What Is Your Major Malfunction?

No one wants to make mistakes but if there is something I know to be true, we all do. The way we react to them however is far less universal.

Full disclosure - I’m a reforming perfectionist. In the past, I viewed mistakes wholly as proof of my failure as a human being. They were egocentric catastrophes. I was quick to crawl into a dark hole of reproach and self-loathing, and fashion my blunders into permanent brands of shame.

Image by pathdoc via Shutterstock

It is not without irony that I recently realised the fear of being defined by my ‘mistakes’ was defining me, albeit in a way I hadn’t predicted. I took the power of my influence on circumstances way too seriously and allowed wounded self-worth to severely limit my response to mistakes, substantiated or otherwise.

And so, let me add this to the list of what I know to be true – mistakes themselves do not compromise my personal excellence, but how I respond to them can.

Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so…

There is a refreshing freedom in realising that control lies not in what happens to you but how you respond.

I am not suggesting you throw caution to the wind and renege on personal responsibility. Think through outcomes of actions, make time to plan for identified risks, but it is unrealistic to believe, like I did, that you can manage in advance all the parameters of a situation to ensure absolutely nothing goes wrong.

Because something will go wrong. And it might be your fault, or it might have been out of your control. But either way, know that it is within your power to be courageous, be humble and ready yourself to respond with intent.

I’m no expert at mistake recovery. But if you’re like me and similarly struggle when missteps threaten your ego, I want to share some pointers I have found helpful and frankly, liberating when it comes to mistake course correction :

  • My biggest recommendation is (not rocket science) – own it. If a mistake has been made, accept it. This will allow you to make better decisions on how to move forward. Self-justification or flagellation will distort the reality of the situation and make it more difficult for you to make pragmatic, responsive choices.

  • Engage some perspective. Things could be worse, right? To be unashamedly hyperbolic, at least you aren’t dead. Hopefully. If that’s the case, sorry buddy, nothing I say here is going to make a difference. If you’re in the land of the living, remember you’ve made mistakes in the past and you’re still here.

  • Size doesn’t matter. If you acknowledge the little mistakes and look to provide solutions promptly, it will likely stop them from growing into a big, ugly, out of control mess.

  • Be honest about your mistakes. Don’t wait for someone else to discover or reveal the bunny isn’t in the hat. This will generate respect and trust. Everyone appreciates honesty, especially if it comes from a place of vulnerability, and I suspect you will find it strengthens your relationship with the people involved. If you find people using your mistakes against you, it might be time to rethink the nature of your relationship with them. It might also give you good insight into how they relate to their own mistakes.

  • Treat mistakes as opportunities for learning. I guarantee you were a pro at this when you were a child. How else did you learn to crawl, walk, speak and eat? Approach your mistake as an opportunity to learn and I’d be surprised if you don’t experience some form of personal development. With that in mind, don’t keep making the same mistakes and expecting different results. This will only lead to people being less tolerant and forgiving of your behaviour. A repeated mistake is a decision.

  • Provide solutions. This seems obvious I know, but maybe not for those of us whose mistakes mean quickly falling into deep panic and despair. Take steps to inform the affected people that you recognise a mistake has been made and that you care about resolving it. Then engage some genius thinking. The solutions you provide are dependent on the mistake and people involved, but a mistake artfully rectified is an empowering experience. And for true masters it is the solution provided people remember, not the mistake that instigated it.

  • If you need help, ask for it. Sometimes the mistake is out of your power to rectify. It is better to seek help and encouragement from people who have the experience to solve the problem with you than to flounder in angst or potentially compound the mistake to create more problems.

  • Be kind to yourself. My mistakes often meant the appearance of a nasty voice inside my head, similar to Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket (yip, I’m a masochist). Needless to say, this sort of negative internal diatribe isn’t very conducive to mistake recovery. If your significant other or friend came to you looking for support and advice on a perceived failure, would you cut them down further? Or would you attempt to put them back on the horse, and provide encouragement and assistance? And why would you treat yourself any differently?

I’m still not at ease with mistakes. But consciously using the points above to define my relationship to them when they occur, means they look more and more like crossroads than road blocks. I’m more confident in my abilities to navigate challenges. The anxiety of failure is becoming less of a Himalayan peak in the obstacle course of self-leadership. I’m getting better at embracing the idea that mistakes can enrich my experiences. And, shock horror, sometimes even unearth better solutions.

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