There are, however, two ways to make a mistake: the smart way and the normal way.
To be clear, there is not smart way to make a stupid mistake. A stupid mistake or even a dumb decision is either caused by carelessness (antidote: be more careful) or because you knew better but still chose to act badly. If you know in advance you’re doing something really stupid, the only option is not to do it. (The famous last words prior to a stupid mistake or decision? “Hey guys, watch this!”)
I’m not addressing carelessness or poor choices. I’m focusing on the mistakes we make in the course of doing our best.
Here are six simple ideas to make smarter mistakes:
1. Fess up. Admit it to yourself, and if appropriate, to others. Denial only makes the mistake you made worse.
2. Own up. Accept responsibility. Many are quick to take credit but even quicker to place blame. Don’t pass the buck. Explaining what happened and why will raise your credibility in the eyes of most rational people (don’t worry about the irrational).
3. Stay up. Don’t let it get you down. Accept that you can’t change the past and don’t be unduly harsh on yourself. If you’ve accepted responsibility, it is time to move past the negative emotions and on to the positive actions.
4. Fix what you can. There may be some things you can do to mitigate the mistake, lessen any damage take corrective action or make apologies or even amends if your mistake negatively affected others. If there is something you can do to lessen the cost, do it quickly.
5. Learn what you can. Experience is a good teacher only if you’re paying attention and learn from it. What can you learned from your mistake? Leverage your lessons or insights by sharing it with others who might make similar mistakes.
6. Avoid what you can. Use the insights from the mistake to keep yourself from making it again. Repetitive mistakes are a clue that you’re not paying attention, or that you’re being careless (see: “dumb mistakes” above).
Only the fool fights the inevitable, and mistakes are an inevitable in the process of life. Make the right mistakes the right way for the right reason. If you do, they’ll be smart mistakes.