Boss Lady

How to put your mistakes behind you (apart from the lessons you take with you)


The human ability to learn from our mistakes has evolved with such sophistication that it sometimes gets to be too much to handle. Some of us obsess over our mistakes until it makes us sick. In fact, over-worrying about your mistakes makes you more prone to depression, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, stress, and the physical illnesses and breakdowns we associate with these reactions.

Perhaps it is language that is to blame: our minds have developed, through evolution, to reflect on our experiences in the quiet moments (especially our negative experiences), but because we have the power of language we are able to follow our inner logic around and around in circles instead of just developing a background, non-verbal sense of “fire hot. Not put hand in fire.”

So while it’s important to consider and learn from your mistakes, it’s just as important to then get over them and move on. Personally and professionally, there needs to be a point of emergence. But this may seem easier said than done when you’re accustomed to your mind ganging up on you whenever it has nothing else to do.

Be kind to yourself

Learning to learn from mistakes requires, first and foremost, a change of perspective. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend. That means addressing that language thing: do away with personal insults and transform your worries into positive actions.

In your mind and when talking about your slip-ups with others, don’t call yourself a failure or a loser. Say you made a mistake and you’re learning. Verbalize what it is you’re learning. It helps. In fact, it’s been shown that talking to yourself in terms of goals to achieve rather than failures that have occurred makes you more likely to progress.

It can also be beneficial to get yourself into a new mindset altogether. If your mind isn’t working productively on a solution to the mistake you’ve made, try to put it aside for a while.

On a practical level, engaging in a distraction activity like going for a walk, hitting the gym, or chatting with family or friends makes it impractical for your mind to obsess on your mistake (here’s a cheat, though: with their permission, ranting about your mistake at your friend for five minutes might be good for you).

On a neuronal level, distraction results in a dampening of the amygdala – the part of the brain that heightens fear and anxiety. Which has got to be a good thing.

Knowing yourself best, you probably have a good idea what kind of distraction will work for you. But try to keep it… if not necessarily wholesome (a lot of very useful distractions aren’t) then at least positive. Dialing-up Twitter or going to the pub (unless to order an orange juice and rant to that friend) are more likely to push you in the direction of depression than progress.

Meditation, yoga, or pilates are more likely realign the body, mind, and soul. A simple breathing exercise will force you to concentrate on your present and presence rather than your mistakes in the past. It will help you start to put things into perspective.

Be practical

There’s a certain amount of progress and recovery that can be made with the power of positive thought. But when you’re stuck in your head with spiraling worries and resentments that you’re barely able to steer in the right direction, proactive behavior outside of your head is called for.

You can make so much more progress with your thoughts when you accompany them with a pen and paper. Aside from the cathartic effect of externalizing your obsession, putting your thoughts and plans into a list form (rather than the vaporous raincloud in your mind) enables you to work through them in order.

Use this opportunity not just to tell yourself that you’ve learned from your mistake, but to make a step-by-step written plan as to how you’re going to clear up after it and change your modus operandi in future. Concentrate on small, achievable steps, particularly the first one, to ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed by the challenge you’ve set yourself when your energy dips again.

And finally, remember that in the real world most people are too busy worrying about their own mistakes – or gloating about their successes – to think or gossip about yours half as much as you suspect they are. In fact, 60% of conversation is people talking about themselves. (Some say the other 40% is Game of Thrones talk, but there’s no research behind that figure).

Whether you’re obsessing over a fresh mistake or just recognize your capacity to grind to a halt when you make one, have a look through this infographic for a quick reminder of how to not just cope, but calm down, plan, and leap ahead from your mistakes.

About Taylor Tomita'

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