Growing up, I always heard my parents say, “Learn from my mistakes and don’t do what I did.”  But being a teenager meant that I was stubborn and decided that A.) I couldn’t make mistakes and B.) That experience was no longer relevant because it happened so long ago.  What a fool I was.  I’m here to tell you that it’s true, you can learn from my mistakes.  You might even be doing it without realizing it.

How Seeing Failure Helps Us Learn

Sometimes, it’s difficult (especially when in the teenage, raging hormones and attitude years) to see the wisdom of that phrase and step back and learn from someone else’s mistakes.  But it’s something that really helps us to learn.  Studies have shown that we learn more by watching our competitors lose than by watching them win.  By seeing someone else make a mistake, it gives us the information that we need so we can take steps to avoid the same mistake and choose a different course of action.

Of course, it’s hard, as a teenager, to have a cool head and study why our parents might have failed.  We’re more likely to unknowingly use that skill watching our peers or our competitors.  We do it when we’re playing games.  Businesses do it too.  They watch a competitor run a new marketing campaign or bring out a new product, they watch both wins and fails before deciding their next gameplay.  Usually, it’s a competitor’s fail, though, that helps to catapult them forward.

When I became a yoga teacher, I still struggled with headstand.  I would make a valiant effort to do it in the middle of the floor, but the pose just wasn’t happening.  I needed a wall in order to complete it.  I had a friend who could do a perfect headstand.  He would lift his straight legs, pike position up over his head and then hold the pose for as long as was needed.  Not only could I NOT do that, but I couldn’t even do a tripod headstand, which is a more accessible version, without using the wall to stop myself from falling over.

Every time we were in class and I would see his headstand, I would think that I could never do a headstand like that.  I was comparing myself to him and coming up on the lacking side.  And I was violating one of the “rules” of yoga.  I wasn’t staying on my mat.  I wasn’t practicing yoga where I was, instead, I was looking at someone else and comparing myself to their standards.  And that’s never good, it causes self-doubt.  I was stuck and paralyzed when it came to headstand pose because I was fixated on how perfect this other yogi was at doing it.

It’s at this point that we need the pedestal on which we put someone to crumble.  And crumble it did.  While teaching a class how to do tripod headstand, this incredible yogi fell out of the pose.  He didn’t just fall, he collapsed so hard and at such a bad angle that for 1 second, we all thought he broke his neck.  Then he got up and continued teaching and I got up into tripod headstand.

Learn From My Mistake

How did I learn?  He had lifted one of his arms off the ground to explain how the core was important in any headstand and tried to point to his abs.  By doing that, he was no longer in a tripod and he fell out of the pose.  In that moment, I learned that each section of the tripod needed to be evenly balanced and I learned to get out of my head and not compare myself to someone with more experience.

I didn’t know I needed that.  I didn’t know that I needed someone else to fail in order to learn.  But it makes sense now, knowing that our brain learns better by seeing others fail.  True, we also learn from our successes, but according to this study, we don’t learn anything from our opponents’ successes.  But watch them fail and it’s a different story.  We learn to not do that which caused their failure and then we adapt.  But we can also learn by studying other people’s mistakes. If we didn’t, would we be where we are today?  Whose mistakes or failure taught you a lesson?