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.
It 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.