Food & Fitness

How to REALLY learn from your mistakes

how to really learn from your mistakes: a blog post about how to make real behavior change

Get that coffee away from that computer!

Do you all remember about two years ago when my computer and external hard-drive both died on me and I lost months of work because I hadn’t been backing things up more than a few times each year?

Well, earlier this month, I accidentally spilled a half-cup of tea on my laptop keyboard. I was editing a LinkedIn profile, and I picked up my little cup of tea, and somehow it slid between my fingers and fell on the keyboard.

Luckily, because I’ve been drinking out of my grandmother’s bone china teacups, it wasn’t a very big amount of tea. I had already drank at least half of the cup, and it was just white tea, without any sugar or milk (and, thank goodness, the cup itself didn’t break or crack!). I called to Mr Science for help and quickly saved my documents and shut the computer down before we blotted the tea. Then we turned the computer over, and it was rather a shock to see the liquid pouring out of the keyboard—there couldn’t have been much more than two or three tablespoons in the cup, but it all went straight into the keyboard! Mr Science Googled what we should do on his computer while I continued to wipe up the mess as best as I could.

We turned my computer upside down and set it aside, having learned from our Google searches that it’s best to leave the computer to dry for about 48 hours.

Thinking critically about our automatic reactions to situations that arise

I didn’t freak out or have a melt down the way that I did the last time my computer and external hard-drive died. Throughout the entire process of watching the tea spill onto my keyboard and cleaning it up, I was rather calm about the whole situation. Part of this might have been that I knew I had three back-ups of my work, which at the very least saved everything from two weeks before (I was due for another back-up), and also that I knew I had my old computer to use while my regular computer was recovering.

But I don’t think those are the only reasons why I reacted the way that I did. I also expect that a large part of why I was calm is because I’ve grown as a person from two years ago and, even though a whole lot of my life is on my computer, I think I acknowledged almost instantly that what was done was done. I had already spilled the tea and we had done what we could to clean it up, and all that was left to do was wait to see if my computer would work again a couple days later.

To be honest, this realization made me extremely grateful for where I am at today. We learn so much about ourselves by the way that we react in situations, and the fact that I was calm outwardly and inwardly about the situation demonstrated to me that I’ve really learned to let things go. I’m handling my anxiety and not letting it take over my life.

The results of spilling tea on my computer

At first I was going to turn my computer on after just waiting 48 hours, but then I was nervous that it might be too soon. So I ended up waiting a full 3.5 days before turning the computer on.

It was such a relief to see that my computer didn’t appear to have suffered, and that I didn’t lose any of my work! I quickly did a big back-up of everything, of course, but it seems as though my computer is going to pull through even after getting tea spilled all over it.

How many times do we need to make a mistake before we really learn our lesson?

I was thinking about the above question a lot during the day that I had spilled my tea. It happened almost first thing in the morning, so I had plenty of time to think about it.

Here’s the thing: when my computer died a couple years ago, I was devastated. I had lost so much. After that, I began backing up on Dropbox, a flash-drive, and also a massive household external hard-drive. I made sure to back-up once every week or once every couple of weeks.

What I obviously failed to do was to back my work up every single day. I feel like I learned part of my lesson a couple years ago, but I certainly didn’t learn it well enough. I now have a little sticky note on my desk to remind me to do a back-up at the end of every day. It’s not such a big deal if I lose some things within a two-week span, because I tend to do a lot of work on the Internet or else I’ll send documents very quickly to my clients. But if I had been working on a document and hadn’t gotten around to backing things up for a week or if I hadn’t yet sent the document to my client, that would be awful!

My takeaway from this whole experience is that it’s not enough to know that we made a mistake. Instead, we have to take a step back from the situation, and ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What is the real issue here? My issue was not that I spilled the tea. My issue was that I hadn’t backed things up for two whole weeks (and maybe that I shouldn’t have a beverage so close to my computer!).
  • What was the worst possible outcome in this situation? In my case, it would be that my computer would have completely died and failed to start up again, and I would have lost my work that I hadn’t backed up (and also that I’d be losing out on an expensive piece of equipment!).
  • What can I do to change my behavior and ensure that I never have to face this situation again in the future? For me, I will be doing two things: first, I am backing up documents that I’m working on to Dropbox throughout the day, as well as doing an end-of-day back-up onto a flashdrive; and second, I’m keeping beverages at least a couple feet away from my computer at all times.

I have now made the same mistake twice. I am determined not to make it a third time! Here’s to backing up our work every single day, letting go of the things we cannot change, and changing our behaviors so that we don’t make the same mistake again.

Have you made this particular mistake? How frequently do you back up your work? Do you avoid bringing food and drink anywhere near your computer? What mistakes have you made that have been hard lessons to learn? What behaviors have you had to change so you don’t make the same mistake a second (or third!) time? Share in the comments section below!


  1. alana

    I learned that the hard way when I lost half of my undergrad thesis. Now, I just keep all my work files/folders in dropbox, that way, they are auto-backed up and changed versions are saved (so I can go back if I accidentally make changes I shouldn’t have).

    Oh, and when a hard drive died and I lost an entire book I wrote. Except I wrote it when I was aged 10-14 and it was about a colony of sword-fighting birds, so maybe it’s better I can’t go back and read it…

    1. Sagan Morrow

      Ugh losing stuff is the WORST. I really like Dropbox, but I’m still a big believer in saving things on multiple platforms (e.g. on the desktop, on a USB, and in a cloud storage system), JUST in case.

      Also, that book sounds amazing. I feel like you should start writing that one again. 😀

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