Failing Better: The 4 Types of Mistakes (and how to learn from them)

Why Understanding These Four Types of Mistakes Can Help Us Learn By MindShiftNOVEMBER 23, 2015 SHARE by Eduardo Briceño This article was first published in the Mindset Works newsletter. We can deepen our own and our students’ understanding of mistakes, which are not all created equal, and are not always desirable. After all, our ability…

Lessons from Skateboarder Adam Miller

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is moving from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm.” Here’s that gem of advice as it might look to skateboarder Adam Miller. Adam Miller posted many shots of his failed attempts to land a trick (it’s both cringe-inducing and hard to look away). After that is…

Why you SHOULD demonstrate inability

Attempting the impossible in order to improve is very different than attempting the impossible because you don’t know any better. A few posts ago when I wrote of the useful technique of chaining and backchaining, as an example I told the story of my disastrous high school attempt to play the Hummel Concerto in Eb 25 years ago. This was an example of not knowing any better, and the experience did a fair amount of damage to my teenage psyche and had a temporarily adverse affect on my pursuit of music.

Many years later, as I entered Northwestern University for a graduate degree in music education, I attempted another seemingly impossible music endeavor, but this time I was doing it consciously in order to improve, and was scared spitless.

Chaining and Back-Chaining

Whenever I hear the “Concerto for Trumpet in Eb” by Johann Nepomuk Hummel I have this flashback: I’m once again in high school, about to perform the Concerto (on a Bb trumpet). It’s an ambitious piece for any trumpet player, let alone a high schooler; let alone a kid from rural Alaska who has had no lessons. I’m nervous, of course, but I’ve practiced (or so I think), I’ve worked with my excellent accompanist a few times. I’ve never performed it before but I don’t give this much thought because I’m too nervous. I sit in the warm-up room and practice a little before I go perform. That’s not true. I practice a LOT. It’s becoming frighteningly clear to me–much too late–that I don’t really know this piece. I work the sections that are difficult (there are a lot) and begin to get tired. My chops are getting tender. I stop practicing and go perform with a feeling of trepidation in my gut.

Fail Better

In a previous post I spoke of the necessity of failure. I mentioned Buddha’s belief that the obstacle is the path, and when watching an interview with olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, I’m reminded of it again, but in a different way. Here’s the thing:

After the 1500 meter race in which he won bronze, thereby becoming the most decorated American winter olympic athlete, Ohno said something interesting in an interview after the race. He was clearly happy, but spoke about a little bobble near the end of the race, when the Canadian skater bumped him as they went around a turn and Ohno’s skate stuttered. What did Ohno say in the interview? Did he blame the dastardly Canadian for bumping him? No. He took full responsibility for the stumble and wondered (I’m paraphrasing), “If I hadn’t messed up there I might have placed better.” Ohno is giving a perfect positive example of what researchers have called attribution theory, or what I like to call, The Blame Game. Here’s how it works: