Stop Making the Same Mistakes With This Simple Question

The first two or three times, you might not worry, but the tenth or twentieth time has you questioning your intelligence, your value as a human being, throwing the game controller at the screen (my signature tantrum as a kid).


You find yourself thinking that you should just give up. Clearly you're not cut out for this skill/relationship/job (or video game...Why was Mega Man so hard?). If you can't learn from your mistakes, then this just isn't for you.

Working with kids preparing for the ACT, I saw students all the time who were disheartened because they had taken the test numerous times without seeing any improvement in their score.

This just doesn't make sense. After all, if you do something enough, you should get better at it, and these kids often had taken the test half a dozen times before they saw me.

Usually, within a  single session, I can help them break the cycle by asking them a simple question when they mess up:

What specific action can you take the next time this situation (question type) comes up that will let you avoid making the same mistake?

Most people focus on their own effort to improve. When they make a mistake, they tell themselves, "I'll try harder next time," or, "I'll be more careful."

But what exactly does it mean to "try harder?" What does it mean to "be more careful?" Does that mean wearing a helmet, or going more slowly, or paying better attention by not having your phone out during a serious conversation with your significant other?

Most of the kids I worked with simply told themselves, "I will be more careful next time."

When I ask them, "What specific action can you take next time to avoid making the mistake you just made?" they give me a very different response:

The list goes on, but it just shows that there's a lot of specific things that can make a big difference. And it's a lot easier to remember to DO something than to just BE better or smarter or more careful.



Work processes:

These are all taken from my life, but the principles are the same: focus on what action you can take to avoid making the mistake. The more specific, the better.

Use this technique to stop making the same mistakes over and over you can make some new ones :).

What mistakes keep reocurring in your life? What specific action can you take to avoid making that same mistake the next time you're in that situation?