The essence of training is to allow error without consequence. - Orson Scott Card*
With this definition in mind, how often do we have the opportunity to truly train--to test our skills in a setting where errors are "without consequence" Not often enough, if your life is anything like mine.
But even when our errors do have consequences, we can needlessly increase the pressure we feel to avoid making any mistakes at all--which not only makes it harder to learn from our mistakes but may actually undermine our performance.
I'm not suggesting that we become cavalier about making mistakes, but as I wrote last year, "those of us who learn best from our mistakes...don't view mistakes as personal defects, and [our mistakes] don't carry such a negative emotional charge. I'd suggest that those of us who hold a growth mindset are able to forgive ourselves for mistakes and let go of (or at least mitigate) any feelings of shame or humiliation. This forgiveness allows us to continue to focus on the mistake that much more intently, without losing confidence in ourselves, and as a result to learn from it more effectively." As always, our mental models exert a tremendous influence on our view of ourselves and on our experience in the world.
I recently had a coaching session with a client in which she talked about "letting go" of feelings of fear and pressure that had been discouraging her from speaking candidly at work, and as a result she "found [her] voice." She decided to take some risks and be more direct and assertive, and in the process she realized that (among other things) a fear of miscommunicating had been holding her back, and her candor and forthrightness were not only welcome but also a valuable source of leadership for her team.
To be clear, this was no "I'm mad as hell!"-style rant; this was a thoughtful effort to communicate more openly and honestly. It was also a deliberate effort to worry less about miscommunicating, and the result was a rich learning opportunity. And it was also a brilliant example of self-coaching using heightened self-awareness to intervene and take action.
So what mistakes are we worried about making right now? What feelings or assumptions are causing us to play it (too) safe? How could we let go of them--or at least temporarily suspend our belief in them? What risks would we take if we did? And what might we learn in the process?
*This quote is from Card's Ender's Game, his award-winning 1985 sci-fi novel. Card is known both as a likely source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and for his socially conservative politics. I don't share those political views, but it's still an awesome quote.
Photo by tracy the astonishing. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.