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The Value of Errors

March 1, 2018

Most of us try to avoid making mistakes; some people even berate themselves when they make them. However, mistakes can provide exceptional opportunities for learning and for building character. 

Errors help you learn.

What happens when you make a mistake? First, you try to identify exactly what went wrong. Then, you work to correct the error so that you don’t make it again. 

Consider a preschooler attempting to build a tower of blocks. Each time the stack falls, he tries again, making little changes with each try—turning this block on its side, balancing that one between two foundational blocks, and so on—to ensure that the structure holds. With each collapsed tower, he learns what doesn’t work, bringing him closer to an eventual success. 

Consider a Spelling Bee contestant. She studies intensely for the competition, familiarizing herself with countless words and their etymologies. Which word does she remember most after
the contest? The one she missed. Odds are good that she’ll never misspell that word again.

Just like the block stacker and the speller, each time you reflect on a failure, you increase your understanding, add to your store of knowledge, exercise creative thinking "muscles," and develop new skills. When you encounter a similar problem again, you will be better equipped to deal with it successfully. In this way, error by error and correction by correction, your ability to understand and deal effectively with problems increases.

Once you have learned from a mistake, you can also pass on your hard-won knowledge to others. Sharing knowledge benefits you as well as the people you
share it with because it helps solidify in your own mind what you have learned.

Correcting errors builds character.

Mistakes also teach you about yourself. The way you act and the words you use in response to an error reveal a great deal about your character. Do you have what it takes to succeed in life, or do you let mistakes drag you down? Having the right attitude towards errors is vital. It is critically important to keep in mind that errors of knowledge are not character flaws as long as you do the work to correct them. No one is omniscient, and fixing errors is a crucial step to building good character.

Whenever you miss the mark, you also have an opportunity to pinpoint any biases and faulty processes that may have led you down the wrong path. You become less susceptible to falling for common misperceptions; you refine your habits and methodology; your thinking becomes clearer.

If you approach errors as learning opportunities, then every time you successfully correct an error you will build self-worth and confidence in the strength of your own mind. Because you’ve experienced it, you will know that your mind has the ability to learn and grow.

Errors are important to a Challenger education.

The true value of learning goes far beyond what is reflected in the grades on a report card or a score on a standardized test. Learning is a continuous process of moving your perceptions closer to reality, developing the cognitive and social skills needed to correct honest errors, and strengthening the character traits of perseverance, focus, and concentration. All of this leads to a sense of self-worth that is rooted in real experience.

Don’t let report cards or standardized tests be the only measures of your children’s success as students or your success as parents. Observe how your children respond after making mistakes. If they are able to use their errors as opportunities to increase knowledge, hone skills, and develop character, then they are truly successful learners. Your children’s sense of self-worth will grow as they realize that if they don’t know something, they have the ability to figure it out. Developing this confidence as children will help them face and conquer the challenges life sends their way. 

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