Learning from mistakes

Think of a major mistake you’ve made in the last year. You might feel an instant rush of gloom. But chances are the mistake was part of an experience with more successes than failures. And, as you consider it, you’ll begin to realize you probably learned more from that mistake than from anything else you did that month.

So you can zero in on what you did wrong, or you can reframe the experience in a way that focuses beyond it to what you have learned. There are multiple meanings to any experience. The meaning is whatsoever you choose to emphasize, just as its content is what you choose to focus on. One of the keys to success is finding the most useful frame for any experience so you can turn it into something that works for you rather than against you.

Is there any experience you can’t change? Is there any behavior that’s an immutable part of your being? Are you, your behaviors, or are you in charge of them? The one thing I’ve stressed in every part of this article is that you’re in control. You run your brain. You produce the results of your life. Refraining is one of the most powerful ways you can change the way you think about an experience. You already put frames on experiences. Sometimes you change that frame as events change.

Take a moment and reframe these situations:

1. My boss yells at me all the time.
2. I had to pay $4,000 more in income tax this year than last year.
3. We have little or no extra money to buy Christmas present this year.
4. Every time I begin to succeed in a big way, I sabotage my success.

Here are some possible reframes:

a) It’s great that he cares enough to tell you how e really feels. He could have just fired you.
b) That’s great. You must have made a lot more money this year than last year.
c) Great! Then you can become much more ingenious and make something people will never forget instead of buying run-of-the-mill gifts. Your gifts will be personal.
d) It’s great that you’re so aware of what your pattern has been in the past. Now you can figure out what triggered it and change it forever.

Reframing is crucial to learning how top communicate with you and with others. On the personal level, it’s how we choose to put meaning on events. On a broader level, it’s one of the most effective communication tools available. Think of selling. Think of any form of persuasion. The person who sets the frame, the person who defines the turf is the one with the most influence. Most of the major successes you can think of, in fields ranging from advertising to politics, are the result of artful reframes changing people’s perceptions so that their new representations about something put them in a state that makes them feel or act differently. A friend of mine sold his health restaurant chain to General Mills for 167 times his earnings. That’s almost unheard of in the industry. How did he do it? He got General Mills to decide the value of his company based upon what it would be worth if they did not buy it within five years and it continued to expand. He could easily wait to sell it to them. But they needed it now to achieve their corporate goals, so they agreed to his frame. All persuasion is an altering of perception.

Most reframing is done for us, not by us. Someone else changes the frame for us and we react to it. What is advertising after all but a huge industry with sole purpose of framing and reframing mass perceptions? Do you really think there is anything particularly macho about a specific brand of beer or particularly sexy about a particular cigarette? If you give an aborigine a Virginia Slims cigarette, he wouldn’t say, Hey, this is kinda sexy. But the pitchmen put on the frame, and we respond. If they don’t think we’re responding well enough, they put on a new frame and see if it works.

One of the greatest advertising reframes ever was done by Pepsi-Cola. For as long as anyone could remember, Coca-Cola was the preeminent cool drink. Its history and tradition and standing in the market were unchallenged. There was nothing Pepsi could do to beat Coke on its own turf. If you’re against a classic, you can’t say, we are more of a classic than they are, people just won’t believe it.