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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Mistakes, Failure, & Blame

This quote was inspired by a similar thought from John Burroughs who said, “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” While there are certainly aspects of Mr. Burrough’s quote that I like, I have chosen to reword it because I don’t like describing choices that don’t produce the results we were wanting as failures. Instead, I prefer to use the term “mistakes.” In fact, in my seminars, I often take the word “mistake” and dividing it into “mis” and “take,” or the ability to look at our less-than-successful choices as actions that we took (or “takes”) that missed.

In the movies, when they make a mis-take, they just retake the scene. In fact, one of the essentials in creating a successful movie is to be able to retake the scene over and over until they get the results that they want. Thus, one bit of wisdom we can take from this week’s quote is to look at our mis-takes as good information about what we have learned (versus evidence of our incompetence or failure as a person), and choose again from this more knowledgeable perspective. The question I like to recommend after having made a mistake is: “Okay, knowing what I know now, how can I do this differently in the future?

As important as it is to see our mistakes as good information, I believe that the last aspect of this week’s quote on blame can offer us as much, if not more, support in creating the life that we want. This is the part that looks at the problems that arise when we look for someone to blame… even, and maybe especially, when that someone is our self.

Wikipedia defines blame as: “the act of informing an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible.” This means that when we blame ourselves for some problem in the past, we are basically saying that we are socially or morally irresponsible. Can you see how this might just add to our sense of failure? Further, the same is true when we look for others to blame, meaning that, just because we are able to point our finger at someone else and blame them, this doesn’t help us learn and grow. In fact, blaming others actually speaks to their power to influence our lives, and leaves us feeling resentful and powerless.

Those who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy know that our experience of life is determined by how our brain processes data. That is, when our middle brain interprets a mistake as some indication of our lack of worth, this triggers fear of reprisal or shame, which are lower brain (brainstem) reactions. Unfortunately, this lower brain isn’t where we have access to our wisdom, problem-solving skills, or interpersonal skills, and, therefore, what we do or say is unlikely to be effective in solving the problem. What we want is to see mistakes in both ourselves and others as good information, and apply this learning to the future. This will require us to access the clear, confident, creative part of the brain which is the neocortex, or what I call the “Top of the Mind.”

Of course, some will say: “Wait a minute, if we don’t determine who’s to blame for a problem, then no one will take responsibility, and it’s likely to happen again!” While I can understand this concern, I believe that the solution is to look at the distinction between the concepts of “blame” and “responsibility.” To me, they are very different.

In my opinion, blame is about the past and the problem, while responsibility is about our “ability to respond, now, and in the future.” For example, if I want to be able to learn from, or in some way correct some mis-take I made in the past, this means I want to be able to respond differently now and in the future, based upon what I learned. Notice that claiming this “ability to respond” or responsibility has nothing to do with blaming others or beating myself up for some choice that didn’t produce the results that I wanted. This is me claiming my own power to influence my experience of life versus defining myself as someone who must get others to “take responsibility” before I can be successful.

Bottom line: If we went to be influential in our experience of life, then we must ensure that we are coming from the best of who we are (the “Top of the Mind”), because it is from this more purposeful, powerful part of the brain that we can both access and apply our wisdom and learning. To do this, we must be willing to change how we interpret mistakes.

Or, put another way, if having the ability to respond to all aspects of life is important to you and yours, then I suggest that we reject the old concepts of failure, mistakes, and blame, and choose a more purposeful way to live and learn… one that focuses on success versus failure, the future versus the past, and one that we would teach and recommend to those we love.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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