5 Steps to Moving On from Your Mistakes

| | Personal Leadership

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of EmotionsMy daughter came home from the second day of school yesterday and broke down in tears.  She had made a mistake in the morning that resulted in upsetting some of the people in her class.

…She was embarrassed.

…She was angry with herself.

…She was afraid people would be mad at her or not like her because of it.

…She worried it would follow her like a dark cloud.

…She was running the story through her mind over and over as though that could actually change what happened.

…She wished she had done things differently, and started down the road of regret that starts with “if only…”

As I held her tight and listened, I was reminded just how hard it can be for any one of us to make a mistake and have to live with the consequences, no matter what our age.

Sure some mistakes may be bigger than others, or may have more significance to us and/or longer lasting consequences.

Nonetheless it can still be hard to move on.

We have all had to learn to cope with our feelings and the consequences when we screw up because we all do and we all will again.

I found myself grappling with what advice to give to her.  Here are the steps we went through together (although it wasn’t quite so “neat and tidy” in the actual conversation!)…

1.  Acknowledge what you are feeling and allow yourself to feel it.

My daughter couldn’t hear a thing I had to say until she had moved through her emotions, regrets, etc. and calmed down.

So leave the room, go for a walk, hide in the bathroom, call a trusted friend or whatever you need to do.  Give yourself the space you need to process your emotions.

I’m not suggesting you wallow in self-pity, but it is important to acknowledge and feel what you feel.  It doesn’t have to take long.  Only you know what you need and how long it will take, so do what you need to do.

Stuffing your emotions, will only  become like the proverbial “pea under the mattress”.  In my daughter’s case, she stuffed her emotions all day and shared that for the rest of that day she just couldn’t seem to do anything right which just added insult to injury.

The point is stuffing your emotions often has unintended consequences that can make the situation worse.  For one thing, it can make you overly sensitive and/or unpredictably “touchy”.  And that is unlikely to help you get your power or self-esteem back.

2.  Focus on What You Can Do Now

Ask yourself: “is there anything I can do now to make it right?”

You may not be able to reverse the situation, but asking this question gets you out of the mode of being a victim, and focused on what you can do now rather than swirling in the abyss of what you can’t change.

For example, is there anyone you need to apologize to?  Is there a request you could make to diminish the potential consequences on others or yourself?

If you think of something you can do, do it.  In the process you will remind yourself you are not powerless.

And if you can’t move on to the next step.

3.  Take Responsibility for the Consequences.

Whatever your intentions and no matter what circumstances led to the mistake, there is only one sure path back to your personal power:  own it!

Owning it, however, does not mean use your mistale as a club to beat yourself with.  It simply means taking personal responsiblity for what comes next.

Blaming yourself, others or the circumstances won’t change a thing.  Focusing on the reasons will only turn you into a victim of the situation and rob you of respect from both you and others.

Assess the consequences with the people involved and ask “given those consequences, what can I/we do to make things better or get things back on track.” Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to deal with the fall out of your mistake all by yourself even if it was your mistake and your mistake alone.

4.  Forgive Yourself.

You are not perfect.  You never will be.  As my favorite ski instructor used to say:

“if you are not falling, you are not trying to get any better”.

Do what you can to set things right, learn what there is to learn, and move on so you can be and do better going forward.

5.  Reset your Focus on the Future

You can’t grab onto the future with both hands until you let go of the past.

You may still have some lingering bad feelings or regrets.  But you get to choose what you focus on now.  The path to moving on will be found on the road to your future, not by looking in the rear view mirror.

I’d love to hear from you.  What do you do that helps you move on from your mistakes?  Do you have any advice for me as a mom (as I am sure there will be more of these situations!)?


Enter A Comment

Tilla Brook   |   24 August 2012   |   Reply

Susan, this is great. It’s crammed with deep compassion for our mess ups and excellent advice about what to do afterwards. I love the bit about not having to deal with the consequences of our mistakes on our own. It’s such a common belief “I messed up, I have to sort it out”. Bless you for writing about it.
Oh, and I love the wheel of emotions, a new one on me.

Susan Mazza   |   27 August 2012   |   Reply

Yes Tilla, comapssion is key and we are most definitely not on our own! Thanks for your kind words

Greg Troxell   |   24 August 2012   |   Reply

Susan, this is an excellent and compassionate post. Cognitive Emotional Therapy is a powerful field of psychology about ready to burst open. When developing the #emotivationalspectrum, I began with Plutchik’s wheel. The table is the (background) filtering tool for a online wellness journal that will provide additional content and wisdom literature to the user. The additional words and the integration of theological and motivational aspects will assist individuals to pursue their motivational needs and explore the consequences of their reactive behavior.

Susan Mazza   |   27 August 2012   |   Reply

Thanks Gregg – can you provide a link to where I can learn more about your work?

Joanne Guidoccio   |   24 August 2012   |   Reply

Thanks for the timely article, Susan. While it is so easy to wallow in our mistakes and not move forward, it is not healthy to ignore those feelings. That processing step is so important.

Susan Mazza   |   27 August 2012   |   Reply

Great point Joanne – this is about following a healthy path. I think the “there’s no crying in baseball” attitude that prevails in our culture, especially in business and sports, causes us to downplay the importance of feeling, Our culture seems to promote stuffing your emotions (whether it is holding back tears or displays of anger) as an act of strength. It may take strength in the moment, but often it results in avoiding dealing with ourselves. Soner or later all we have stuffed will come back to haunt us.

Mary Ann Reilly   |   24 August 2012   |   Reply

Reminded as I read the blog about how difficult it is as a parent when your child hurts. As they get older, the nature of those hurts alters and still we feel. I think some distance helps and allows for the possibility for a different conversation as the rawness of the moment passes.

Hope tomorrow is much better for you and your daughter:)

Susan Mazza   |   27 August 2012   |   Reply

Yes, it is very hard at times! Fortunately she moved through and the rest of the week went much better.

And I am sure this won’t be the last of this kind of conversation!

Duane Grove   |   25 August 2012   |   Reply

Spot on. What I have learned is that without going through these steps, especially taking ownership, that learning cannot take place. The question I often ask myself is “what can I learn about this situation that makes me better?” and with that reflection, to discover what I will do differently in the future. I also try to take the time to look at patterns and context so that in the future, I will be able to recognize similar situations and draw on my learning. The exact situation is not likely to come again, but there are certain characteristics about it that give me tips and warning signs that should be heeded. Thanks for the thoughts.

Susan Mazza   |   27 August 2012   |   Reply

That is a great point Duane – these steps are necessary for us to learn from our mistakes. And I think as, if not more than, the situational learning, is learning how to get in touch with our real emotions and manage our mind in the process.

Kent Julian   |   04 September 2012   |   Reply

Love this, Susan! Your approach was very honest and authentic.
I especially love your thoughts on “taking responsibility for the consequences” and “focusing on moving forward.” Two themes that are near and dear to my heart!

Susan Mazza   |   04 September 2012   |   Reply

Thanks Kent

Kids do tend to bring out honesty and authenticity in us all!

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