A Psychologist’s Future-Forward Tip for Handling Your Mistakes

Photo: Stocksy / Jamie Grill Atlas
You know that moment where you cannot get over how profoundly you effed up? How you shoulda-woulda-coulda done something differently? We all make mistakes. What if I told you there's a few ways that you can build up your embarrassment tolerance against them?

Oh, yes, a mindset shift against mistakes is more or less possible. Psychology Today  recently outlined the fives things it takes to build up our mistake tolerance: embracing trial and error, owning our mistakes and being mindful that perfectionism can get in the way, turning mistakes into life lessons, labeling mistakes and not ourselves, and being open to screwing up. All of this falls under the gigantic umbrella of Good Advice, and might make you feel less afraid of messing up and taking those big risks.

However, when you've already done yourself dirty and you still can't help identifying as a loser, baby, there's one rebrand you should try. That is, seeing mistakes as an element of growth.

"It's so easy to get into the habit of believing that we are our mistakes, yet the truth of the matter is that we are an amalgamation of ALL that we learn in life," says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Joy From Fear. "Thus, if we make a mistake and embrace it as a growth opportunity, it is the lesson learned—the growth factor—that becomes part of the psyche. If, however, we see the mistake as a failure of the self—rather than as a natural stumble in life—then the negative adjectives of the error is the focus."

The "growth factor," in essence, is not just about rebranding mistakes. It helps you accept that mistakes are a natural part of learning what does and doesn't work for you...and that, surviving through the experience, will make you stronger. In essence, you stop fixating on the fact that you did wrong. You look at things as, "This was me growing."

There might be big caveats to this, and IMHO, it's this: it's not growing if you make the same mistake over and over and over and learn nothing. Said with love, because I too find myself committing the same mistakes over and over and over and find myself in a similar position. The keyword there, I think, is "Similar." Say you have a type and you've dating different versions of the same person, running essentially into the same problem. Maybe they're all bankers from Long Island who put work over your needs. Eventually there needs to come a point where you go outside that type and pursue bankers from Staten Island. Baby steps! Growth! Right? Right.

"A person’s mindset—be it positive or negative—makes all the difference when it comes to the whether a mistake is seen as a failure or an essential and valuable learning opportunity," says Dr. Manly. "Although such attitudes are often learned early in life as a result of parents’ modeling and childhood experiences, an empowering, positive attitude toward mistakes can be learned!"

Failure stings. Mistakes can be mortifying. But you can't change the past. You can, however, look it as a stepping stone for being the most refined version of who you're supposed to be.

Something you should *never* be embarrassed by? Your dailyarmpit sniff check. Or finding the courage totell someone you really, really love them!


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