Motivation Articles

5 Things You Can Learn from Your Mistakes

Find Life Lessons When You're Less Than Perfect

I've always known that I'm a bit of a perfectionist. In high school, a B was never enough. In college, being in the middle of the bell-shaped curve wouldn't do. While the do-everything-perfectly mentality has pushed me in my adult life to advance my career and start my own business, my Type-A personality hasn't always been a blessing. In fact, it's taught me much over the years, namely that not being perfect at everything is OK—even better at times.

Earlier this year, I had one of the most difficult—and memorable—months of my life. I lost a grandparent, ran my first marathon, and found myself putting in 60+ hours a week during a challenging time at work. Within 30 days, despite the exhilaration at my marathon achievement, I was spent. Emotionally and physically drained, I kept working. Kept pushing. Kept running. I made the mistake of thinking that if I went harder and harder in all areas of my life, eventually I would push through to the other side, fixing my work-life balance issues, aching hips, and sagging energy levels. But that wasn't the case. The harder I pushed, the more my life pushed back, eventually crippling me for a full week of "why me?" crying and anger that I couldn't have what I wanted. I was an adult, acting like a child and throwing a total tantrum, complete with outburst, and arms and legs flailing in disgust at my own self.

After a week of this, I had what you might call an epiphany, or as Oprah might say, an "ah-ha moment." I realized that my dedication and drive for perfection, which I thought had been a good trait, was holding me back. It was stopping me from being happy, and that it was keeping me from accepting some realities: that my hip was injured and I would have to take time off from running, that my grandfather really was gone, and that working more hours wasn't (ironically enough) getting the job done. In a flash of a moment, I realized that I was making a huge mistake: I was fighting against what was. And I was paying the price.

I immediately made a pact with myself to not fall into this trap again, but to learn from my mistakes. I learned the power of taking time off, listening and respecting my body, going with the flow, being easy on myself and finding happiness in the present. I, in a nutshell, learned to embrace imperfection and to find a valuable lesson in my mistake.

While my story and what I learned is very personal and poignant for me, its lessons universal. Here are five takeaways from my experience that may also apply to you.

Take Time Off
All work and no play doesn't just make Jack a dull boy; it also makes us sad, unhappy and less productive individuals. In order for you to reach any goal, you need to take time to recharge those batteries and relax. That's why employers offer vacation days to their workers! Whether it's a night off from the gym to go see a movie with a friend, or a long, hot bath and the end of an even longer day, be sure to take at least 15 minutes each day to do something just for you. If you're the primary caregiver in your house, this may seem impossible, but it's true that you can't take care of anyone unless you take care of yourself, so block off some me time and have some fun! Also remember that even the most dedicated exercisers and athletes need to rest and recover, so build downtime into your workout plans if you hope to take your fitness to the next level.

Don't Force It
You can't force things to happen. No matter how much you want something or how hard you work to make it happen, sometimes you just have to wait it out. Whether it's your perfect job or those last 10 pounds, life is a process. Instead, try to trust that you're on the right path, and keep at it. Slowly but surely, you'll eventually get there. Don't work harder, work smarter—and figure out how you can get to your goal without risking your sanity or well-being. You know what's not productive? Burnout.

Respect Your Limits
I learned this lesson hard during and after my marathon training. Despite a nagging hip ache, I kept running and stuck to my training schedule. Then, for the entire marathon, I didn't just endure 26.2 miles, but 26.2 miles of pain that sidelined me for weeks after the race was over. I learned the hard way that listening to your body is so important. If you're really fatigued, take a day off. If you're sick and have no energy, rest. Pushing through physical pain, emotional pain, and fatigue is never a good idea. Listen closely to what your body is telling you, and treat it like you would your best friend. Be loving, kind and respectful.

Go with the Flow
Life is a journey that doesn't come with a map. You can't always see the destination or every curve, dip or detour along the way, so you might as well enjoy the process (and the ups and downs). So you didn't hit your weight-loss goal this week because the weather prevented you from your daily walks? It's time to get creative. Rent a fitness DVD at the library or devise your own home-based workout. And always be sure to keep that sense of humor and see the opportunity in the problem. When life gives you lemons, don't just smash them. Instead make yummy (sugar-free) lemonade and savor every sip!

Enjoy Now
Why wait for to reach your goal to be happy, wear that dress, or take that vacation? Life is too short. Feel good about yourself today and give yourself the permission and freedom to be completely happy with yourself and your circumstances right now. Try to be present in the moment as much as you can and appreciate life for what you do have. Love where you are and who you are. Don't wait for tomorrow or until you reach that goal to appreciate where you are. You're worthy and good enough right now, today.

Mistakes offer us chances to learn and grow, and in these failures, you'll find wisdom for reaching any goal, be it weight-loss, health, fitness, professional or something else. After all, as James Joyce once wrote, “A man's errors are his portals of discovery.” What can you start learning from your mistakes?

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Member Comments

  • Very inspirational! I really needed this today! Yay!
  • Great information. Thanks for sharing!
  • There's a lot of good info here... Thanx!
  • Great article and lots of useful tips mentioned.
  • Great Thank you for sharing.
  • Plenty to think about. Wonderful, whimsical Wednesday!

  • Mistakes offer us chances to learn and grow, and in these failures, you'll find wisdom for reaching any goal, be it weight-loss, health, fitness, professional or something else. After all, as James Joyce once wrote, A man's errors are his portals of discovery. What can you start learning from your mistakes?

    thanks for a great thought provoking put into practice opportunities article

  • I immediately made a pact with myself to not fall into this trap again, but to learn from my mistakes. I learned the power of taking time off, listening and respecting my body, going with the flow, being easy on myself and finding happiness in the present. love love love this quote!!!

    why yes i believe i will ponder the above statements....:)
    happy Tuesday everyone....we get to choose our own thoughts!
  • This is exactly my problem right now and I'm getting close to burnout. I feel angry and resentful very quickly which is sad, because I want to relax a little and be more happy.

    I liked what the author said about falling into the process. that is something i'll write down.
  • it sounded like you were telling my story except for the running part. I had my meltdown too. It cost me two months of intensive group therapy, a heart procedure and a minor stroke. Now I work 40 hours per week and make time to love my cats and dogs. I make time to have a message weekly. it is amazing what it takes to get you thinking.
  • I wish I would have seen this yesterday before my own mini-meltdown, I was coming to this conclusion overnight but what a great message to wake up to this morning. It turns my blurry vision into a clear path.
  • What a great article! I have always been a perfectionist and it's always been "all or nothing" with me. I am gradually learning that good health is all about accepting who you are and sometime realizing the rules that work for one person are not necessarily the ones that will work for me. I am working on becoming better now but not perfect!
  • I have been at a bad place in life, as well. I am learning those lessons that you addressed. Thank you for sharing those insights.
  • I had to learn that I could not do everything when being an A-type personality landed me in the world of fibromyalgia. I've had it since 2005 and I am still to this day learning how to pace myself and not push too hard. In college when I wanted to lose weight I just worked out 2 hours every day. Now if I work out too much, my body will rebel and I will land in bed for a week. Letting go of how I used to live has been one of the most challenging lessons in my life. Every day I strive to do what I can and I have to remind myself that slow progress is still progress!

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

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