In Edinburgh, Scotland there is a very unique library; “The Library of Mistakes.” Created in 2011 by a group of finance professionals, it is a specialized library focused on economic and financial mistakes throughout history. The library houses a collection of books, documents, and artifacts that highlight various economic and financial blunders, including market crashes, failed business ventures, and policy error The Library of Mistakes contains over 2,000 books, all relating to economics and finance.

The Library of Mistakes was inspired by the 2008 Great Recession, which served as a perfect example of how, according to the library’s curators, “smart people keep doing stupid things. The library provides people a chance to learn from past mistakes.”

Unfortunately, there is no library of life mistakes we can go to for advice. There is no text book of rules to avoid the pitfalls of daily living. Worse, life is full of mistakes in spite of our best efforts.  How do we minimize life mistakes and what do we do, when we make mistakes? Avoiding mistakes in business and life comes down a few simple things, according to billionaire investor Charlie Munger, who died at age 99. Munger was the long-time business partner of Warren Buffett, the enormously successful investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He said avoiding financial mistakes involved good financial habits and avoiding life mistakes involved integrity and “avoiding toxic people and toxic activities.”

The famous life motivator Dale Carnegie advised that when you make a mistake and if you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. There is a certain degree of satisfaction in having the courage to admit one’s errors. It not only clears the air of guilt and defensiveness, but often helps solve the problem created by the error. Advisor Stan Sykes has offered four ways to learn from life mistakes:

  1. Acknowledge your mistake. Acknowledge you made one. Be honest with yourself and admit when you’ve made a mistake
  2. Examine how the mistake was made. What led you to make a mistake? What could you have done differently? This will help you to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

To minimize the chance of mistakes, think about these preventive steps:

  1. Before acting, consider the potential consequences. What could happen if you make the wrong choice? What will be the impact on you? Analyze a situation to determine the worst possible scenario if you fail. Considering potential effects can help you make better decisions and avoid mistakes.
  1. Focus on trying to create the best possible situation so that you end up with a better outcome than the worst case. Work on trying to improve the situation so that you end up with a better outcome than the worst case.
  2. Learn from others. Learn from the mistakes of others. Ask for advice. What did someone else do and what was the result? What would they do differently if they could return and do it again?
  1. Be willing to accept the worst possible case scenario, if it is a mistake. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, what can we do to try to not make mistakes?

  1. We need to be honest with ourselves. When we make a mistake, we must own up to it and not try to hide it or pretend it didn’t happen.
  2. Secondly, we need to learn from our mistakes. We must look at what went wrong and determine how to avoid making the same mistake.
  3. And finally, we need to have grace for ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and move on. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and that we are all human.

Consider the advice of Sibyl F. Partridge: “Just for today I will try to live through this day only, not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do things in twelve hours that would appall me if I had to keep them up for a lifetime. She suggests that thinking about what needs to be done in the future can lead to overwhelm and inaction. But if you focus on what you need to accomplish today, it’s much more doable. It will help you create the future you want, one day at a time.

We aren’t going to be perfect, but perhaps these ideas will improve our state of mind when we make a mistake.

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