essential to concentrate on the now and the future and put the past respectfully into the graveyard of memories. It is a medical fact that a broken bone heals stronger than before, and so it is when you learn to come to terms with your mistakes.

Surviving Mistakes

The fact is, we do survive mistakes and if we persevere, we will come through the other side, stronger and better for having survived the experience. Every mistake Thomas Edison made strengthened him for success.

Edison holds the Guinness Word Record for having lodged 1,093 patents. There were 389 patents for the light bulb, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries and 34 for the telephone. Eddison was one of the most prolific inventers of all time.

So, does that make Edison an exceptional human being, or one who just refused to be defined by his failures, of which there would have been thousands? His mistakes and failures never stopped him, as successful learning is all about trial and error.

Owning your Mistakes

Owning your mistake is a major part of the healing process. It is empowering, when we accept we didn’t get it right, and important not to be defensive about having made the mistake.

Yes, we all did things that were ‘stupid’ and caused a lot of pain, but we knew better after the fact. We can’t change the past, but we can go on giving of our best and forgiving ourselves, which is something most people don’t do.

Mistakes are a Teacher

You don’t need to broadcast your mistakes to the world, for you alone, know what you did, or did not do. After all, mistakes and failures are our greatest teacher. It is mistakes that leads to innovation and breakthrough. The old saying is, “You can’t make an omelette unless you break an egg”.

How we wish we didn’t have to break eggs in life, but that is not reality. We learn more thoroughly through our mistakes and failures. You can turn your mistakes into triumphs, using the knowledge the mistake taught you. Nothing is wasted.

If Edison were alive today, he would be stunned at how much his work exerted an astounding influence on modern life. His work led to the modern movie camera and our smart phones, to mention only two items. How many mistakes did he make, before arriving at positive results?

Life is Made Up of the Unknown

Imagine having enough foresight we would know what is around the next corner in life? Would we really learn anything that way? Life is totally unknown as we can’t see the next ‘pothole’, ‘diversion’, or ‘blockage’ on the journey of life. The ability to navigate beyond your mistakes is the only way to live a healthy and fulfilling life style.

At the time of the happening we react by instinct, not seeing other options. Our current knowledge, past experiences, aims and goals all play an important role. You can’t berate yourself for something you couldn’t see.

It is how you deal with the unknown that defines who you are. We all need to learn to live each day to the fullest, with no regrets, bitterness or anger. Mistakes should not be allowed to become a disability.

Challenge Negative Thought Patterns

When sad, bad or tragic things happen, it is all too easy to slip into negative thinking. It allowed to get out of control this will lead to the Black Dog of depression. Self-pity is a dead-end rabbit hole that hurts everyone around you, yet many of us slip down that hole at one time or another. We need to learn the early signs of self-pity and deal with them, before it becomes a medical problem.

There is a time to look back and assess what you could have done differently, but then you need to move one, into the present and the future. Life is difficult enough without berating what you feel are your failures. Don’t play the ‘blame game’ accusing either yourself, or others. Above all, don’t overreact to slipups. Life is for living and learning and you are never too old to learn. Learn to have a chuckle or two, as laughter has a special value and is medicine for the soul. What will your next mistake be? Are you ready to Get Over It? Perfect people are a pain to live with.

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