Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mistake of the week

 ...or "What mistake did I make this week that provided me the biggest opportunity for learning?"

Thread:                         Learning, Mistakes
Relevant recent posts:   1/25/2011 "Learning and mistakes"

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
         —Albert Einstein, Nobel laureate physicist

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”
         —Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate physicist

A poster of this picture hung on the wall of the physics lab I worked in as a student at the University of Rochester. It reminded us: "Don't take it too seriously."

I blew it!
I remember early in my practice of hypnotherapy, meeting with my mentor, Nancy Winston (see Reference, below), for supervision (a process of learning by reviewing my cases). I was distraught and told her that I’d blown it! After a particular session I realized I had misunderstood something my client said. As a result, I now believed I had responded in a way that inadvertently undermined our rapport and his already precarious feelings of self-worth. Instead of support, or at least of doing no harm, I thought I had caused damage.

Perhaps you think you have to know something before learning it

Here's my recollection of my interaction with Nancy: Her first response was a little laugh and then, “You’re already learning a lot from this client,” to which I said, “It doesn’t feel that way.” She responded,
“Sounds like you think the way to learn something you don’t yet know is to already know it. How do you allow yourself the time, space, and experience to learn something new, something you don’t yet know?”
What had I already learned in order to know I'd "blown it"?
She looked at me while what she said sank in. Then she had me describe in detail how I knew I had “blown it:” 
“When did you know you had blown it?”

“What did you know that allowed you to make that assessment?”

“From your perspective now, what can you see now that happened during that session that would have allowed it to play out differently?” 
Now, how will you use what you've learned?
Nancy brought a levity to our exploration that invited me out of the distress I felt about having made a mistake. Then she said, 
“So, you really have learned a lot from this experience. Now, whether you like what you did or not, let’s talk about how you can make use of it for the client’s benefit…” 
…which we did. I settled down. 

Mistakes are opportunities forand evidence oflearning
At the end of the supervision session she said,  
“Mistakes are part of learning. You don’t know you’ve made a mistake until afterward, when you already have a new perspective from which you would do it differently. At that point, you’ve already learned something new. You might find it useful to ask yourself:

'What mistake have I made this week that provided me the biggest opportunity for learning?' ” 
She was serious! For the next few weeks, we started our supervision sessions with this question.

It was a great way for me to learn what was relevant for me, because the starting point was always something I was just beginning to recognize and figure out. Plus, without ever saying so, Nancy helped me separate out what was useful from what was no longer useful with respect to my attitudes towards learning.  Instead of the familiar anxiousness of having to get right what I didn’t yet know how to do, there was room and support for something new to emerge.

Please, your comments are welcome…
In what ways had you learned to recognize when you were failing and when you were succeeding?

In what other ways can you now understand what you had called your successes and failures… in a way that now promotes what you want, your interests, and your well-being?

Nancy Winston and Paul Lounsbury co-founded and co-facilitate the Advanced Training Group in Psychotherapy Cybernetics. I joined in 1997. We met four to five times a year, three days each time, for more than a decade. Group influences include the work of Milton Erickson, Charlotte Selver, Gregory Bateson, the Milan Family Systems Group, and others. Within the crucible of this group of clinicians we continually discover and experience how to participate in therapeutic hypnotic conversation. I consider this group my primary teacher and Nancy and Paul my mentors.


david66 said...

Small point - a distinction between "mistake" and "failure".
The latter sounds like a final judgment - this IS a flop.
The former is a reminder that we are traveling along somewhere in the long middle of a process.
Nancy to the it!

Anonymous said...

i don't know how to leave a comment on your blog, so i am emailing instead.

reading about mistakes has been so very helpful! yesterday i went cross country skiing with mike, he was a nat'l outdoor leadership instructor and spent 30 days on a glacier, much of the time skiing. so usually i feel pretty much like a mamaluke next to him.

in the past i got all frustrated and upset about how "badly" i was skiing and this time i was telling myself, you don't know what you don't know. experiment. pay attention. look. how does it feel? balance. lean forward not backwards.

had fun!

mike told me that i was walking not gliding but i didn't believe him. then i saw another beginner and asked him, is that what i do? he said yes and i got it. i was walking not gliding. that was so useful! feel fine about getting back out there to learn more.

thank you!!!!!!!!!

joyce said...

Hello mistake-maker,
Loved your blog anecdote and the title "I blew it" arreacted me. Nancy and Paul were my teachers, mentors, as well for several years in NYC. I was looking for her now that I'm in Ca. I'm still making
mistakes and thought I'd look them up when I stumbled upon you... (Yes, I work on the concept of "Miss Takes" as well so I can keep doing something until I get it right) Thank you for writing this and if you should know where Nancy and Paul are, let me know. Dr. Joyce Block, Mill Valley, Ca/