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You cannot make mistakes...

In my practice

My name is Marga Hogenhuis-Flokstra, I am 50 years old, married to Hans and together we have three daughters. These pieces are about our lives and stories from my practice where I work with great pleasure as a therapist.

My youngest daughter came home and she was very sad and angry. "What is going on?" I asked her. It was obvious that something had happened. You never have to doubt that with my youngest daughter! Her anger and frustration often come out in an unabashed way and everything about her, her attitude, her look, her harsh words, will let you know that something is wrong. "I had a dictation today and I failed. I didn't know a lot of the words she asked! Why is the teacher asking all these words that I don't know? It is so unfair. Now I have an "O" and I don't want an "O". In Year 8 you get a dictation once in a while, and you don't know it in advance. You can't study for it in advance. It is a snapshot to see what your vocabulary is and whether you know the spelling rules.

We sit together at the dinner table and I look at her. "It's a good thing you didn't knew a lot of words and got a fail." My daughter looks at me not understanding. "If your teacher had asked you all the words you did know, you wouldn't have learned anything new today," I say triumphantly. Of course, that's not what she wants to hear and she bursts into tears... I comfort her and tell her that it's okay, that we won't get angry because she failed. That she can be a bit less strict with herself...

We are so used to learning in a way it has to be done at school. Learning words, understanding formulas, understanding another language and solving things. And if we didn't do this well enough, we were punished with a bad grade. We have to perform and mistakes are punished.

I think that what we teach our children is that you are not allowed to make mistakes, because then you get a fail. And that in this way, at a very young age, this conviction "I'm not allowed to make mistakes" becomes ingrained in people. Because also as parents we participate in this. Many people I see suffer from this kind of ingrained fear of failure. I'm not allowed to make mistakes because then...

  • I will get bad grades

  • I am not allowed to do the course that I would like to do

  • They don't like me or think I'm good enough

  • Are my parents / grandparents / colleagues / partner disappointed in me

Whereas learning something new often involves making mistakes. With falling down and getting up again.

I also suffered from this syndrome. I didn't dare make any mistakes, and during my training as a therapist, this naturally came to the surface. Especially when I had to practise sessions and my fellow students had to give feedback. And sometimes you also got feedback from the therapist who was giving the lesson... Throbbing armpits and sweat in the buttocks, because 'what if I do it wrong? Which of course would be very logical since I had never done the exercises, whatever they were. But still, the fear of failure every time.

At a certain point, of course, this came up again during supervision. So the supervisor gave me the assignment to make mistakes on purpose. "Try to do the exercise wrong on purpose. Change the order. Ask a 'wrong' question. Experiment with it." That's what I did and this is what I discovered.

During a practice session with a practice client, I had a complicated intervention that I wanted to practice with a lot of steps. I then did steps in the wrong order and didn't ask the right questions. The funny thing was that the client of course had no idea if I did something wrong or not. Whether I did it in the wrong order or not. Whether I asked the right question or not. The answers given and the course of the session made me understand even better why something had to be done in a certain order. For example, because a certain answer could give room to the next question. And if I hadn't done it right, I could easily steer it and do it again. The result was that the client still had a very valuable session. It was also a lot less stressful for me and from then on I embraced 'making mistakes'.

So go on an adventure! Break a rule, make a mistake on purpose, colour outside the lines, colour the tree blue and the grass purple, sing out of tune, it doesn't matter if the artist sings the lyrics in the wrong order than you do 😂, buy those shoes, book that trip! Ok that last one has nothing to do with it (unless you think you wouldn't be doing it right if you did) but it does make you feel good!

Because learning is fun and making mistakes is allowed!

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