Lessons Learned from Making a Mistake

Have you ever made a mistake and then beat yourself up with self-criticism? Did you say negative things to yourself, like “I’m such a loser!” or “I can’t believe I was so stupid!”? Or did you get angry at yourself and end up feeling miserable, depressed or ashamed? Perhaps you even threw things, yelled at the dog or your family, or isolated yourself from others.

I’m confident we have all had these experiences and reactions following mistakes we’ve made. They are unpleasant, annoying and downright frustrating. Sometimes the negative consequences of our mistakes may even seem insurmountable.

But we do have a choice in how we react and recover after making a mistake. We have the power to modify our thoughts, feelings and behaviors to bounce back and hopefully reach a place of some level of forgiveness, acceptance or greater peace of mind.

Let me share a recent mistake I made and then we will go over a few lessons we can take away to learn how to manage these situations more effectively.

Not long ago, I mailed in a check to pay for an insurance policy premium. I was surprised when my check was returned along with a sternly worded certified letter which said my policy was being cancelled for non-payment. 

I was immediately puzzled, concerned and frustrated by this. I checked my banking app, which showed the check had been sent through but not accepted. I couldn’t understand this, as there was more than enough money in the account to cover the check.

Next, I contacted my bank. They explained that for this type of money market account, there are Federal regulations which impose a limit on the number of transactions per month. Apparently, the check that was returned to me was one transaction over the limit, so it was denied.

I had some vague recollection of this limit, but I had never before exceeded it. This month, however, I had paid a few other bills from the account in addition to my insurance payment, so I had unknowingly gone over the monthly transaction limit.

I next called my insurance company and apologized for the inconvenience. They were helpful and asked me to send them a certified check to keep my insurance from lapsing. I went to the bank, got a certified check and mailed it to my insurance company. Problem solved.

Finally, I counted up the financial costs associated with my mistake. $29 for exceeding the monthly transaction limit. $20 from the insurance company for my check not going through. $5 from the bank to issue a certified check. And $10 to mail the certified check to the insurance company by certified mail. $64 total. Darn! (I may have also said some other less appropriate words to myself.)

Lessons Learned

As I reflected on this situation and some of the many, many other mistakes I’ve made, I thought about some things I’ve learned and some strategies to help recover from a mistake in a healthier way, without berating myself, getting upset, or taking out my frustration on others. Here’s what I came up with:

1) We all make mistakes.

This is pretty obvious, but we sometimes have to remind ourselves that we’re not perfect and that we all make mistakes. When we strive for perfection or hold our own behavior to a higher standard than we would expect from others, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Take time to remind yourself that while you always strive to do your best, you can and will mistakes sometimes. While I was disappointed that my mistake happened, I reminded myself that it was just an oversight and that I could certainly do better in the future.

2) There are different costs associated with mistakes.

My mistake with my insurance payment mostly cost me money and some time spent in taking care of the issue. Other mistakes can carry much more significant costs, such as physical or emotional distress, or they can cause difficulties in close relationships. It’s important to assess how the mistake has affected both you and others as you start considering steps to manage the situation and move forward.

3) How we handle the mistake is a choice.

We always have a choice in deciding how to manage a mistake. These can range from doing nothing to making a plan for productive action. Some other options which may help include apologizing to the persons we hurt, taking steps to repair relationships that were affected, or offering our time, skills or service to help make amends. We can also choose how we treat ourselves, and not get caught up in negative thinking and self-criticism. In this process, we need to separate our behavior from our selves. In other words, while we may have done something we deeply regret, this does not mean that we are fundamentally a bad or inferior person.

4) We should always try to learn something from the mistake.

In going over my mistake with my returned check, I learned a few things: 1) If I had remembered the important information about the limits on my account, I wouldn’t have had this problem in the first place. 2) I’ll take care to better monitor my account in the future to prevent the problem from happening again. This type of review and analysis will often help consolidate important lessons to be learned from the mistake to reduce the chances of it happening again in the future.

5) More challenging mistakes can be more difficult to manage. 

I was fortunate that my mistake only caused a one-time inconvenience and a moderate loss of money. Obviously, some mistakes we make are of much greater magnitude with much more far-reaching negative consequences. Bigger mistakes will usually require more time and effort to manage. Also recognize there is not a simple fix or solution for every mistake. In many cases, we need to reach out for support from friends, family or even mental health professionals to help us begin to deal with larger mistakes we have made.

6) Ultimately, try to find some peace of mind.

We are all different in how we come to terms with mistakes we have made. In some situations, including my mistake, we can comfortably put the issue behind us with no lingering concerns. Other times, it may take months or even years to find a place of acceptance or forgiveness for the mistake. And some circumstances may continue to affect our thoughts and feelings for a very long time. Even if you can’t totally forgive yourself for the mistake, at least try to reach a point where you can find some peace of mind and a way forward.

I hope these ideas may be helpful to you the next time you make a mistake and you consider how to best handle it.

Here’s a question: What have you found helpful when dealing with mistakes you have made? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend!

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