What to Do if You Screw Up

We all make mistakes; it’s a part of being human and fallible. But if you’re like most people, you feel terrible whenever it happens. The reason, as most business coaches and motivational experts will tell you, is that people mostly just want to do a good job. Studies in the past have shown that while money is a key factor in human performance levels, being appreciated for talent and hard work ranks even higher.

istock_000001333901xsmall.jpgIt follows then, that when we don’t get it right the first time, or we let someone down, or we don’t meet expectations, we feel badly about it. Some people feel so badly that they block out this emotion, instead projecting the blame on others so they won’t have to face being imperfect.

People who feel secure in themselves, however, have a different way of looking at mistakes. Instead of dwelling in them, or living in denial about them, or searching for a scapegoat, they are able to recognize and acknowledge when they’ve acted in error, correct the mistake, and recover.

So, what do you do when you’ve tried your best, but things didn’t work out and now you’ve got a big mess to clean up?

Answer: just clean it up and move on.

Some tips for recovering from an accidental screw-up:

1. Remember that this is not the end of the world. Even if something pretty major happened, like getting fired from your job… eventually it will all untangle in the end. When things fall apart, they give us room to rebuild from a stronger foundation. Though today may not be your best day, the future is full of promise.

2. Keep it in perspective. An occasional flub is no reason to beat yourself up. Try to look at what happened in the here-and-now. If you inadvertently offended someone, it doesn’t mean that you’re a social misfit, worthy of mockery and a public flogging. It just means you’ve got some apologizing and clarifying to do.

3. Get back up on the horse. People always say that after you get in an accident, you should get right back in the saddle or driver’s seat. Likewise, in your life… the longer you wait to put things on the mend, the more paralyzed by fear you’ll become. Remember that if you’ve set good goals for yourself, then minor setbacks shouldn’t derail you from that plan.

4. Take responsibility for your actions. Some people think that taking responsibility requires that we hang our heads in shame when we do something wrong. But there is no reason to associate responsibility with humiliation. It’s really just about owning up and saying “I’m going to make a plan for how to fix this,” and then doing that.

5. Don’t get caught up in the past. Suppose someone tells you they aren’t happy with a job that you completed for them. In your mind, you might flash back to a similar time when someone criticized your work. You even forget about the other 90% of the time when your work pleased someone. This type of negative thinking moves you farther away from what you really want – which is to rectify things. Why not just find out what needs to be done, and nip the issue in the bud?

6. Communicate and cooperate. The mistakes that impact us more deeply are the ones that involve other people. What if someone thinks less of us because we fouled up? The first thing you should do here is ‘fess up and own up. Keep the lines of communication open. Most reasonable people are willing to work with you on a problem that needs solving.

The fact is that it’s easy to mess up in this day and age. We have the speed of technology, careening us down unexpected roads. We’re also busier than ever. Many parents work full-time and share the child-rearing and household responsibilities equally with their spouse. Lots of people work from home or take work home with them, putting extra pressure on to perform during “off peak” hours. It’s no wonder we’re having so much trouble keeping our heads on straight!

What it all boils down to, is survival. Can you really afford to remain at the mercy of accidental circumstances? Or is it better to just acknowledge, accept, repair and move on to the next goal?

The worst thing that can happen is someone notices that you took extra pains to make it right.

Thanks to True Colors Consulting for including this post in the Carnival of Trust.

10 Comments on “What to Do if You Screw Up”

  • [...] his blog What to do if you screw up?, David Bohl helps us deal with the inevitable…our mistakes. Boy have I made my share and, yes, I [...]

  • First, I must say that the information on dealing with “screwing up” helps the slightest bit, but I feel it’s simply not enough to get a person like me to actually make a break through. Like many people, I have a problem with procrastination and it has ultimately reached a crescendo. I am to a point where I skip school just to make up work and I have only a year left until high school is over. I desperately want to change before I begin senior year, but I’m too lazy and unmotivated to do anything about it. Is there a solution to reversing my horrible work ethic?

  • Action.

  • I always screw up on everything. Car accidents, etc. Sometimes, I just want to kill myself. I just don’t know what to do, you know? I just want people to like me. I don’t want to be someone who creeps other people out. The reason why I feel guilty about my screw-ups is because I have a learning disability ADD Attention Deficit Disorder. I sometimes hate myself for being such a screw-up.

  • Hi… I, like most of the people here, have screwed up a lot… I mean like shit loads of screw-ups but I believe the most recent is the biggest of them all so far… So my question is “How do you get back up a horse when fall of it has left you paralyzed”? I fucked up (sorry for the word) my relationship with my parents, my brothers, my girl friend, plus i don’t have friends, I don’t have a job cause of fear of failing, I don’t believe in myself cause I believe I am a failure, and I think my life is worth less and that I should just die… If there is still a way to help me please give me some advice.

  • Simply take one step at a time. remember that your actions have been so loud people couldn’t hear your words, and take specific, consistent action to change your ways. It all gets better from there!

  • hye, i’m a degree student and this is my first year. I’m doing fine arts and majoring in sculpture. ever since school days i’m always the one to be late for everything, up until now i’m still that way. this semester started in march and now its june (almost end of semester). This semester i screwed up big time, i mess up with my lecturers in few of my subjects and some of the people who see potential in me. People always see me as someone that can lead, but never fulfill their expectation. today me and my buddies screwed up big!!! came in an hour late for our assessment, he was piss off and he said that, ” there’s no need to submit your final work and report studies, i will give you all an A and you can do what ever you want” i’m at my lowest point ever, i have no strength to go on for degree, i feel like quitting. i want to apologize but i dont know how to do it. i’m lost,weak,guilty,stress and i’m really down right now.

  • Hey azman — Give yourself a BREAK. You made a mistake, that’s all. It doesn’t make you a bad person.

    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~ Albert Einstein

  • My problems have gotten so bad and one bad decision after the other, have made me start to believe that maybe I’m cursed, bad luck bad choices, I just can’t get anything right! I’m exhausted and each day I try to forgive myself for another mistake, I can’t f stand myself!
    I can’t move towards the life I always wanted cause I keep messing things up!! Recent a bad decision has made me loose out once again on a great opportunity, I have been mentally torturing myself over this one and can’t let it go!

  • I am constantly screwing things up. I got hit by a car walking, and my husband says its not my fault yet always point out that I got hit like I never watch myself. Its a daily problem with me. I leave the oven on, I forget to put the lid on something and it spills everywhere, I run into doors, burn myself, forget where I park, I break things. I know it seems like nothing, but little things like this happen on a daily basis that my husband says he literally can’t take it anymore. He’s upset all the time, and always at me.He calls me awful names. Our relationship is not how it use to be.

    Any help here!

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