Yay, We Made A Mistake!!

Embracing Discomfort

Yesterday I was part of the East Side Institute’s http://www.eastsideinstitute.org Winter Institute: Getting Out of Our Comfort Zones (Together) led by Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of A Lifetime http://www.performanceofalifetime.com and Christine LaCerva, Director of The Social Therapy Group centers http://www.socialtherapygroup.com.

Cathy led us in a fun game where we had to use a different name for ourselves (our middle name or nickname or a made-up super hero name).  We formed circles of 10-11 people around the room and had to quickly tried to learn everyone’s name.  Then each person  pointed to another in the circle and said their name.  If someone hesitated or said the wrong name they threw their arms up and said, “We made a mistake!” – then the others in the group responded with throwing their arms up and adding, “We did!” and then we all applauded and cheered and then the person who made the mistake moved to another circle.

The discussion/debrief about this game was quite rich.  This was a new experience, to  find ourselves in a situation in which we said “We made a mistake!” when someone in our group made a mistake.  The attendees shared many responses to making mistakes, to others making mistakes and what that looks like in many contexts, business being one of the more difficult environments for making mistakes and embracing the social activity of mistake-making (vs the blame game).

LaCerva was encouraging workshop attendees to get out of our comfort zones by embracing discomfort, embarrassment and the embarrassment of others, and our weirdness in the face of being outside of our comfort zone.  The activity of embracing the mistakes we make and others make as our mistakes is weird, uncomfortable and embarrassing.  LaCerva reminded us that in our culture we are “addicted to thinking of ourselves”.  She suggested that we, “go beyond the tyranny of the normal.” It turns out, as  people shared, that it is freeing and less constraining emotionally to allow ourselves to have our relationality, we are social beings; we cannot do much of anything without others and that includes making mistakes.  

My colleague Lois Holzman is writing a book called The Overweight Brain.  She posts the book, chapter-by-chapter, for all to read on her website: http://loisholzman.org/books/latest-installment/ 

In Chapter 2, which Lois just posted, she introduces people to Lev Vygotsky, a “revolutionary scientist” and early Soviet psychologist.  Towards the end of the chapter Lois quotes Vygotsky: 

Somehow our society has formed a one-sided view of the human personality, and for some reason everyone understood giftedness and talent only as it applied to the intellect. But it is possible not only to be talented in one’s thoughts but also to be talented in one’s feelings as well. The emotional part of the personality has no less value than the other sides, and it also should be the object and concern of education, as well as intellect and will. Love can reach the same level of talent and even genius, as the discovery of differential calculus.

In thinking about “we made a mistake” and our difficulties with embracing our failures (large and small), this notion that we could also be talented in our feelings as well as our intellect, makes it easier to radically accept our mistakes as being human.  Sadly our culture devalues our emotions and doesn’t allow us the room to embrace our feelings of embarrassment, etc. when we make mistakes. Instead the norm is to have to find someone to blame.

I learned and experienced many things in this workshop.  Perhaps the most important was that certain mistakes, often the larger, more challenging/upsetting mistakes that we make happen because we’ve grown.  We put ourselves in more challenging positions and therefore we make bigger mistakes.  We spend so much time berating ourselves for our mistakes, or blaming ourselves or others, that we totally miss that because we’ve grown and developed so the stakes are higher.  That turns mistake-making on its head!

Or, as Lois puts it:

We’re always making something new out of what exists. We transform the very circumstances that we’re in. We engage in becoming.

Granted, it might be hard to throw your hands in the air and cheer, “We made a mistake!” at the office but the next time you or a colleague makes a mistake, try a new performance and see what it’s like to not have to blame anyone and thereby engage in becoming.  It might just make your overweight brain a little lighter!

A playground for becoming

As an executive coach who uses a performance-based improvisational methodology I play a lot with my clients.  After I finished a coaching session today it hit me that I had asked my client to join me in a “playground for becoming”.  I learned this concept from Christine LaCerva, the Director of The Social Therapy Group here in New York.  Christine recently referred to social therapy as a playground for becoming — a place where clients are encouraged to perform ahead of themselves and create new performances, new responses and a new emotionality.

This client and I have been playing some basic “yes and” improv games; in today’s session we created basic improvisational scenes together.  After we warmed up I suggested that we try an exercise I teach to beginners in my improv class — I set up a situation whereby we would be likely to argue with the rule that we cannot argue.  The game was to find ways to say “yes and” and cooperate with each other without fighting.  

In this instance I set up that we were co-workers and one of us got the promotion the other wanted. I decided to do this exercise because my client was insistent that there were only one or two possible ways to respond to a particular business situation – to be reactive or to disengage.

What we created together was possibility – going beyond what we know how to do.  The discovery? We don’t always have to be who we are (i.e., respond based on how we feel).  As human beings we can also be who we are not; we can say “yes and” and give of ourselves in positive ways.  We explored the possiblity of being direct and powerful in the moments that we feel reactive. That’s what it means to be who we are becoming – to create and discover new possibilities.

Perhaps most importantly, we can play together. We sat in the sandbox learning together in our playground for becoming.  It was a lovely moment when my client felt the power of possiblity.  It was intimate and growthful for both of us.  We created something new together!

The next time you feel stuck, create a developmental playground and invite someone to be who they are becoming with you.

For more information about social therapy and Christine LaCerva visit the website of The Social Therapy Group: http://www.socialtherapygroup.com