Have you ever forgotten an important appointment or event?  Or alternatively made a careless but innocent mistake?  Haven’t we all at some point in our lives?  In our minds we honestly believe that we simply forgot or that it was just an innocent mistake.  The counterpoint is that the event or set of behaviours was important enough that there were some serious consequences.  By rights it was not in the persons best interest to forget or make that innocent mistake.

Often when this phenomenon occurs we consciously know the detrimental consequences of forgetting something important to us, but we remain unconscious as to the payoff or reward involved.  Consider the following real-life example.  A friend’s daughter got the date for one of her university exams mixed up.  Subsequently, she failed that course for that semester.  In her mind and for that matter her parents mind this was an innocent mistake.  It was also something out of character for her.

The negative consequence is easily seen – a failed semesters worth of work in a specific subject.  That fail will remain on her academic transcript and she may have to explain that mark to potential employers in the future.  Overall, it is easy to see the detrimental consequences.  But what is the payoff?

One of the payoffs for that person was the avoidance of responsibility.  It is convenient to attribute things to ‘innocent mistakes’ when at a deeper level of being something else is motivating the behaviour.  At least some of the time.  If we delve into her psyche and start to scratch the surface, we find that she did not enjoy the subject.  Further, she did not have high regard towards her teacher.  One of the benefits of missing the exam, was that she did not have to take on the follow-on subject in the next semester.  She received good marks for other subjects she liked.  She had the ability to pass the subject, but her dislike of it was so powerful, that her unconscious created a method which would see her not have to undertake the subject next semester.

Then we have the reaction of family and friends to consider.  The most common reaction was along the lines of ‘poor you’.  One of the most powerful (but often highly destructive) positions to take in life is one of a victim.  She garners a lot of attention by missing the exam, with the bonus of eliciting pity from others.

Often innocent mistakes are not as innocent as we would like to believe.  Sometimes there are unconscious mediating factors as to why we miss important events.  Its important to note the role of the unconscious in the above vignette.  If we were to ask this person what occurred the response would be that of innocent forgetfulness.  Its not that she is lying, she honestly believes that was what had occurred.

One of the determinants we can use to distinguish between real innocent mistakes and detrimental unconscious patterns would be the frequency of the occurrence.  If it were a one off innocent mistake, then there is no need for introspection or further analysis.  However, if it occurred more than once then it might be wise to take some time to consider what some of the unconscious motivators might be.  In doing so we can then consider strategies to ensure we don’t become a victim to innocent mistakes.