We all screw up from time to time.
It might not be fun to admit, but it’s true.
Despite our best intentions, our fervent preparation, and our deliberate practice…
We still make mistakes.
And much of the time (especially for high-achievers) these mistakes lead to a truly egregious amount of suffering.
- We mess up…and get angry, cursing ourselves out. (“How could you be so stupid?!”)
- We fail…and feel sad, mourning the loss of a future we were excited about.
- We err…and get worried, feeling anxious about the potential future impact of the mistake.
The pattern here is straightforward.
1) Mess up —> 2) Fall into a contracted state of mind.
This might seem like a normal or obvious occurrence. And it is to a certain extent.
But look closer, and you’ll see that it’s a potentially huge issue. And I don’t want it to hold you back any longer.
How You Respond to Mistakes Matters
When you’re holding onto sadness, frustration, or anger because of a mistake, you aren’t capable of accessing your full potential.
When your state of mind is contracted, you aren’t neurobiologically capable of accessing your highest self. (More on this coming in a future post.) You’re fallen down low on your ladder of consciousness.
The longer you stay in a contracted state of mind after making a mistake, the less often you’re able to bring your best self to your work, life, and relationships.
You suffer in the moment. AND you’re less likely to perform well in the future.
It’s a lose-lose way of responding to mistakes.
But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Making mistakes is inevitable. But the suffering and decreased performance potential are not.
The Fastest Way to Recover From Failures
There’s a simple two-step tool you can use to minimize post-mistake suffering.
I’ll share it below. (Along with the common challenges people face when trying to implement it.)
Once you see (and feel!) its benefits, the practice will stick with you.
I use it every day.
This tool is particularly powerful for leaders. (Whether you’re leading a team, a business, or your own creative projects.)
The best leaders are constantly engaged in creating something new and meaningful. Doing this means swimming in uncharted waters. The mistakes come at you fast. So this is a vital skill to develop.
Forgive and Recommit: A Simple Compassion Tool for Overcoming Failures
Forgive and recommit.
That’s the name of the tool. It’s also the name of the two steps involved.
Step 1 is forgiveness. Are you willing to forgive yourself for having made a mistake?
Knowing that mistakes are a part of life and that you had good intentions…can you let go of any attachment to sadness or resentment towards your past self?
Step 2 is recommitment. Are you willing to recommit to moving forward at your best?
Will you recommit to putting your best foot forward in your next attempt? And will you recommit to learning from this mistake and putting those insights into practice as you proceed?
Free Yourself of Unnecessary Mental Baggage
When you can forgive your past self for making a mistake, you free yourself from the baggage of the negative feelings associated with that event. And you free yourself up to re-access your peak zone.
When you can recommit to striding forward at your best, you’re saying “I know this mistake is temporary. And I know that what matters most is how I move forward from here.” As Jason Goldberg says: “This is not your only line in the play!”
Forgive and recommit. It’s a simple process, and a powerful one.
But if this is new to you, you might have some concerns or resistance bubbling up. Let’s address them head-on.
Why it Can be Hard to Forgive and Recommit
Either step on its own can be challenging. There are a number of inner barriers that might prevent you from practicing forgiveness, or hold you back from recommitment.
Here are some of the most common.
“If I forgive myself, I’ll just do it again, and feel bad all over again.”
Think about it this way: if someone you cared about deeply was unwilling to forgive you for a mistake you made, would that make you more or less likely to repeat that blunder?
In my experience, when forgiveness has been shared, I can recommit with ease. But in the absence of forgiveness, resentment shows up. And that doesn’t motivate positive action. It poisons the relationship.
“I’ve never done this before…How do I forgive myself for something?”
Start by pretending that your past self is a different person.
You know how to forgive another person. So you’re just doing that with your past self.
Empathize with the other’s situation. See their humanness. See that they, just like present-you, are not perfect. Choose to treat them with love, because A) That’s like you, and B) You want them to be emotionally grounded and showing up at their best moving forward.
“Isn’t it important for me to feel the emotions I’m feeling?”
Yes! Absolutely. This isn’t about denying when there are negative feelings present. You want to feel your feelings as they are, without judgment.
Forgive and recommit about retraining our mind so getting stuck in a negative loop isn’t the default reaction to a mistake. It’s about not holding onto, or recycling, our negative feelings in order to let them go as quickly as possible.
“If I didn’t get it right this time…How can I expect to get it right next time?”
Past results are not a guaranteed predictor of future results.
Without recommitting fully, you’re setting yourself up to fail. But by recommitting, you give yourself the opportunity to succeed. You might end up failing again, but at least you were in the arena to try.
“I feel disappointed and unmotivated after this mistake…Recommitting takes energy, and I don’t feel like it.”
Who said feeling motivated had anything to do with it? Remember that feelings follow behavior just as much as the other way around. Feeling good is the result of recommitment, not the precondition.
Put it Into Practice
- Notice when you’ve fallen into a contracted state of mind as a result of a mistake.
- Pause and get grounded with 3 deep, conscious breaths.
- Ask yourself: “Am I willing to forgive myself for not being perfect and making a mistake?” If yes, move on. If no, sit with the inquiry a bit longer. If someone else had made that mistake, would you be willing to forgive them for not being perfect? How about if they were a little kid?
- Ask yourself: “Am I willing to recommit to the practice of moving forward at my highest?” When you get to “yes”, do that!
Practice this over time, and you can transform your relationship with yourself. If you’re a high-achiever like me with a vocal inner-critic, the benefits of this can’t be overstated.
Here’s to you, forgiving and recommitting. (And in doing so, performing at your peak more often than ever before.)