from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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How to Learn from Past Mistakes Without Guilt or Shame

As I have done from time to time in this forum, I’m going to begin this week’s quote and comment with a question…A question that is designed to help us learn from the past without fear, guilt, or shame. This is important because of how so many of us have been taught to view our mistakes as something to feel bad about or ashamed of.

Of course, we were taught this by people who thought they were helping, however, given what we now know about neuroscience, trying to make good decisions in the future based upon our fear of having made bad decisions in the past is a flawed strategy.

For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know why this is the case. Our middle brain or limbic system is the scanner, processor, router part of the brain, and is responsible for engaging either the lower brain (the brainstem) or the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex, or what I call “The Top of the Mind”).

This middle brain is always scanning the environment and interpreting data in one of three ways: positive, neutral, or negative. Given that the prime directive of this middle brain is to keep us safe and alive as a specie, it tends to interpret anything negative as dangerous, which throws us into the part of the brain designed to deal with danger (the brainstem).

Unfortunately, our best thinking and and problem-solving skills do not reside in this lower brain, but instead are accessed from the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex). Therefore, when we try to learn from our mistakes and grow while feeling bad (guilty, or ashamed), we are often less than successful.

So, what’s the solution? I suggest that we ask ourselves some simple questions when learning from our mistakes is truly what we want:

1. Knowing what I know now, how would I do this differently in the future?


2. If someone I loved came to me for advice about how to learn from their mistakes, what would I tell them?

Can you see how either of these questions would allow us to access the clear, confident, creative part of who we are and support us in looking at the past in a way that actually supports our success in the future?

Common sense, right? However, in the case of mistakes, common sense is often not common practice. Therefore, I suggest that we take a more purposeful view of what a mistake is so that we can use our learning to support our success. In other words, rather than seeing it as something that we should feel ashamed of or even bad about, I suggest we see it as a “mis – take,” or an action that we took that missed.

Did you know that the original meaning of the word “sin” was an archery term? It meant “to miss the mark!” Therefore, when we make a mis-take, we can ask a neocortex, or “Top of the Mind” question: Knowing what I know now, how would I do this differently in the future?

This allows us to take what we learned from the mistake and apply it to future behavior, which is important because the only time we can change behavior (in ourselves or in others) is in the future. Further, because the parts of the brain that think about the future are the frontal lobes of the neocortex (the same part of the brain where we have access to our clarity, confidence, and creativity), the potential that we will be successful is high.

Therefore, as we go into any new time in our lives, a new situation, project, job, relationship, or, a new day, month, year, or even decade, I suggest that we look at our past in a way that has the highest potential for success in the future. Let’s see our past mistakes as good information about how we may have missed the mark versus something we should be afraid or ashamed of, and take what we learned and apply it with clarity, confidence, and creativity… After all, isn’t that what we would recommend to someone we love?

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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