Thinking for success: Become a ‘skills’ scientist

Blog Post No. 33

17th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Thinking for success: Become a ‘skills’ scientist


scientistsIn this blog I want to outline an effective approach to learning skills – one which helps us to learn new skills more easily or refine existing ones. It takes a lot of the heat out of skills development and is stress-reducing. See what you think.


“Do not make mistakes!”

The feedback which children receive on their skills development, as they grow up, can contain this message: “You mustn’t make a mistake – or you’re inferior!” Or bad; or not good enough.

As we are growing up, we very quickly pick up this rule from others, whether it’s from the wider culture we are in or our families. The rule is sometimes spoken; or it’s unspoken, which makes it more difficult to spot.

So, as we are learning and developing skills (in school, or for life), we learn from the reactions of others (parents, teacher, etc.) to hide our mistakes and/or feel ashamed of them.

What is wrong with being critical of the mistakes of others and ourselves?

WoodenThis kind of intolerance of mistakes stunts our growth as curious, creative learners.

It destroys self-confidence; it makes people cautious; and the critics often overlook the positives and only focus on the negative.

This approach is (a) completely unscientific; and (b) it wastes a lot of our emotional energy (when we do it to ourselves); and damages others (when we do it to them).

So, what I am saying is this: We have all probably picked up a lousy model for skills learning!

Learning is based on trial and error!

In our lives, all of us need time to develop our academic skills, or relationship skills, technical and life skills, to name a few.

But the condemning and damning which we receive from others – and pass on to ourselves – when we make mistakes, is unkind and simply misguided.

Would we blame a toddler for not walking properly, as it was experimenting with its first steps? Of course not! And no toddler would ever learn to walk if we gave them the kinds of negative feedback that we give ourselves – and they took us seriously and internalized our rule.  (“You have to be able to walk perfectly without any need to practice and make mistakes!”)

But human beings every day face demands to perform more and more, newer and newer skills, in an increasingly complex environment. And they are being bombarded with new information coming in at the same time!


Become a scientist!

So how can we change this approach?

three-researchersIf you model your behaviour in the future on that of a scientist who is performing experiments and researching different ways of behaving or practising skills, then this will prove to be a much more constructive way to develop your skills and abilities.

Scientists perform experiments, often because they have already had some kind of hunch.  They take action, on the basis of their theories, and if that action (or some part of it) doesn’t work, then they tend to try again and use a different approach. (They do not waste time berating themselves; bashing their heads against the nearest wall; and crying ‘What a failure I am!’) They respond and adapt to feedback. And if one approach doesn’t work they try another, and another.

They look around for new information. They ask other people what they do. They ask experts or read their books. They go on the internet, and ‘You Tube’, read books, and articles, until they find an approach that works. They go on courses.

Honda-imageFor example Soichiro Honda (the creator of the Honda motorbike, and Honda motors) would go on mechanics courses, and throw away the certificates. He was only interested in the learning that was taking place, not the piece of paper at the end.  And he would only study courses which were directly relevant to his current questions!

Our mistakes are our ‘building blocks’ of knowledge

A top skill that I recommend is to see your mistakes as building blocks in the construction of your ‘House of Knowledge’ about each skill you want to develop, or refine.

Athletes can have a fear of making mistakes. Have a look at this account from a sports coach – Jared Mathes – who coaches a U-14 volleyball team in Calgary, Alberta:


“The one problem I have on my team is having the athletes get over the fear of making a mistake.  We do great in practice, but during a tournament, the more ‘important’ the game, the more they regress to predictable, safe playing.

“To overcome this, we discussed as a team a few weeks ago that the March 17 tournament would be a “throw-away”.  We didn’t care about the outcome. If players played aggressive they would never be in danger of being subbed off, no matter how many mistakes they made.  Everyone bought into the system and was willing to give it a try, except for about half of my parent group.  They had a hard time accepting the fact that we were going to let the girls figure it out and let them ‘go for it’ on every ball regardless of the score or the stakes.

“As we started the day, we had serves going out and wide. But the team was relaxed and having fun.  If they didn’t get a great spike in one rally, they tried even harder the next time.  They saw that by making positive errors, often the other team would still go for the ball and touch it, giving us a point.  As the day progressed, they were becoming more confident.  I had athletes who had never attempted jump serving, trying it and succeeding.  Our play was getting more aggressive as the day went on and we were constantly winning.

“We made it to the semi-finals and all of my doubting parents were congratulating me on the genius of the approach to the tournament.  They couldn’t believe how well their daughters were playing, and it was just getting better.  I cautioned them and reminded them that the focus has to be on the process, not the outcome, and that even if we were in last place, it would still have been a worthy strategy for all the teaching it provided. We played with the most aggression and intelligence we have ever done. We hit from everywhere on the court.   It was beautiful to watch.“

This extract is from ‘How to Overcome Fear of Mistakes: One Coach’s Story’ (


Your right to make mistakes

johnnycashOne of the most valuable assertive rights, and the one that people find most hard to give themselves, in my experience, is this:

“I have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them”.

It is inevitable that we’re going to make mistakes, if we try to do anything, because we’re imperfect humans.


As scientists we become really valuable role models to our children

Using a scientific approach to our skills acquisition is much more effective than putting ourselves down. It means we work more effectively and efficiently; produce better results; and also show a really good example to our children, and others, through our constructive handling of our errors. If we can handle our challenges well, then obviously they can then handle the real pressures that they are under – at school, college or in their jobs – more constructively.

If they hear mum and dad giving themselves permission to make mistakes – (excluding big, moral mistakes!)  – then they will do the same for themselves. Would you like your children to have that stress-reducing ability?



No one likes making mistakes.  But if we stay with them, and process and complete our feelings about them – (which means we mourn the loss of doing it perfectly) – then our feelings about them (sadness or disappointment) will vanish, once we have fully accepted reality.

We come out of the other end of the process stronger, wiser and ready to learn more and grow more. We have the learning from our mistakes inside us, which is part of the prize we receive for persisting with our skills development, despite the inevitability of negative feedback from the environment.

But it can be difficult to do this, if we have always been surrounded by people who are highly critical of our performances, or of failure in general. It is a new way of managing ourselves and can take time to develop.

That’s where a coach/counsellor comes in. They can help you as you work at identifying the skills that are most important for you to learn. They help you to expand your level of self-acceptance and, at the same time, your level of self-respect. They support you as you experiment with new ways of living your life.

Now, you can’t get that from the pub, recreational or medicinal drugs, from the supermarket or clothes shops, or from the TV or movies, can you?

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,


Renata Taylor-Byrne


The Coaching/Counselling Division

01422 843629



‘How to Overcome Fear of Mistakes: One Coach’s Story’ Jared Mathes (



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