Learning How To Avoid Mistakes

Over the years, I've frequently heard it said that success is about not making the same mistake twice. I originally thought that just being aware of my mistakes would allow me to act in a healthy (and more sane manner), but sadly, this has not always been the case.  Over the past several years I've noticed myself making similar mistakes more than once, and even once I've become aware of a mistake, that doesn't mean that I'm free of it. By studying this process, I've learned achieving success is actually a lot more complicated than noticing mistakes - you must discover and correct the major areas that block you from success.

After much trial and error (and self-reflection), I've discovered that the process of learning to not make a particular type of mistake is actually akin to attaining mastery at a skill. There are four different phases in the process of mastering something new: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence. When I decide that I'm going to try something new (let's say playing tennis), I start out lacking competence and also lacking awareness of that lack of skill. Once I start training, I gain awareness of my lack of skill, and begin to correct that. Over time I gradually build skill, and finally that skill becomes part of who I am. At that point, I am said to have mastery of that skill (although even that is an oversimplification). In a similar vein, I present the stages of learning to avoid a particular class of mistake:

1) Being Unaware of My Mistake
I'm sure that you have hear the old adage, "ignorance is bliss," but sadly this one isn't always so true. We make many mistakes unconsciously, and don't even realize that we have made them until we see the eventual consequences. For example, I have this habit of finding fault with things and then pointing out those faults in a way that isn't terribly diplomatic. Typically, I don't even notice that I've made a mistake until either someone calls me out on this mistake or I find that there are consequences down the road. For example, there are times where I unknowingly piss someone off and it eventually comes back to haunt me. You would think that I would become aware of this after the first time, but I realized recently that I had been doing it for most of my life, and wasn't even aware that I was making a mistake, because the consequences weren't always immediately apparent.

2) Having Consciousness of My Mistake
After a while, I start to realize that I'm making a mistake. It isn't enough for other people to call me out on the mistake - I have to actually notice that I am making the mistake, and accept that this mistake is having an impact on my life. For example, I have a "friend" who sometimes tells me about things other people observe in him, but it always comes from the perspective of a detached third-person observer. Until he is able to see the impact that these mistakes are having on his life, he is unable to accept that they don't help him and start to work on a solution. This stage actually has two phases. In the first, I see the impact of my mistake on my life, but only after the fact or in a cumulative manner. 

By the time that I reach the second phase of this stage, I am able to see this mistake happen. For example, I realize that I'm geting resentful at someone or something, and I want to say something to them. And then I notice myself blowing up. One would think that as soon as I'm able to see the consequences of my actions, I would be able to instantly avoid those actions (and hence the saying about not making the same mistake twice), but I often find myself making similar mistakes numerous times before I correct them. At some point, the pain of the mistake builds up enough (for example, it causes me to leave a string of jobs), and I finally resolve that I'm going to do whatever it takes to correct it.

3) Consciously Avoiding My Mistake
This is when I actually start to notice that I'm on the cusp of making the mistake, and I take steps to behave differently than I would have in the default situation. In many cases, I will have to learn new skills for handling situations. For example, when I find myself feeling resentment towards something or someone, I may write about it until I am clear on the underlying feelings and fears that are leading towards that resentment. At that point, I may decide to change my behavior to address those fears, or alternatively I may share my underlying feelings with the original object of my resentment. 

One example of this would be that I find fault in my coworkers, but the underlying fear is that I'm jealous they have skills I lack. After doing some reflection, I will either realize that I have the skills (and just lack confidence), or I will just tell the coworkers that I admire their abilities (and am slightly envious of them for those skills). Then I can look at the issues I found, and find a reasonable way to address these. Regardless, I will probably have to make this into a conscious process for quite some time, and I may find that for quite some time, I'm getting it wrong as frequently as I get it right. Over time, the ratio will slowly start to tip, and eventually, I will find that the new behavior is (nearly) automatic. 

4) Autocorrecting
By the time that I reach the final stage, I rarely make the mistake because I have learned to autocorrect. The new behaviors I have taught myself become so well ingrained into my consciousness that I don't need to fall back on the behaviors that lead to the mistake. In a situation such as the example above, I may find myself doing a daily practice to keep myself clear of resentments, so I address any issues before they threaten to become blowups at other people. Or, I may find myself gravitating towards situations where I don't have as much propensity to become resentful at others (potentially because I realize that I offer plenty of value and don't need to hold jealousy). And, once I have dealt with all of the underlying issues, I am easily able to effect the things that I want (although probably not 100% of the time). This stage is the equivalent of "Mastery," and in fact it is a mastery of sorts. Mastery is probably more of an asymptote than something I can actually accomplish. There is probably always the opportunity to get to a higher level of "mastery," although at some point, you will find that the mistake is no longer holding you back from success, and it's time to shift attention to something else.