You Cannot Make A Mistake

You Cannot Make A Mistake

When I first heard the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) foundation principle, “You Cannot Make A Mistake”, I had to do a double take.  What did I just hear?  I thought, “Of course you can make mistakes!  Everyone makes mistakes.  I make mistakes practically every day and I have made some really big mistakes!”  At the time I just did not get it but now I do and it is something that I strive to live by. 

A fellow classmate of mine and now Certified Life Coach, Jeanine Mouchawar, recently posted on FaceBook that she experienced a similar reaction to this outlandish assertion by our coaching school but she also now believes it.  In her post, she pointed out that a mistake is something that we label after the fact, in hindsight.  She illustrated how she believes that most people make decisions that are the best choice that they can make at any given time and place.  Jeanine continued to suggest that we should “give ourselves some grace and not beat ourselves up over past choices”.  I think Jeanine is saying that we don’t make mistakes but instead, we simply make choices at the time given where we were, where our energy was and what we knew at the time of the decision. 

For me, believing in the concept that you can’t make a mistake comes down to how I now interpret the word mistake.  I choose to take the power and passion away from my “mistakes”.  This allows me to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them rather than immerse myself in guilt and beat myself up about a choice that did not work out for me. 

“You Cannot Make A Mistake” is the underlying principle necessary to create a Growth Mindset as explained in Carol S. Dweck’s influential book, “Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success”.  In the book Dweck explains her research related to life success.  She makes the case that a Growth Mindset is necessary in order to achieve sustained success and continue to improve whereas a Fixed Mindset holds many people back from the success that they truly desire. 

If you have a Growth Mindset, you believe that intelligence can be developed whereas a Fixed Mindset is the belief that intelligence is static and part of who you are at all times.  As a result, a Growth Mindset will lead to the desire to learn but the Fixed Mindset leads to the desire to confirm and show how smart you are.

The Growth Mindset regards the mind like a muscle that can be developed rather than have a fixed capacity.  The Fixed Mindset believes that you have a certain level of intelligence and therefore intellectual capability is set at birth.

When you have a Growth Mindset, the desire to learn leads you to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as a path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons in the success of others.  Alternatively, a Fixed Mindset leads to avoiding challenges, getting defensive or giving up when there are setbacks, viewing effort as fruitless, ignoring feedback, and feeling threatened by the success of others.

A Growth Mindset can be introduced to anyone regardless of age with some clichés like:

“Practice makes perfect.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.”

And questions like:

“What have you learned today?”

“What mistake did you make today that taught you something?”

“What did you try hard at today?”

“How did you improve today?”

Interest in a child’s development and championing a child’s efforts will lead the child toward a Growth Mindset.

When parents and teachers provide loving praise in an attempt to improve self-worth and self-confidence of a child, they may be unknowingly creating a Fixed Mindset that sets up the child for eventual failure. 

They may use phrases like:

“She is a natural.”

“He is so smart!”

“He is brilliant!”

“You are so gifted”

The fixed mindset is very tempting because it promises that the child is special with nothing but success and admiration available to them for the rest of their lives.  Judgement and labeling children with permanent traits (positive or negative attributes) can manifest the Fixed Mindset.    

The Fixed Mindset takes these comments and makes them part of the ego of the child.  It defines who they are so what happens when failure occurs?  Suddenly, if they do not perform as well as another child or as well as expected, they begin to doubt their very being.  They wonder, “if I am not as smart as the other people, then what am I? – who am I?”

For a Fixed Mindset, the principle might be interpreted as “You Must Not Make A Mistake”.  This is because in the Fixed Mindset, making a mistake is tantamount to losing your identity.  When you are continually told that you are the smartest or the most naturally talented, if you get the answer wrong or come in second place, it makes you question your very being.

If these attributes define who you are, what else are you supposed to do when confronted with a situation where you did not hit the mark?  

For someone with a Fixed Mindset, the reaction to failure or the possibility of failure may result in the following:

Denial: I did not lose.  It was a perfect call. 

Blame:  The referee must have been paid off.  It was a poorly worded question. 

Avoidance:  That contest does not mean anything.  I am just not feeling well today so I can’t make it to the performance. 

Self-Doubt:  Who am I?  Am I actually smart?  I am a loser. 

It is important to remember that we all can fall into Fixed Mindset thinking depending upon the situation but if we strive to embrace the life principle “We Cannot Make a Mistake”, we will put ourselves in the mindset that enables us to learn and grow.

As a business coach, sometimes just introducing my clients to this idea of having a Growth Mindset can do wonders to help them break out of plateaus.  If you would like to explore whether you could benefit from coaching, please call me at (602)524-5275 to set up a free discovery session or if you would like to learn more about what I do, please check out some of my other articles and the rest of my website.


Jay Varcoe, CPA, MBA, ELI-MP