Mistakes and The Dream Model

DWhat is your dream? A typical question in Chinese writing exams is to write about “your dream”. Dreams are not what you experiment when you are asleep, nor are they mere illusions of the future.

Dreams are desired destinations we can reach or get close to. They give us the required fuel to go further and replenishes us of energy to excel. A memorable quote by Langston Hughes pictures for us the power of dreams:

“Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” – Langston Hughes

A very nice psychological test presented to me when I was about 7 years old also helps us picture our dreams in a metaphoric way. While I do not know the exact origins of this test, it has worked very well for me over the years. Try it yourself:

Name your top 3 favorite animals.
1. My first favorite animal is….
2. My second favorite animal is…
3. My third favorite animal is…

Now ask yourself why you like those animals, which of their characteristics attract you?
1. Attractive characteristics of the first animal: …
2. Attractive characteristics of the second animal: …
3. Attractive characteristics of the third animal: …

Now look at the answers you just gave. Here is how it should be interpreted:
1. This is how you aspire to be.
2. This is how you are perceived by people.
3. This is how you actually are.

Are the first answer and its interpretation related to your dreams? Is that what you want to reach in the future?

When I was first presented with this psychological test, my answer to the first question was “a bird”, because a bird can fly and I wanted to fly and reach high states of existence.

Once we know what we want or at least have a sense of direction of where we want to go, we can start analysing how to get there.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you want you truly want to become.” – Steve Jobs

The Dream Model

In economics, we use models to simplify and understand reality. While real life is complex and multifaceted, an abstraction allows us to get into the essentials and uncover the most fundamental relationships.

Analogously, a dream model is a simplification of reality, but it allows us to see clearly the most relevant factors. In mathematical terms, we have as follows:

The Dream Model

The condition of this model is that mistakes are > 0. But let’s analyse the factors one by one.

Factor 1 – Motivation

Just as Simon Sinek said, it’s most important to start with the why. We must know why we want something. Why do you want the future you designed?

Knowing why we want something gives us the energy and drive to push forward. Even if the vision changes, because we know why we want what we want and we can seek alternative ways or even modify our visions when required. Knowing why we have our dream is an essential step in our journey.

Motivation is a subject that has been quite thoroughly studied. There are lots of motivational speakers and writers, who have made motivational speeches and written motivational books. These are helpful. I end up energised each time I read or listen to these experts. However, motivation is also very personal. You have to find it in your own life.

Factor 2 – Effort

This is usually the second step after being motivated. Did you take action and make efforts after you listened or read motivational speakers and writers? Effort cannot be taken out of the equation and Chinese people know this well.

Among quotes which were circulating in the Chinese Internet and which allegedly were on the walls of Harvard was one which went like this:

If you sleep now, you will be dreaming. If you study now, you will be achieving your dreams.

Whereas the grammar of the original sentence was awkward and the quote was most probably not in the Harvard library, tens of thousands of people came to believe the quote was in inscribed in Harvard University’s walls. This can be explained because the quote contains wisdom in it: namely that effort can contribute to success.

Factor 3 – Mistakes

We always try to avoid them, yet we cannot escape them.

To err is human.

We are often caught unprepared, by surprise. We can of course choose to ignore them and pretend that they do not exist. However, as hard as we try to avoid them, they will most likely appear. Our mistake factor in the equation is above 0.

If we ignored this factor, our model would be unrealistic. The fact is that as human beings we all make mistakes and this has been so over the 200,000 years of human history. If someday errors disappear and we do everything perfectly, this model will have to be revisited and this blog post re-written.

Until then, we should not ignore mistakes, but rather learn how to deal with them. Just like gravity, mistakes are present whether we like it or not. While my dream was to fly, and the Wright Brothers made this come true, in daily life, I still had to learn how to deal with gravity. While I cannot fly without some transportation tool, I have learnt to adapt and best use what we cannot change. I walk, run, and dance despite gravity. In the same way, we should go forward, accelerate and have fun in our dream journey despite the existence of mistakes on the way.

Instead of letting mistakes take hold of us unexpectedly, why not have a plan and know how to deal with them when they stop by?

Factor 4 – The error factor

The last factor in this simplified model includes all other things not yet included in the previous explaining variables. Among others, there is the well-known luck component. Luck is something we cannot really control; even though there might seem to be a slight correlation between luck and effort.

“The harder I work, the luckier I get” – Samuel Goldwyn

This statement is probably an invitation for us to stop worrying about luck and simply get working.

What we can do with mistakes

Ways to deal with mistakesWe know mistakes are present in life. Just like the kid who after closing his/her eyes, thinks the reality disappeared, we might be tempted to think that mistakes are not there if we ignore them. Unfortunately, that is only an illusion.

Therefore, we should have some methods to handle mistakes. Let’s start with what is probably best known:

Minimization: We can try to minimize the error level by doing the things in the right way. Doing so, however, may make us extremely conservative and propel us away from beneficial risks, i.e. where good opportunities might be hidden.

Learning: When mistakes happen, we have to learn from them. The world presents us the same situations until we learn from our mistakes. Only when we mastered the lessons can we jump out of the loop.

What else can we do?

Acceptance: When mistakes come, we should welcome them in our lives, because they are trying to teach us something. If we reject them, they will instead come back and hit us harder.

Acceptance is about a psychological change. Instead of regretting, we should be happy we made the mistakes. I am particularly happy when I make mistakes because I can learn from them. Making the mistakes now is much cheaper than making mistakes in the future. By learning now, we can have a more smooth future.

Appreciation: Because of ugliness, we can see beauty. Because of mistakes, we can feel the satisfaction of improvement and progress.

Anticipation: While we cannot prevent errors completely, we can anticipate them so that they do not catch us unprepared. When planning, we should think about what could go wrong and think about what we could do differently in case there were a mistake on the way.

Celebration: Knowing that we are not perfect allows us to be humble and learn from others. Mistakes are indeed a lubricant for human relationships. If we were all perfect, we might not need each other and we might not want to hear other people’s ideas.
Mistakes are also good to make fun of ourselves. On the other hand, they also provide us a signal that we tried, showing our courage and action.

Exploration: Not all mistakes are created equal. Some “mistakes” might bring accidental innovations, just as what happened with the post-it notes. While the adhesiveness issue was a problem when considering the initial goal to develop a strong adhesive, it turned out to be useful for other purposes. Mistakes or apparent failures can sometimes take us to different paths.

Above listed are just some ways we can interact with our mistakes. What you prefer to do will also depend on our personality. If your personality type is one that plays not to lose, minimising mistakes might be the way to go, whereas if you play to win, you might be better off seeking and exploring different kinds of mistakes to see where they can take you.

Mistakes are what we make of them

As long as mistakes form part of our lives, we can anticipate them, appreciate them, embrace them and learn from them. Like other things in life, mistakes are just “mistakes”. We are the ones who attribute meaning to them. We can decide to make them our best friend.

Whether small or big, mistakes accompany our way. They can be fun and serve as the step stone to our dream if we so choose. Next time when you make a mistake and other people laugh, shift your focus away from the laughter of the crowd and listen carefully to the mistake. What is its purpose? Why has it come to you? Maybe to teach you something, maybe to lead you on another way, maybe to bring some laughter and make you humble or maybe just to make you reflect on life.

The dream model has shown us that the path has lots of unknowns – or epsilons. We also know that the road depends on the level of motivation, effort and mistakes. While we have more control over the first two factors, we have to learn how to deal with mistakes in an effective and gracious manner. Let them not stop us or discourage us and remember:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it! – Unknown

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