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Lesson 17: Make Mistakes

To obtain full marks in all your subjects, you must not make a single mistake in your exams. Can you do it? Of course, you can! How? By making all the possible mistakes during your years of study, instead of the exam! Suppose you make a mistake when doing a past exam question. If you are a good student, you are not going to repeat the same mistake in the exam? Why? Because you are not insane! Indeed, Albert Einstein defined insanity as:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

For example, suppose you've made a mistake when answering practice question. Here's what you've learnt:

You've learnt how to answer that question INCORRECTLY!

This is extremely valuable knowledge. Assuming you don’t forget your mistake, whenever a similar question comes up, you will not make the same error again. However, I know this is a big assumption – How can you hope to remember all the mistakes you’ve made over the past 2-3 years? Keep reading, and I’ll show you how! For now, take it for granted that you have this ability. Before I show you why making mistakes is so important, there is ONE mistake, nonetheless, that you should avoid at all costs. Assuming you are not in your final exams, the worst mistake you could ever make is:

Being afraid of making a mistake.

We all learn by making mistakes, so, if you are too scared to make one, you are limiting the number of things you can learn. Here is a powerful analogy that hopefully will convince you of the value of mistakes.

When you catch diseases such as measles and chickenpox, your body creates defences to eliminate them. Next up, your body will produce so-called “memory” cells so that when the virus attacks again, it is recognised much faster and is eradicated before it can spread further. With a past exam question, this means learning how to answer the question correctly, after you’ve identified the mistake. Then, it means “not making the same mistake again when a similar question arises”. This is very powerful!

Thomas Edison is known as the inventor of the light bulb. However, before he found the perfect formula to make it work, he had failed 10,000 times. Yet, he did not give up. When he finally found success with his invention, he said those words:

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

This is the exact mentality that you should have if you want to score full marks in all your subjects. You need to find all the ways that don’t work, so that you may avoid them in the exam. Therefore, when studying, revising, or practising questions, your goal should be:

Make as many mistakes as possible NOW, so that you don't have any mistake left to make during the exams!

Each mistake you make will teach you something different, something that will help you come closer to your full marks goal.

However, why are we so afraid of making mistakes? It’s because of the way our broken school system works! Whenever we make a mistake, we get judged and punished, in one way or the other. More often than not, this punishment involves some sort of humiliation in front of your peers. In primary school, this sometimes meant physical punishment, such as being hit with a stick or a ruler. In secondary school, the teacher scolds you (or swears at you!) or makes fun of you in front of the entire class. In most cases, this has a negative impact on the way we view the role of mistakes as part of the learning process. Indeed, some consequences of this approach of teaching are:

  • We become scared of speaking or asking questions in class.

  • If the teacher spots a mistake and corrects it, we take it badly.

  • We fail to realise the importance of making mistakes. Instead, we let ourselves be discouraged by them.

To become a Laureate, you need to move past this archaic attitude toward mistakes. In case you are still not convinced, here are a few reasons why you should embrace mistakes instead of fearing them:

Reason 1

You gain additional knowledge and become wiser by making mistakes. You learn lessons by getting to know what works and what does not. The only thing you need is the willingness to admit to yourself that you’ve made a mistake, and learn from it. As John Powell beautifully puts it:

The only real mistake is the one from which you learn nothing.

Reason 2

Mistakes make you more creative. When what you are attempting does not work, you’ll need to think outside the box for a new solution. This enables you to find new ideas or experiment with new things that could work.

Reason 3

They make you more resilient and courageous because it takes guts to acknowledge your own mistakes and correct them. This will remind you of the importance of staying humble. An in-depth description of the importance of humility was given in a previous lesson.

Reason 4

Mistakes help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. In particular, this will help you to work on your weaknesses, which is a crucial part of preparing yourself to become a Laureate.

Reason 5

As you make more and more mistakes, you’ll get used to them, and your fear of them will start fading away. Once you’ve eliminated those fears, you will want to make more mistakes, thereby increasing your chances of getting full marks in all your exams. As Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM, rightly said:

If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.

Now that you are convinced about the importance of mistakes, I’ll show you exactly how you should proceed to harness their power. This will be similar to the strategy described in the previous lesson.

Step 0

Always keep a “Pre-processing” notebook for mistakes, wherever you are. Assuming you are studying five subjects, keep a “Mistakes” notebook for each one. Additionally, keep an additional notebook called “Non-academic Mistakes”. These will include mistakes such as being late to class, being rude to a teacher, failing to show humility, procrastinating, failing to ask questions, not doing homework and so on. So, you should have seven notebooks in total.

Step 1

Whenever you make a mistake, quickly jot it down in the “Pre-processing” notebook for mistakes. It does not have to be super-neat. Just write something that will remind you of the mistake, and how to correct it. Note that you now have two separate “Pre-processing” notebooks, one for questions and one for mistakes.

Step 2

Whenever you get the time during the day, write down the mistake and the corresponding correction neatly in the relevant “Mistakes” notebook. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible. Add additional comments if you want too. You may add things like why, how, or when the mistake occurred. Include relevant references as well. For example, if the mistake concerns a past exam question, make sure to include the exam year so that you can refer to it easily.

Step 3

Look at your “Mistakes” notebook at least once a week. Do the same for your “Questions” notebooks. This way, you will never forget the mistakes you’ve made so far. You will also remember what should be done to avoid them.

Top Tip

Every day, aim to add at least one mistake and one question in each of your notebook. If you do this every day for 600 days, say, you will have recorded 3600 mistakes (600 days times 6 notebooks) and 3000 questions (600 days times 5 notebooks). Now, what if you double your rate of mistakes? You will have recorded 7200 mistakes. What if you triple it? It will become 10800 mistakes, i.e., you will have found 10800 things that you should NOT do! In other words, you will become on Thomas Edison’s level of making 10000 mistakes.

Hence, the Key Takeaway from this lesson is:

Don't be afraid of making mistakes!

Do you have any questions or comments? Post them below!

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