29 June 2016

When you make a mistake, how do you handle it?

One area of life that popped-up the other day concerned the making of a "social" mistake - in this case a medium sized faux-pas, but unintended none-the-less.

If we’re honest with ourselves, how well do we handle our mistakes and what happens inside us during the experience? What’s the best way to create a positive outcome for ourselves as well as those affected?

Of course it depends on the magnitude of the “error” but in working life generally there are no mass casualties or devastating consequences in the overwhelming majority of cases. Mostly we cause annoyance or irritation by not doing something or we cause offence or embarrassment by doing the wrong thing. Mistakes ought to be unintended by definition as distinct from deliberate acts of malevolence or sabotage. We didn’t mean to do or say the wrong things or we just plain forgot we committed to a task. It happens, we’re human.

The principles and models of Emotional Intelligence have it that self-regard and regard-for-others underpin how we feel and how we feel drives how we behave in any given situation.

So the first obvious step in the “regard-for-others” protocol is to apologise for our actions and make reparations. Most of us are taught to do this from a young age and most of us do it in a timely and empathetic manner to make sure we maintain important personal and working relationships.

But what happens inside is just as (if not more) important as the external work of saying sorry.

There are two paths we can go down and which path we chose tends to be driven by our attitudes and beliefs.

So when you make a mistake, do you tend to:

a)      punish yourself (and keep punishing yourself)? Or

b)      learn from it and move on?

Take any of those footballers who have missed “vital” penalties at critical moments in International football tournaments. We hear them talk about it for years afterwards. Nobody died, nobody got physically hurt, international trade didn’t stop nor did the four horseman of the apocalypse turn up. Have they learned and moved on or do they still carry some kind of burden shame with them?

In most senses a missed penalty kick isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things but how setbacks are handled on a personal level and on the inside can be.

By taking the path of absorbing the mistake and using it as yet another illustration of how inadequate we are, we undermine our self-regard a little bit.

If repeated unchecked this only leads one way and can end up with a self-esteem eroded to the point where all sorts of undesirable consequences follow: poor performance at work, depression, insomnia, miss-use of alcohol and so on.

The answer is to let it go and forgive ourselves.

Take responsibility for our actions - yes;

                                                    Fix it – yes and learn from our actions – yes.

                                                                                                               But then,  LET IT GO.

The point is to be more self-compassionate on a regular basis. Yes we made a mistake and we will make others, but fundamentally we’re OK as human beings.

If you feel that letting go isn’t so straight forward for you and want to find some new strategies for yourself, or maybe for someone in your business, contact us for a quiet and very private chat.

From personal experience, it's easy to learn how to do it once and then it's just a matter of making self-compassion more of a habit.

Mark Carrington

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