How To Bounce Back From A Mistake

Being flawed and making mistakes is inherently human. Does that make it any easier? Not necessarily!

Mistakes can invite a wave of uncomfortable emotions: shame, guilt, awkwardness, embarrassment and sometimes even panic. Realizing you have done something wrong, especially when there are consequences, is never easy.

Sometimes we make mistakes because we didn't know any better. Other times, we make certain choices while being aware of the potential consequences- these ones can be the most difficult mistakes to own up to, especially when other people are impacted by the fallout.

One of life's most infuriating ironies is this: our mistakes are usually the greatest source of growth and learning

A few months ago, we wrote an article about all the ways failure can serve us. Just like failure, making mistakes is an unavoidable side effect of emerging from our comfort zones to take risks and ultimately, do wonderful things. While avoiding taking risks may very well minimize the potential for mistakes, it can also thwart us from pursuing important opportunities and learning more about the world and ourselves.

In other words, mistakes are tough to live through, yet important to learn how to live with

Learning to bounce back from a mistake, whether in our work or personal lives, is one of the most useful life skills we can possess. Re-thinking how we respond to adversity (including mistakes) is an important part of success!

So, how do we make sure that we can learn from our mistakes, without being overwhelmed by them?

In this post, we will discuss how to bounce back from a mistake with grace! Let's get into it.

Step 1: Take Responsibility

Hey, I never said we were starting off easy!

There is really no avoiding this step. If you have made a mistake, the first step to resolving it or managing the fallout is to take responsibility for your actions.

If you are in the wrong, acknowledge it. This is not an easy one to execute- we understand. However, the consequences of putting off this step (or even refusing it) are huge. It is very difficult to move towards making things right when we are not willing to be held accountable for our actions.

In workplaces, delaying or refusing to take responsibility creates a toxic culture of mistrust. Often, we fear that taking responsibility will tarnish our reputation. In truth, our reputations are more severely affected if we become known for being unreliable or lacking integrity. It's not worth it!

In our personal lives, not taking responsibility when we make mistakes creates resentment and fosters mistrust. Going out of our way to deny responsibility (knowing we are in the wrong) or placing it on someone else is also a form of gaslighting. Again, it's never worth it.

Opening Lines For Holding Yourself Accountable

Knowing where to start can be difficult. Here are a few ways to begin the conversation:

"I failed to ____ and I am so sorry"

"You trusted me and I let you down"

"I overlooked this issue and take full responsibility for the oversight"

"My choice did not reflect my values, and I take responsibility for my actions"

It's also important to inform everyone who could be affected by the mistake right away. For example, if you  let something slip that was told to you in confidence, it's important to inform the person who told you that information in the first place.

Or if you made a mistake at work that has the potential to increase the workload for everyone on your team, the right thing to do it let them know.

Step 2: Be Part Of The Solution

How we handle the mistake will be more memorable than the mistake itself!

It's too easy to forget this when we are feeling embarrassed and ashamed, but it's true.

Make a sincere effort to be part of the solution. If possible, have a solution ready to offer when you taking responsibility for the mistake.

If this isn't an option, making yourself available to work towards repair and resolution is vital.

Step 3: Reflect On The Mistake (Without Dwelling On It!)

It's tempting to avoid thinking about the mistake again. However, pretending the mistake never happened will not help us learn from it.

Instead of pushing away those uncomfortable feelings, try reflecting on the mistake from a non-judgemental lens. For example, what were you doing that day? Was there something going on in your life that influenced your decisions? What were your emotions like that day?

In both work and personal situations, reflecting on our mistakes helps us understand the deeper reasons behind them. In these pandemic times, we are feeling burnout, overworked, and generally less engaged with our lives. Making mistakes can be a sign that we need a break or a shift in priorities. We can't get to these conclusions unless we are willing to reflect on the mistake itself!

It's also important not to ruminate, or dwell, on your mistake too much. If you are laying awake in bed replaying the scenario over and over, you have probably crossed over into rumination territory.

Once you have taken responsibility, worked towards a solution (or made amends) and reflected on the circumstances that made the mistake have done enough!

Focusing on the embarrassment or getting lost in self-pity prevents us from learning from the mistake.

Wrapping Up: Show Yourself Compassion

Say it with me: I will not punish myself for making a mistake.

Learning to be kind to ourselves when we mess up is a lifelong process! We are often hard on ourselves exactly when we need the most compassion.

Remember that people forget the mistakes we make, as long as we handle the aftermath with grace. We won't always be able to do this perfectly! Even so, we owe it to ourselves and those around us, to learn and grow from the mistakes we make.

I want to hear from you: What lessons have you picked up in life that would not have been possible without making mistakes?

Until next time!


Mental Health Content Specialist

WellNest Psychotherapy Services