How to get back on track after you mess up?

We all make mistakes every day. None of us are perfect. Sometimes, we do things we would prefer not do unintentionally and unknowingly. Other times, it is because we are distracted or even tired – busy being busy – and we mishandle a situation. Others, it is because of lack of planning or foresight. Or it may have been intended but without seriously considering the consequences.  

Some of our transgressions are bigger and others are smaller.  Sometimes we realise immediately. Others, there is a delayed reaction and it is on reflection or after feedback we realise the error of our ways. Sometimes we err in routine matters and others it happens when we take on a new project or are confronted with a new life challenge.  

There are many variations, but the reality is that we all err. Even when we do everything right and with good intention an unsatisfactory outcome can result. We are more inclined to make mistakes when tired or over busy, so try and minimize unnecessary activities.   

When things happen in life, we can become bitter, better or broken. When we learn, we always choose better. Our past mistakes have brought us to where we are now and often enable us to go through doors that bring us to better things and greater happiness that the usual route might have.   

I asked five smart, wise people I know what they do when they mess up and have combined the best of what they said:

  1. Sit down and reflect where it went wrong. Look at the situation and yourself with compassion, kindness and curiosity. That way you will be able to identify the learnings for next time.  Analyze the circumstances and events leading up to it. Usually a mistake is the product of a combination of things rather than the result of one thing.  
  2. Acknowledge the error to yourself and accept you are not perfect – just like everyone else. ‘I am not super human’.  
  3. NO GUILT and no self-persecution. LEARN from what happened and plan how to avoid the mistake next time. When we feel guilt and shame, the parts of the brain responsible for growth and learning shut down so we lose the opportunity to learn the lesson and condemn ourselves to making the same mistake in the future – ultimately achieving the opposite of what we want and paving the way for future guilt. When we know better, we do better.  
  4. Ask yourself what you feel would have been the best thing to do so you are better prepared in case something similar happens again. 
  5. Make amends if you can and the situation warrants and permits. Taking responsibility for what you have done transforms your inner landscape and helps the learning stick. For the most part, people will appreciate and respect you taking responsibility and it can often strengthen a relationship as people see you are someone with high personal integrity. Even if they don’t fully understand, taking responsibility means you have learned your lesson and helps you move on and shift your perspective.  
  6. Let it go. Do something to clear your head and get engaged in something else.  
  7. It would be even better if you could learn to learn from other’s mistakes!

While messing up is uncomfortable, the biggest mistake is to not try or do nothing. 

As Theodore Roosevelt said: ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing’.

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