But it is what we say about those mistakes that can do the most damage.
So here are two keys to handle our mistakes by Psychologists Greg and Barbara Markway.
1. Acknowledge your feelings
Although failing can be a learning experience, it’s still no fun. When a situation doesn’t go as planned, what’s your first instinct? Mentally check any or all that apply.
I tend to blame myself.
I look for someone else to blame.
I avoid thinking about what happened.
I overeat, overspend, over-use substances, binge, or watch TV
It’s natural to avoid uncomfortable feelings. But avoidance leads to more suffering. In addition, avoiding your feelings can actually lead to less effective processing of the experience, meaning you don’t learn as much from it.
It takes bravery not to numb out and to feel the immediacy and rawness of the experience. And sure, sometimes it makes sense to take a break and engage in a distraction if you’re overwhelmed. That’s just good self-care. But don’t stay away too long; know when it’s time to come home to your feelings.
2. Don’t label yourself as a failure
The fact that you made a mistake does not mean you are a failure as a human being. Making a mistake is a specific behavior or event. Telling yourself that you are a failure is a very global self-judgment. Notice this thought progression:
I made several mistakes on an exam.
I failed the exam.
I am a failure.
Instead, a healthier way of looking at this would be:
I made several mistakes on the exam.
I failed the exam.
I need to talk to the professor and make a plan.
Think back to a time you “failed” at something. Can you rewrite the story so that you don’t condemn yourself as a human being?
When asked how it felt to fail 999 times while looking for the filament of a light bulb, he responded, “I did NOT fail 999 times. I simply found 999 ways that didn’t work. (He eventually discovered that thin platinum worked the best.)
Summing Up: Remember, mistakes are a part of life. If you cruise through life avoiding risks, you’ll likely never grow in meaningful ways. Mistakes don’t halt your momentum; they help you figure out a better path.
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available on line at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com. For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.