It’s all well and good to make mistakes and then learn from them. But sometimes we make the same mistakes over and over again. And sometimes, even though we’re aware we’re making those mistakes, we still do it. Anyone who’s ever questioned their repeated taste in romantic partner can throw me an amen!
Tonight, after getting home from a family dinner, I realized that I left something out that my dog always, always eats when I’m gone: my chapstick. (I threw the emptied container away in secret knowing I’d let everyone down – myself, my dog, my husband who just bought a new one…) I’m allergic to most chapsticks, and this is the one item I feel like I always need to have. And Hattie, my old hound, has the same need. She’s eaten it out of its tub not once, not twice, sigh, and more than thrice. Why haven’t I learned not to leave this out?
Like good habits, bad habits happen for the same reason. Because of repetition, our brain creates comfortable, well-worn pathways for our neurons to travel when making a decision. As we approach a decision, our mind is set up for us to go ahead and date that kind of person even though we know deep down it’s going to be a disaster – again.
I make mistakes in my work a lot. I’m okay with that. Often, it’s because I insist I will learn from my mistakes and simply not make them again – best intentions and all that. Well, the actual work habits I have make it challenging for me to avoid these small future mistakes sometimes. Our processes and practices feel comfortable and even though we might know better, there we go again, falling into that habit and seeing ourselves miss that detail again, not follow up after the meeting again, and always hit that same button even though it makes my computer freeze every time. Why! WHHY!!!
It’s not enough to know and try to avoid the mistake. The real trick is to change your process completely. Find a new place for the keys you always lose. Spend 5 minutes after each meeting on follow-up activities even though you want to get up and stretch. Take notes before a conversation with someone who intimidates you so you have some prepared thoughts (and avoid being haunted before bed on the things said badly and those left unsaid).
Approach your mistake not from what you did before and how you can learn from it, but instead from a completely new perspective. This way you can create a NEW good habit and not fall accidentally back into your bad one. I realize where I keep my chapstick obviously isn’t working. And just buying a new one each time my dog does this isn’t solving the problem. Here we go again. Maybe I need to find a new product, a new place, AND a new routine.