Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” ~Johnny Cash
Mr. Cash was a smart man who brilliantly summed up how we should treat our mistakes. We must acknowledge that making mistakes is ubiquitous and part of being alive. In our lifetime we will have the opportunity to make many mistakes, some small and others large. Each mistake is an opportunity to receive the gift of growth. How we handle our mistakes is indicative of how we feel about ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to make mistakes without letting our internal voice tell us that we are stupid, useless or any other negative word. Make the inner negative voice insignificant by not acknowledging it. Don’t give negativity life by feeding it energy. So what should we do when we trip and make a misstep?
Here are 6 steps to get over a mistake. I came up with the acronym G.R.O.W.T.H. to remind you that mistakes are part of life’s lesson plan and the fertilizer to your personal growth.
1. Gather your thoughts
Once you realize you have made a mistake, take a moment to breathe. Acknowledge that a mistake has been made. Some mistakes are small and will only affect you. Unfortunately, other mistakes can be big and will have more serious consequences. There may be many thoughts and feelings that run through your head which make it difficult to stay calm. It is important that we do not resist what we are feeling. If we criticize and judge our feelings we will only create an internal conflict for ourselves. Be present and know that it is ok to feel bad about making a mistake.
Once the initial shock has abated, take time and reflect on what has happened. Don’t panic. Ask yourself if there is anything you can do to lessen the extent of the damage. By being proactive and keeping your attention on solving the problem you will move away from the amygdala and into the logic driven frontal lobe of the brain.
3. Own your mistake
Do not try to hide the fact that you have made a mistake. Hiding a mistake will only make matters worse. Apologize to the people you have let down and if possible take action to rectify the mistake. Part of apologizing is acknowledging with humility that you have made an error. One of the most difficult things to accept is that we may not be able to fix our mistake.
Once the dust has settled, write what you have learned from the mistake. It is important that we learn and grow from the errors we make. Mistakes evoke many emotions, some minor and humiliating and others heartbreaking. We must learn to accept that mistakes are lessons that life is handing to us.
If we are having a disproportionate reaction to a mistake it is important to talk to someone and figure out what negative core beliefs are surfacing as a result of our mistake. For example, say we leave the milk out and it spoils. We may then proceed to verbally bash ourselves by saying things such as “I am so stupid!” or “I can’t do anything right!” It is important to recognize when there may be more going on than just spoiled milk.
Let it go. We must remember not to ruminate and engage in circular thinking. It is important not to dwell on what happened and what we could have done differently. Patch up your wounded ego and move forward. Remember your mistake, but do not let it consume you.
Remember, the next time you make a mistake, you are in good company. An inherent part of being human is imperfection. We all make mistakes. Growth can’t happen in the comfort zone! Good luck!
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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