The Single Most Powerful Way to Avoid Repeating Mistakes

Every single one of us makes mistakes.

We sleep in too late. We forget to call someone. We spend more money than we should. We eat a ridiculously unhealthy meal. We don’t put in full effort at work. We forget an appointment.

Whenever I make a significant mistake, two things happen. First, I have to deal with the consequences of the mistake. I have to make things right, in other words. Second, I look for ways so that I don’t have to repeat that mistake.

After all, in the words of George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Sometimes I’m successful at finding ways to avoid repeating mistakes. Sometimes, I’m not and the mistake repeats itself.

Still, I’ve found that after watching my own repeated fumbles and occasional successes at overcoming mistakes, one simple thing works above all else in terms of eliminating a repeat of that mistake.

I simply change something about my routine.

Something I did in the course of my regular routine caused me to make this mistake, so it is vital that I dig down and figure out what part of my routine caused that mis-step and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

That’s harder than it sounds, and it’s also kind of vague, so I’ll give you a detailed example.

Let’s say I bought more books than I should have while visiting a bookstore. It’s a common mistake I used to make.

At first, I believed the poor routine to be the fact that I drove by a bookstore on my way home from work, which made it really easy to give into temptation.

This drastically reduced the frequency of overspending at bookstores, but it didn’t solve the problem.

Next, I figured that the problem might be solo trips to bookstores, but that turned out not to be the problem, either.

Eventually, I figured it out. If I am in a bookstore and I allow myself to browse, I am simply going to talk myself into buying a book. The longer I browse, the more books wind up under my arm.

The solution, then, is to only go to bookstores when I have a spending allowance and only when I have a specific item in mind that I’m looking for. In other words, the problem was the routine of browsing in a bookstore.

Once I realized that, I changed one simple thing about my routine. I do not go into bookstores at all unless I’ve decided in advance that I can spend a certain amount there or I have a very specific purchase that causes me to completely avoid browsing. If neither of those things are true, I simply don’t go to bookstores. They’re very dangerous places for my wallet.

I made a mistake, so I looked at the routine that led me to that mistake – driving by a bookstore each day. I changed that routine and it cut down on the mistakes.

I made that mistake again, though, so I looked at my routine again. I saw that I was often making solo trips to bookstores and spending money, so I changed that routine and it cut down on that mistake even more.

Eventually, through looking at my routines and habits, I was basically able to eliminate one of the biggest money leaks in my life. The key? Whenever I noticed a mistake, I looked at the routine or pattern in my life that led to that mistake, then I looked for a way to change that routine or pattern.

You can do the same, no matter what your mistake is.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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