Let me first clarify what I mean by a “bad idea” here. “Bad idea” means ineffective, at best and stopping progress, at worst.

“Learning from mistakes” is an expression strongly rooted not only in our language, but also our thinking. It is accepted as a sound piece of advice for some or a trivial colloquialism for others. The idea is that we make mistakes and we have to learn from them in order to improve. We consider it as a truth.

Now is the time to challenge it. Or at least, challenge what we understand by this expression.


You and I make mistakes in our lives. They are inevitable. We made them in the past, we are making them now and we will make them in the future. No doubt about it.

Mistakes are simply misguided actions or poor estimates in the given context or situation. They may involve experiencing borderline cases, crossing the edge or making wrong judgements.

Mistakes have an important role in the learning process and I don’t want to dispute that. They are a part of the feedback on the progress we make. They are however not the foundation of our success.

When is learning from mistakes ineffective?

If you constantly focus on your mistakes and how to improve them, you focus on what does not work. In other words, you concentrate on the problems and not the solutions. This is a trap that one falls into – the trap of losses, misses and the don’ts. What you focus on, takes your energy and expands. If you concentrate your efforts on what doesn’t work, you provide fuel to recreate the very conditions of such situations.  Whether you like it or not.

Imagine this. You want to go shopping. You make a list of all products you don’t want to buy. Does it help you to know exactly what you need? Does it help you to make a smooth buy? Nope. There are plenty possibilities of what you may consider buying even if you precisely know what you don’t want.

Imagine this. You are a teacher at a college or university and you teach a group of students. At the end of the semester you prepare a questionnaire to find out how they benefited from the course. What would you ask?

Would you focus on finding out what they didn’t like?
Would you focus on finding out what worked for them?

In all cases of teaching there are usually a few unhappy no matter what. Would you adapt your course, examples and exercises to satisfy the disappointed few or would you rather expand with doing more of what worked for the 90-95% of others? Paraphrasing, would you focus on multiplying your strengths or on improving your perceived weaknesses?

(By the way, a great question to ask in such circumstances is this: “What did you like the most and how can I improve it to make it even better?”)

Imagine this. You are starting a business. One of the advice you will get is to fail often and as fast as possible. This is the idea of learning from mistakes in the context of business. If you follow such a process, however, you will become an expert in the land of unsuccessful approaches. But… Will you know what makes it all work?

The implicit assumption behind “learning from mistakes” is that if you know what doesn’t work, the opposite will pave you the road to success. The reality is not that straightforward, however. Oftentimes, it is a unique combination of strategies, approaches and particular details that fuel progress and create a formulation for success. Such a mixture cannot simply be discovered by negating the things that don’t work.

Do you see where I am leading to?

Knowing what does not work, helps you very little to find out what does, despite what you may want to believe.

Understanding own mistakes does not necessarily lead to progress. They may, in some circumstances, but they usually do not.


Take a 9-12 month old infant who learns to walk. Have you ever seen one? Although infants find unique ways to master this skill, they all share one thing. They are persistent and continue doing what they are strong at (or what works for them), no matter what.

Some of them, like my oldest, practiced crawling in a free-style movements and supported standing (i.e. standing up by a table, chair etc), until one day he simply felt ready to walk. His first steps were not just a few, but a 20m straight walk, instead. I was shocked as he simply walked a distance.

My other child was forcing me to hold his hands in order to exercise walking with him until he was ready to do it by himself. Over and over again. Although his first steps were a few only, soon they became many. He demanded help and he received it.

Both children spent somewhere between 5 to 8 weeks on daily practices. Until they succeeded.

The point I want to make is this. Oftentimes, persistence (or perseverance) coupled with a simple strategy is much more effective than multiple approaches, all abandoned too early at the level at which we could perhaps judged them as mistakes or failures.


The key point about learning is the same as about concept learning. You need a solid foundation first.

How do you build your foundation? By collecting your positive examples which are used to build your first concept. Studying the examples and experiencing the successes behind them will help to refine the concept further on.

With respect to life it means that you focus on your talents, gifts, model cases, nearly-ideal examples, successes and everything that works for you or others involved.

Mistakes is everything where you sucked at, what others judged as wrong, inappropriate or unsuitable. They serve as an important feedback for the re-formulation of your concept. This is a crucial difference with respect to the usual understanding of the “learning from mistakes” mantra.

Mistakes are necessary for the testing of the boundaries. They allow us to re-define clear (or crisp) edges of the concept we are learning. But in order to make use of the mistakes successfully, we need to have the concept formulated first. And such a concept can only be built by using the positive examples – essential for our learning. This brings us to the final thought here.

Mistakes are not for the learning of a concept/skill but for re-learning of an already formulated concept/skill, especially with respect to the boundary cases.


Any time you want to learn a new skill or start a new enterprise, learn from successes of yours or others and focus on what works. Build your concept first before you begin testing the boundaries. Only then mistakes can be used effectively.

What does it mean?

If you begin your relationship, make it successful.
When you start your business, make it work.
When you lead a project, bring it to conclusion.

Commit to make your efforts success first before you allow yourself to fail.


Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.




This is a guest post by my friend Bob.

Consciousness can be pure. This happens when we are just conscious, awake and internally focused, suppressing all thoughts, feelings and desires to act.

Consciousness can also be directed either at an external event or situation or an internal state. If we are conscious the latter is always there. If not, we are just a part of the external world. We are unaware of the fact that we participate in the world, at least by observing it.

Our internal state colors our consciousness. The complexity of an event or a situation creates a palette of colors. Patterns in the possible palettes can be grouped by numbers. Consequently, numbers are thereby related to qualities as far as they are caused either by a consciousness color or a palette of colors.

In this approach a number may refer to the complexity of an event or a situation, i.e. the total number of states which can be distinguished. It may, however, also refer to a particular state inside a given structure or system.

For instance, the number three can refer to a structure of three states, but also to the third state in an event of seven states. This is one of the reasons why a number cannot have a single quality.

The 7 states

While focussing on an event or structure we may discover that its complexity (the number of observable states) increases with observation and perception. For instance, we can be either in the house or outside. But, when considering these two states we will soon need to include the possibilities of entering and leaving the house, thereby creating events of three states (being inside, passing through the door and being outside). Between every two such states an additional one may be observed, giving rise to five states in total. The first and last state may also be split into two finer ones, which gives us seven states. These are:

1. Being inside, unaware of the door. Housekeeping.
2. Being inside, aware of the door. Finishing housekeeping.
3. Approaching the door. Opening it.
4. Passing through the door. Experiencing the threshold.
5. Leaving the door behind. Closing the door.
6. Being outside, remembering the door. Starting a walk.
7. Being outside. The door is no issue any more. Enjoying the walk.

This process may be continued depending on the sensitivity of senses and consciousness as well as the complexity of the event.

The circle of 12

After returning from a walk the same set of events can be experienced in a reversed order. Since the first and last states of the two events (going out and coming in) coincide, such a circle of events has 12 states (instead of 14).

If we define different states of consciousness as having a different internal color then approaching the door and opening it are in the same state as they both are related to a physical experience (walking, touching, opening). State no. 2, however, is entirely different as it refers to activities of the soul or mind: longing for a walk or  planning to go out. In the state no.1 this element is not there, but it may also be non-physical as we may concentrate on housekeeping, reading a book or just sleeping.

This circle of 12 can be experienced as an event in time, but not only. Another interpretation is to perceive it as a geometrical circle passing through four directions (Being inside, Leaving, Being outside, Returning), each with a preparation and a finishing state. The logic of this example does not allow intermediate states between the Being inside and Being outside states different from the already given states of Leaving and Returning.

The tetrahedron of states

Let’s say we have four elements: air, fire (warmth), water and earth. If we consider all states built from and between the four elements, then we have for individual elements, six dyadic interactions (of two elements), four triadic interactions (of three elements) and one interaction of all four elements. This corresponds to the geometry of a tetrahedron: the four corners, the six edges, the four faces and the inside of the body, counting up to 15 states.

For example, each of these states may correspond to our experience for a particular holiday. The face of earth, water and fire  stands for a holiday near a lake in the mountains in the summer, while thee dyad of water and air points to a sailing holiday anywhere, any season.

Going further

We can now consider more and more complex events or situations. The total number of states is limited by the richness of experiences our mind and soul can perceive as different states of consciousness.

For example, if instead of going for a walk, we will go for holiday or participate in a serious talk, such an event can be differentiated into 17 or 19 states.This can be understood as the 12 states on the circle enlarged with additional five or seven states. But now the beginning and end states might not be identical since there is a significant difference inside us before and after the holiday (or talk). We are changed.


So, what is the meaning of, say, the number four? In order to answer that we have to look at the frame of reference. Where is the four we are asking about? We may experience a situation with four states, we may look at the fourth state in an event of seven states or in an event of 19 states. The meaning will change accordingly.

The quality of numbers can not be discussed in an absolute sense. A number, similarly as a word in a language, conveys a set of possible meanings. The proper one has to be understood from the context.


The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.



I had a dream as a child.
My dream was to conquer the whole world. Was it also your dream, perhaps?

Of course I knew it might be difficult, perhaps even very difficult, but it sounded possible. Just as possible as for a boy, usually perceived as a stupid or incapable one, to become a king in a fairy tale.

I wanted so much out of my life. I wanted a happy family. I wanted to make great scientific discoveries. I wanted to teach. I wanted to support healing. I wanted to write meaningful books. And so on.

I wanted to create. Science. Art. Harmony. Balance. Love. And I wanted to make an everlasting impact. What about you?

How have I scored so far?

Well… far below my dreams and ambitions, to be honest. But I can say that, at least, I made little steps in every direction I dreamt as a child. More importantly, I’ve become a conscious person. And I know that I am the only one responsible in my life to make things happen.

What about you?

What dream did you have as a child?
Did you want to become a great engineer or perhaps a great climber?
Did you want to become a doctor?
Did you want to paint? Or make art?
Did you want to write bestsellers?
Did you want to travel the whole world?
What did you want?

If you are honest with yourself then you will recognize that you still cherish your old ambitions. They are not gone. They are hidden in the vast depths of your soul, where you hardly ever look at. And you find excuses not to shed light on them, given your current commitments, responsibilities and obligations. Surely, you most likely have a daily job to do. Surely, you may have small kids or growing-up kids. Surely, you have a household to take care of. Surely, you have a financial challenge. Surely, you have a health problem in your family. Surely, there is something on the way.

What is your excuse?

I would love to start my own business but I have a family to provide for and cannot accept the risks involved.
I would love to write a novel but I have no time as I work hard and long hours.
I would love to travel but I have little money to spend and a carrier to look for.
I would love to become a musician but I am not sufficiently talented.

I don’t have enough skills, money, experience, time, possibilities or support. I don’t know how to start. I don’t know whether I am good enough. I am too young or I am too old. I have too much on my plate. I have too many tasks, responsibilities and challenges. And so on.

Yes, there is always a “but” if you want to find one.

Is there any limitation that keeps holding you back?

Think of Ludwig van Beethoven, a great composer. His hearing began to deteriorate in his late twenties, until he finally become completely deaf. Did it stop him from composing, conducting and performing? Not at all. Many of his masterpieces were created at that time he was deaf. He heard music in his mind.

Or think of John Milton, an English poet. He became blind, possibly because of glaucoma. Did it stop him from writing? Not at all. Many great works were created, including Paradise Lost after him becoming blind. He simply dictated his words over and over again. What about you?

Is there any traumatic event that keeps holding you back?

Think of Aron Ralston, a heroic mountain climber. He survived an accident in which he chose to amputate his own arm with a dull pocket knife in order to free himself from a dislodged boulder. What a courage!

Did the accident stop him from climbing? Did it stop him from having a successful life? Not at all. Even more. Not only was he a climber but he became an inspirational speaker as well. Read his biography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, or see the 127 hours movie. What about you?

Is there the attraction of the comfort zone that keeps holding you back?

Think of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two mountain climbers who survived a descent from West Face of Siula Grande in Peruvian Andes against all odds and circumstances. Simpson’s survival is perhaps the most moving life story you will ever hear. Their adventure is transformational. Please watch the movie Touching The Void or read the book. It will touch you.

Did the traumatic events and numerous injuries stop them from climbing? Not at all. They hardened them into the men of Spirit. What about you?

Is there age, “bad luck” or lack of an experience that keep holding you back?

Think of Daniel Defoe. He had a life of troubles, political engagement, imprisonment, being cast out from the country, and so on. Although he wrote many pamphlets during his life time, he wrote his major novels and works, including Robinson Crusoe, after the age of 60. Overall, he was a prolific and wide-range writer, delivering a few hundreds books and pamphlets during his life. What about you?

Is there lack of money or possibilities that keep holding you back?

Think of Maria Skłodowska-Curie, a pioneering researcher on radioactivity, the first female professor at the University of Paris. She lost her mother at the age of 12 while her family lost fortunes in national uprisings fought for the freedom of Poland. She had to work hard as a teenager. And she had to work even harder as a young adult to pay for her sister’s studies and later for her own.

Did it stop her? Not at all. She was barely providing for herself, yet she persisted in studying math, chemistry and physics at Sorbonne in Paris, being the first woman in Europe. Imagine her Spirit! After the marriage with Pierre Currie, she took care of two daughters and worked days and nights at the laboratory. She was the first woman to get the Nobel prize and the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes, being one of the two people ever to win this prize in two different sciences. What about you?

Are the unfavorable, chaotic or otherwise difficult life circumstances your excuse?

Think of Miguel de Cervantes who wrote the Don Quixote masterpiece while being in and out of jail.

Think of Nelson Mandela, a world class leader and peace maker. Did 27 years in prison (for political reasons) stop him from taking action? Not at all. He remained a person of high morals. He refused to compromise his political position to obtain freedom. What a Character! He preserved his goal-orientation, energy and love for the people.  After his release he plunged into action and become one of the most successful reformers and leaders in South Africa. What about you?

But I have my job

O.K., so you read the above and you say, “Yeah, this is fine. But I have my job and my family”. Well, have you ever heard of Dave Navarro? Did his full-time job and a family of three young kids stopped him from following his passion? Not at all. He built a successful online business at the same time and helped others to do so. He learned to take consistent action and organize from inside out. And he saw the results. What about you?

Do you think of yourself as physically handicapped?

I have news for you. Nick Vujicic is a men born with no arms and no legs. Just imagine the challenges he went through as a child, incapabilities, being all the time dependent on others, being bullied at or laughed at. Not even mentioning the challenges of growing up. Yet, he overcame his disability to live not just independently but a rich and fulfilling life, welcoming every day with a smile. Watch him here or read his book Life without limits to change the way you perceive your own problems. What about you?

Back to you

Think again about the precious ambitions and dreams in your soul. Then look again at the excuses which stop you from making them happen. Just recognize how false they are. Whatever it is, lack of money, lack of experience, traumatic events, misunderstandings, handicaps or limitations, these are merely obstacles to make your journey much more interesting and thrilling than it could have been otherwise. Simply start slowly, begin running and jump over the obstacle. And enjoy it.

Express your creative desire through your own creative activity. Allow it to flow.

You are the only person who holds you back.


Other inspirational or educational posts:


Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under Creative Commons on Flickr.


This is a guest post by my inspiring friend Bob.


In the previous post “Is Mac better than PC?” Ela describes her choice for a Mac over a PC and states that this has been “one of my best decisions in life”. Such remarks can be heard more often. It resembles somewhat other statements such as “It was one of the best things that happened to me in my life”.

At a first glance they point to a similar, “best” result, but with very different causes: either internally made or externally encountered.

On the second thought I started to doubt, caused by the fact that Ela supports the quality of the decision by arguments that have to convince us.


During a life almost random events struck me: somebody throws a bucket of water from a balcony just at the moment that I pass the building, or I suddenly win a large amount in a lottery of which I had fully forgotten that I participated. Their relations to the decisions are very weak: I decided to take this particular road at the wrong time, or bought a ticket at the right time. It is difficult to maintain that the first decision is a bad decision and the second is a good one. These are just events that may happen to anybody and have nothing to do with the quality of my decision making.

In other events I am participating more, e.g. when I found the love of my life. I just met her, by accident (?), but was able to grasp the opportunity. It was still an event that came to me from outside but I was able to make the best of it (or at least let it happen :-)). So even for an event that is “one of the best things that happened to me” may hold that it is only good because of my acceptation. Because I embraced it.


Decisions are made on crossing points. From a number of clear possibilities, we have to take one, and if we are conscious of all ins and outs it may be considered as a good one. It might be stated that we decided consciously.

What does this mean?

We are aware of the options and try to get an idea of the consequences. And then? Assigning weights and probabilities and feed them to my internal computer? May be it works like that for you, but not for me. I am tempted by some goodies that try to denigrate the drawbacks and dangers. Or my eye is first caught by the dragons and I run for them choosing  the road on which the most friendly one smiles at me hiding its teeth.

The first dragon on the friendly road strikes and I have to fight. There is no escape and I have to live with my decision. The best thing that I can do is that I start to love the decision, the road I took and the dragon that lives there.

I have chosen in my consciousness on the basis of what I observed. At the end these observations fed the temptations and fears that live in my soul. They fought their fight and made the choice. There is no program controlled by me. Is there any difference with events that happen without a clear decision? Is there a difference between the outside and the inside powers that path my life?

Events and decisions

There is not so much of a difference between events and decisions. Both can be turned into good or bad, depending on my ability to live with the consequence. A bucket of water may be turned into an interesting meeting and a price in a lottery may cause me a lot of problems. When I am aware of the choices I have, I may be mislead by the fears and temptations. Again, it depends on my ability to deal with the consequences whether the decision was good.

The best things that ever happened to me and the best decisions that I have made are just the best because I could handle the consequences and was able to give them a positive turn. There can be made long lists of arguments, pros and cons can be faced, but the only thing that matters is whether I like it or not. Decisions are made on the basis of my estimate whether I can live with it. I have to be primarily conscious of myself, of my internal powers and much less of all external facts.


Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.


The series of posts on decision making