I Messed Up, Now What? Part 2: 3 Things to Do When We Make a Mistake
For some reason, when we have done something wrong, it is easier for us to stay in the past and hold it against ourselves than to move forward. It does not seem to matter that this makes life less enjoyable and keeps us locked in the past, we do not appear to think of this in the moment or while we are experiencing the emotional fallout. We keep ourselves locked in a shameful prison which keeps us from finding a better path for our lives.
What is it we miss when we stay focused on the past and our screw up rather than moving forward? We miss out on seeing an opportunity and instead only see failure. What opportunity is it we are missing? When we narrow our scope only to the wrong, we struggle to see the opportunity for change and growth. Each situation we face in life has the potential to teach us more about ourselves and our ability to relate with others, the key is we have to let it.
When we get stuck in the shame cycle and not only focus, but zoom in, on only the things we felt we did wrong, we begin to incorporate this into our identity. Our view of our self becomes biased and we lose sight of who we are and what we can become. In this way we continue to punish ourselves needlessly, stalling our growth and locking ourselves in negativity. We regularly use the wrong strategies such shame, blame, or doing nothing, instead of moving forward.
This post focuses on helping us see the opportunities for growth and learning, even at the times where we have not been our best. We want to unlock ourselves from our past and mistakes to move forward. This means integrating what we have learned from the situation into who we are and the way we see ourselves. It also means addressing the situation, and those involved, to mend what wrongs have been done.
Not every situation has the best ending; however, the outcome can still be of benefit to us and our lives as we learn the lesson from what happened. That is the goal of moving forward past our mistakes. It is sifting through the emotions, thoughts, pain, and hardship of when we’ve done something wrong to look for what can help us take a new step in our journey in life. Our wrongs do not have to be a life sentence of guilt and shame; rather, it can be a door to new opportunities if we let it.
Making the best of our situation even if we feel we were at our worst is not an easy task, which is why many people avoid doing this. If we step back and take a look at this though, we are replacing the struggle and liberation of working through our wrongs with the pain of holding it over ourselves. This poisons our every moment and keeps us from reaching our full potential. It disempowers our lives and the ability we have to cope with it.
Empowering our lives and working through our wrongdoings allows us to remove the boulder from off our backs and begin to face life with new energy and focus. It will not be easy; however, rarely are the things that truly matter and bring meaning into our lives easy. If we put in the work, open our eyes to new possibilities, and take new steps, we will empower our lives. To get us started, here are three strategies to help us do just that!
Empowering Strategy #1: Taking Accountability
One of the most important steps in moving past our mistake and working through it is taking accountability for our role in it. We have to be able to identify what our actions were that led to the outcome of the situation. Once we have identified our actions, it’s time to genuinely accept what we have done. This means looking at the picture fully, and recognizing the realistic impacts of our behavior, both the good and the bad, rather than blowing it out of proportion. Once we have done that, then we can begin to formulate strategies for how we will make amends, which we will have more on that in a moment.
Accountability is not a comfortable process; however, it is liberating. It can release us from the shame as we accept our actions and formulate steps to move forward and prevent these types of actions in the future. That is why it has to be genuine! If we are not truly delving in and genuinely accepting, we are not going to implement what we have learned and are more likely to repeat the cycle. While accountability is necessary, we need to be ready for the discomfort.
Think of it through the example of getting pulled over while you were knowingly driving over the speed limit. Which of the following approaches do you think works best with the officer? When we blame the officer for needing to meet a quota and picking on you even though you were not going that much over and reacting with anger? Or, admitting to the officer that you were going over and leaving it at that? The first option looks at blame, the other takes accountability. So, why does this matter?
When we blame the officer, we overlook our actions and pin it on someone else. We get angry, say things that make the situation worse, and will probably get a larger ticket due to our disrespect. This only gets us hotter, and then we spend the day ruminating about it and failing to move on. Not exactly a productive way to go about it!
However, when we admit to the officer our wrongdoing and take the ticket in stride, we can move forward with our day. It is not comfortable, but we keep our integrity, and that of the officer’s, intact as we accept the consequence of our actions. We may still be upset, but it will be reasonable to the situation and we are not trying to convince others, or ourselves, of a false story. We get to move on and move forward. Own what is yours so you can take steps to move forward!
Empowering Strategy #2: Make Amends
If our actions have hurt another in some way, it is up to us to make amends so that each person can move forward. The key to making amends is that it has to be genuine. If we are saying “I’m sorry” as a way to check a box, we are not doing anyone any favors. Making amends means owning up to our behavior, that accountability piece that we already talked about, and finding a way to make a connection with that person.
When we seek to make amends, we want the other party to know that we have identified what we have done and are open to making it right. This takes a lot of humility on our part when we do it with a genuine heart. We also need to be open to the feedback from the other person, as there will be grains of truth that can help us grow and learn even more from the situation.
Our world does not always look positively on making amends and owning up to our behavior. That is one reason why this can be a difficult process and another reason why we should absolutely do it. There is enough blame going around, and it has shown that it does not work. Let’s find a way to reconnect and work to make things better rather than take it out on ourselves or others!
Empowering Strategy #3: Check Your Thinking to Slow Your Roll
As discussed in the post of what not to do when we do something wrong, our emotions and thoughts can run amok when we are dealing with a situation in which we have done something wrong. The more we let these thoughts and emotions run unchecked, the more intense they get, and strangely, the more we believe them. We run on auto-pilot and assume they are correct, even as they get more and more exaggerated!
To help combat this and slow things down, we need to take the time to look at our thinking. Take some time to ask yourself the following questions: what do I think about myself after this situation? What led me to act in that way? How much of my thoughts and feelings are correct? What do I have to learn from this? When we take the time to stop and slow down our thought process, we can ask direct questions such as these to gauge where we are at currently.
Do not lie to yourself when you check your thinking! The only person who truly knows if we are lying or not is ourselves. If you want to move forward then you need to be honest with yourself. This will help you identify your ways of thinking that are productive, unproductive, or just plain unnecessary. Again, make sure you are honest with yourself as you start to challenge your thinking.
The hard part about shame is that the intense emotions it creates make it feel 100% accurate, yet it’s not. I want you to challenge yourself to find seven pieces of evidence to support the deeply negative and shameful thoughts that you are having. They must be specific and concrete examples. Just coming up with “I’m a bad person” is not enough, find specific reasons for why. Now, you need to find seven pieces of evidence that say the contrary to your negative thought. For this example, that would be seven examples as to why you are not a bad person.
Does this seem counterproductive? Why would we be spending time finding evidence that supports our negative thoughts? The fact is, most of our negative thoughts are balloons full of air. We believe that we are a bad person and we roll with it as if it is absolute truth. However, when we peel back the label and look for specific pieces of evidence as to why it is typically not there. Yet, when we look for evidence of the contrary, it is a lot easier to find. Eliminate the broad labels with no substance and begin to see yourself more truly. That is how you empower yourself to move forward from hard experiences!
Mistakes and the fallout from them are a part of life. It is up to you to decide whether it becomes a prison that keeps you locked in the past or if you see it as a way to learn and grow. Empowering your approach means seeing opportunities that you did not see before and finding ways of being that keep your integrity intact and your life moving forward. Living in the present means learning to leave our past where it is and taking the lessons it provides for us and applying it into our now. You can do this!