wavy pattern

what mistakes are you making? 🙈

four ways to make progress even when it is going wrong

- Posted byHannah Miller

It’s well documented that I both hate making mistakes, and yet regularly make them.

In fact, not that long ago I wrote an entire blog about a mistake I made and then made it again right there, within that blog. Sloppy.


Now, you may or may not know that once upon a time I was a teacher, and when I was preparing some training on Growth Mindsets, I came across a really helpful perspective when it came to mistakes. We all know the cliché that mistakes are helpful, mistakes help us learn, failure is to be embraced and so on. I think we all find this is a great deal more tricky to live out in practice.

This work on mistakes really helps us to do better with mistakes. OK, that’s a bit of an oxymoron but I think you get my meaning.

According to Eduardo Briceño, there are four types of mistakes.

Some have more value than others, and some are probably better not to be made too often!

It plots the types of mistakes against two factors:

  • The level of learning opportunity (high or higher – reiterating the point we can learn from all mistakes, but not all mistakes are equal!)
  • The level of intentionality (low or high) – how much did you intend to do it?


These factors give us 4 types of mistakes on our matrix

Stretch Mistakes (high intentionality, very high learning opportunity)

Stretch mistakes happen when we’re working to develop our current abilities. We’re obviously not trying to make these mistakes – in that we’re trying to do something incorrectly. However, we are trying to do something that is beyond what we already can do without help, so we’re bound to make some errors. Learning how to play a musical instrument, or learning to drive, or any new sport or hobby will give us loads of obvious opportunities for stretch mistakes.

Stretch mistakes are positive. If we never made stretch mistakes, it would mean that we never truly challenged ourselves to learn new knowledge or skills.

So, we want to make stretch mistakes!

We want to do so not by trying to do things incorrectly, but by trying to do things that are challenging.

When did you last make a stretch mistake? If you can’t remember – it’s time to do something challenging!

Aha Mistakes (low intentionality, very high learning opportunity)

Another really positive mistake, that we can’t really plan for, is the aha mistake. This happens when we do something that we planned to do, but then realise that what we thought was the right thing to do is actually a mistake because we don’t get the intended outcome. We probably lacked some knowledge that we needed in order to do it correctly. Like when we pronounce a word incorrectly. Or like that time my husband once tried to put out a fire that contained candle wax with water and nearly set fire to my brother in law’s head (sorry Simon). This was an aha mistake. Another example might be when we try to help someone, thinking they want our help, but actually they want to do it for themselves. It’s also how lots of scientific breakthroughs end up occurring!

The root of these mistakes lies in a lack of knowledge and skills, and it often takes place at the least appropriate moment. These mistakes are amazing because a) they are hard to forget (Simon’s life flashed before his eyes so he won’t ever forget that aha mistake), b) they set the direction for further development and usually give us the necessary kick to work on it!

When did you last have a breakthrough moment, when you realised something wasn’t as you thought?

Sloppy Mistakes (low intentionality, not-so-high learning opportunity)

As an ex-teacher – these are much more annoying mistakes! When you KNOW how to do something, but because you get comfortable, or distracted, you start to make errors. I do this all the time. In the interests of getting things done, things can get sloppy. They do have merits, though. They can help us to pinpoint why these mistakes are happening, and perhaps push us to change our habits, improve our sleeping patterns or upgrade our processes and systems (thus turning it into an aha mistake!).

What is causing you to make sloppy mistakes? What impacts your focus and precision?

High Stakes Mistakes (low intentionality, not-so-high learning opportunity)

OK, really high stakes mistakes are totally catastrophic. Like accidentally pressing the nuclear bomb button (yes this is a ridiculous example, but we all know what kind of high stakes mistakes I mean and I don’t really want to commit these to paper). In the *really* high stakes situations, we obviously want to put processes in place so that we avoid these happening at all.

But, aside from life-threatening situations, there are other high stakes mistakes that we can still learn from. These would be more likely performance situations – like sitting an exam for a really prestigious university, job interviews for the dream role or career switch, or perhaps even a championship athletic event. Of course, the goal here is not to make a high stakes mistake. It is to provide a near-perfect performance – but this doesn’t always happen. And in those moments, although we may not get another chance, and as hard as that can be, they still have the opportunity to teach us so.  

What progress did we make along the way? What did it teach us? What do we need to improve upon next time? What impact has this had upon my character?


So, the key learning today, my friend is that not all mistakes are made equal.

What kind of mistakes are you making?

How are you feeding them forward into your learning and progress?

Let me encourage you today to not speed past errors but instead take some time to reflect on their place as you navigate your frustration and disappointment and set to work in making it count.

A final thought for you to ponder:

“A life spent making mistakes is not only most honourable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing” — George Bernard Shaw


Hannah x



P.S. If you’ve got kids – these tips on mistakes might really help them deal with errors better, develop our children’s growth mindset, and see why they need them in order to do better next time!

P.P.S. Our AtlanticAntics team made it! They also became the youngest three women to cross the Atlantic. Hats off!

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