Mistakes are a part of life. We all make them. A mistake can mean you’ve made an error in
judgement or a misguided decision or taken a risk that resulted in an unexpected outcome. My favourite definition is a “wrong action proceeding from faulty judgement, inadequate knowledge or inattention.” This understanding leaves room after a mistake for gaining insight, increasing your learning, and becoming more aware.
Despite the prevalence and frequency of human error, the idea of making a miscalculation or mistake can be daunting for a lot of us. Sometime our high expectations and standards for ourselves can be unrealistic if they do not account for the inevitability of occasional mistakes. Fear of being judged for or defined by our mistakes can result in being overly cautious when it comes to growth and possibility.
If a fear of making mistakes is preventing you from attempting new experiences or taking safe risks, a good place to start can be to examine some past mistakes. Think of a few mistakes you’ve made, big or small, and get really realistic about their lasting impact on your life. You may be surprised to find that the overall effect was relatively negligible, and you may have even learned something important.
What to do when you make a mistake
If you’ve made a mistake, it’s essential to seize the opportunity to examine and learn from it.
Here are a few steps to help make the process feel less overwhelming:
Admit your mistake A big part of remaining open to the necessary experience of mistakes and learning from them is to first being able to identify, recognize and admit your mistake. Admitting your mistake to yourself and others begins the process of understanding and learning from what has happened.
Feel your feelings Mistakes can come with a wave of feelings, like distress, embarrassment or shame, and it’s difficult to be vulnerable and contend with these feelings. It’s important to take a bit of time to sit with these feelings and get curious about what you’re feeling and why.
Repair If your mistake has negatively impacted someone else, it’s important to find the opportunity to apologize and attempt to repair. Recognizing and addressing your own mistakes can also lead to increased understanding and compassion when we see others around us making an error.
Learn Mistakes are opportunities for increased self-knowledge and can teach us a lot about where we’re at in life and what we need to work on. Once you’ve admitted your mistake, acknowledged the associated feelings, and reached out to make necessary repairs, it’s time for a little analysis.
First, try to get clear on what you were trying to do:
What was your intention?
Next, try to think critically about the point where your attempt derailed. Ask yourself:
What went wrong?
When did it do wrong?
Why did it go wrong?
Now that you have more information, it could be a good idea to examine how this mistake fits into what you know about yourself and ask yourself if this situation is part of a pattern or not.
Apply your learning
Make sure to incorporate what you’ve learned into your future behaviour. Things won’t always go perfectly; there are a lot of things out of your control that can affect the outcome of any given situation. Learning to recover and adapt after a mistake is crucial, while learning to avoid mistakes altogether is impossible. Mistakes are human and happen often to everyone. A mistake doesn’t define you, but the way you respond, repair, and learn afterwards says a lot about who you are.
Mistakes are often a sign that you’re challenging yourself to do something difficult or learn
something new. Seeing mistakes as a part of the process, rather than something to be avoided at all costs can lead to less stress and more adaptability. When approaching a new situation, imagine at the best case scenario, the worst case scenario and what is most likely to happen. It can be helpful to talk through each of these possibilities, especially the worst case scenario, with the aim of understanding that you can make a mistake AND everything will be okay.