Personal Growth & Learning From Mistakes

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If you’re anything like me, you can still hear that sound. Super Mario Bros. was the first game I ever played on my brand new Nintendo Entertainment System I got for Christmas and I was in heaven. It sparked a love of video games that persists to this day. And that special magic mushroom was so very helpful. You became bigger and harder to defeat. You could take a hit and keep going without having to start the level over. Like our favorite Italian plumber, growth works the same in our lives, too!

Previously I talked about making mistakes and how to handle them in a healthy manner. One thing I touched on at the end was changing behavior, but it’s such a big topic that I wanted to give it a second week of discussion. This week, I’m not talking about the small stuff…those one-off mistakes that don’t impact your partner or your relationships significantly, and we don’t need to make a big deal out of them. Ok, so you bought the creamy peanut butter by mistake instead of the crunchy. It happens. Those are fairly easy to handle without and big, personal investments.

Instead, we’re talking about the BIG stuff: The trauma, the past, the addictions, and the unhealthy coping mechanisms that are no longer serving you. In other words, the pieces of yourself that require healing and personal growth to overcome.

Before we go any further, I need to call something out, and I can’t say this strongly enough: THIS. STUFF. IS. HARD. Though I’m going to be talking about it in more simple or direct terms, I understand how much energy these things require to grow beyond. If you’re struggling in your own growth, definitely do not take this as an example of how you’re failing. You’re not. It’s just that difficult, and your brain doesn’t help.

An amazing friend of mine and self proclaimed neuro nerd, Chris Wilborn, taught me something very important and I want to pass it on to you: Your brain is wired for safety, not performance. This is an incredibly vital piece of information to keep in mind on your personal journey of growth. Your brain is designed to keep you alive, not improve yourself. It’s an evolutionary survival technique and it works like this:

  • You’re alive right now

  • Whatever you’ve done in the past has kept you alive

  • The brain wants to keep you alive

  • Change alters the brains ability to predict the future

  • The best way to increase the future predictability is to keep everything exactly the same as it is right now

The biological part of your brain doesn’t give a shit about your wounds, traumas, or experiences that are holding you back from being the awesome person you envision yourself to be. That’s the consciousness’s concern. The brain just wants you alive so you can reproduce. And it takes a massive amount of intent, effort, and energy for the conscious part of the brain to override that subconscious desire to stay the same. So the first part of personal growth is this: Forgiveness. Offer it to yourself a lot. All the time. You’re not expected to overcome millennia of evolutionary traits easily or perfectly.

In the beginning of this year, I wrote a blog explaining what relationship work is. In that writing I talked about relationship work being a special type of self work, and it is.

A relationship is only as good as the people in it. If you bring to a relationships a history of unhealed abuse, trauma you haven’t dealt with, poor communication skills, a lack of self awareness, emotional immaturity, and an inability to be honest with yourself, you’re going to create a relationship that is powerful in those qualities.

So if you’re dealing with any of the above issues personally, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes in your relationships as you try and deal with them. Before you can even deal with these issues and make the mistakes, though, you have to do one thing:


In twelve step programs, this is Step 4: Making a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory. This is super hard sometimes, but is a powerful necessity. People have a difficult time with this because, deep down, they know what the truth is.

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Now, I don’t like using ‘fault’. I think ‘responsibility’ is a more accurate word. It’s not about blame. It’s important to note that this is not to say you are in any way responsible for traumas or experiences that were put upon you or that you had no control of. The responsibility for traumas you may have faced at the hands of others is squarely upon their shoulders. But they left you with scars. When not dealt with, those scars create thoughts, beliefs, and patterns in your life that can and will be disruptive to your highest good. That part you are responsible for healing.

Once you understand what the Scroll of Truth is telling you, you have power. Power to see clearly how what’s happened to you has affected you. Power to take action based on information. Power to surrender your past. Finally, power to make new choices that heal yourself and, by extension, your relationships.

Telling the truth about yourself to yourself is the gatekeeper. This is the piece that keeps many people from healing. Once you can do that, or if you even want to do that but need help, the real work can begin. But do not forget that gate once you’ve moved past it. In order to keep moving forward you have to keep telling the truth about yourself to yourself.

Step 1: Become an expert in the thing that is keeping you from healing. Is it childhood abuse? Neglect? Poverty? Learn about how that affects people as adults. Accident that left you afraid of something? Read about how fear affect people and how they overcome it.

Step 2: Become an expert in you! Childhood abuse often manifests in a variety of ways. If you’re a survivor of childhood abuse, you’re going to exhibit certain behaviors, but not all of the behaviors. Which ones? How did that experience manifest in you to affect your life? This doesn’t mean you have to relive traumatic experiences in detailed flashbacks, but understand the coping mechanisms that have been put in place as a result.

Step 3: Find a qualified person or a team of people to help you. Ideally, this would be a therapist, counselor, coach, or doctor of some kind who’s trained in and specializes in what you need. If that’s not available to you for whatever reason, I guarantee there are hundreds of books written on what you need. Find an author and book that speaks to you. Maybe attend a workshop? Find an ongoing class? A support group? Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, take a step.

Step 4: Keep taking steps. There’s no quick fix here. Even if you somehow had a transformative experience and are left feeling like you’re an entirely new person because all of your shit was burned away by the love of God, you still have work to do. You still have to find out who you are now. So keep taking steps and don’t stop.

The bottom line is you have to grow and heal as a person if you want your relationship to grow and be healthy. There’s no other way but through. But the reward is coming out stronger and more resilient than before. And it’s always worth it.

May the best of your past be the worst of your future…


Mistakes, Errors, and Slip-Ups, Oh-My!

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My wife was reading my New Years 2019 email I sent out and within seconds she says to me, “Well, the first thing I’m noticing is a missing word.”

“Son of a bitch!” was my response. Not at her, of course, just out of frustration. She laughed. My girlfriend was in a chair next to me reading the same email and let me know that she missed it. Her brain just filled in the missing word. The brain’s efficiency and predictive factor worked in my favor that day! :)

This wasn’t that big of a deal, of course. I’ve made spelling and grammar mistakes before and this won’t be the last time. Small mistakes are easy to take responsibility for and avoid negative self-talk over. But what about mistakes that aren’t so small? Ones that can negatively impact your life and relationship in powerful ways? Ones that have broken trust? What then?

It’s easy to fall into a shame spiral. The negative self-talk can be deafening at times:

  • ‘How could you do that?’

  • ‘You knew better than this!’

  • ‘They won’t love you anymore’

  • ‘They’re going to leave you’

And then there’s your partner’s feelings and words that may not be the most helpful or sensitive because they’re hurting. And understandably so, but it doesn’t make it easier. Besides, who can be more critical of our mistakes than we can? That shame spiral and self-flagellation won’t help, though, so let’s talk about what will!

The first step it the hardest but most vital: Be rigorously honest with yourself. Did you know what you were doing would negatively affect your relationship? If you didn’t, now you do. If you knew, what caused you to do it anyway? Why was this act important despite the problems it would cause?

Second, when your partner is ready to hear it, apologize. Depending on the nature of the mistake, your partner may not be ready to hear your apology right away and that’s ok. They are processing their emotions about it just like you are processing yours.

A good apology includes a recognition of the wrong act, why it was wrong, and an expressed desire to make it right in the moment. It is delivered with heartfelt sincerity and includes liberal use of phrases like:

  • I’m sorry

  • I apologize

  • I was wrong

  • I didn’t mean to hurt you

A good apology does not include sarcasm, passive-aggression, blaming, or phrases like:

  • I’m sorry you’re hurt

  • I only did this because you…

Finally, the desire to change behavior. Different than the desire to make it right in the moment, this is the desire to change behavior so the mistake doesn’t happen again. This is not just for big mistakes, too, but small ones as well. Changed behavior after a mistake is a signal to your partner. It says, “I love you, I understand, I hear you, and want to grow with you.”

This is not to say that all changes will be instant, easy, or effortless. You could have a habit that once served you in the past that no longer is. Your mistake can be one born out of trauma, abuse, or just poor modeling of relationships. These things take time, and your partner will likely understand that, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. It explains, but does not excuse.

So your change in behavior can be as simple as setting an alarm on your phone or calendar so you don’t forget an appointment in the future. Or it could be something more significant like going to therapy to deal with trauma or anger issues. The amount of effort required will increase with the magnitude of the mistake. Forget to take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner? Well, that can be fixed with a reminder on your phone. Forget an ultrasound appointment for the third time, though, and you’re gonna have to do a lot of work to show your partner that you’re going to be there for your family.

Few mistakes you can make are instant relationship killers. What I more often see is a pattern of behavior over time that leads to the demise of a relationship. Which is really good news if you’re struggling in yours, whether it’s an intimate relationship, family member, or friend, they’re usually repairable. All it takes it people committed to putting the work in, either on their own or with a coach.

May your errors be few and your healing be plentiful!

Be excellent to each other,