5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes

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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

5 Steps to Learn from your Mistakes

We all know that making mistakes is needed to learn from them, in order to do things better in the future. Indeed, people are often told to learn from mistakes, to maximize return on failure. But how exactly should we deal with moments of failure? Roese (2016) developed a mental protocol – based on counterfactual thinking – with 5 steps that one can use in such setback situations. It is a set of short, but structured questions you need to ask (yourself) to recover and learn from setbacks:
  1. UPWARD COUNTERFACTUAL
    In what way could the outcome be different in a positive way?
    It is important to focus on your own actions and the way those actions change in order to positively change the outcome.
  2. UPWARD COUNTERFACTUAL PART 2
    What other path would have lead to a better outcome?
    The reason why two alternative paths need to be envisaged has to do with the prevention of hindsight bias: the tendency to start seeing the event as having been predictable all along (without any objective basis for this predictability). A second path withholds you from ascribing your failure towards one pat reason.
  3. SAME OUTCOME THROUGH DIFFERENT PATH
    How could a different path perhaps have been a different overall experience, but still have lead to the same result?
    It is important to question yourself in what way this different path would still lead to the same outcome. This step tries to uncover the barriers that might have not been easily noticeable.
  4. OTHER OUTCOME THROUGH SAME PATH
    How could the same path lead to another outcome?
    This step makes you more aware of the randomness in outcomes. Indeed, a certain path taken at some point in time can have a tremendously different outcome compared to the same path taken at another point in time, due to the existence of outside forces. The fourth step may help you to think about backup plans to deal with those external factors.
  5. DOWNWARD COUNTERFACTUAL
    In what way could the outcome have been worse in a negative way?
    Not only does this step serve as a feel-good tactic, it also helps to better understand the situation.
To summarize, above five steps help you to create a nuanced picture of the situation. After having finished the above steps you are better able to identify the true causes of the actual outcome. The different paths leading to a better outcome provide you with a base for enhancing your behavior/performance next time. Naturally, those alternative paths will not be taken precisely. They just provide you new possible tactics.

Sources: Roese, N.J. (2016) “5 Steps to Help Yourself Recover from a Setback” Harvard Business Review

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