How Do You Handle Mistakes?

Here’s a tidbit you probably don’t know about me: I cherish spiders and the role they play on Earth. I don’t cuddle with them or get up-close-and-personal – I give them space. I also do what I can to save their lives.

Three wolf-spiders were allowed to live in my office sink this spring. And in three accidents I made them all perish, one at a time. I was devastated with each one! How could I have made those kinds of mistakes? How could I have killed the little creatures I strive to protect?!

You may be rolling your eyes at my emotional reaction here. But, there’s a lesson for you in this story.

I’m learning to be more compassionate with myself, and more gentle, too. The lessons I learned from my alcohol and sugar dance (which I shared in Are You Stuck By Perfection), accepting that I’m human and remembering humans make mistakes, are helping me deal with my imperfections here too. Huh. There’s that word again: perfection. Interesting, since that wasn’t the intention of my writing this article.

I’ve been pondering and evaluating this topic, so let me ask you: How do you handle your reactions when you make mistakes or things going wrong in your life?

Reflect on this question. The answer will provide a valuable insight into your psychology, and thus into the quality of your life.

When I think about the question, my first response is, “Well, it depends” — and it depends on lots of things. Things like my mood, whether I’m in public or private, what kind of mistake it is or what’s going wrong, how tied to my values it is, or how many other speed bumps I’ve encountered that day.

To simplify the discussion, let’s make this a binary choice. Is your response:

  1. “I should have known better”, “That’s horrible”, “I don’t like that”, “I must stop doing that”, “Why does this keep happening to me”, “I hate that”, “What an idiot (that could be aimed toward yourself or someone else)” or,
  2. “Well, that’s a drag, onward”, “Oh, what a learning opportunity”, “What’s the lesson here for me”, “This is giving me a chance to grow”, “Working through this will let me improve myself”!

Sure, there are lots of other possibilities, even within that binary choice, but hopefully, ideas about your reactions and responses are bubbling up. Now that you’ve had a moment to consider this topic, how do you handle making mistakes or things going wrong in your life?

The first set of reactions reflect your victim mentality and your avoidance of responsibility. You are stuck. That may seem like bad news to you, but it’s only bad news if you choose to stay stuck in that mindset. Being stuck keeps you living an adequate or ambivalent life. Do you want more for yourself?

The second set of reactions reflects a growth mindset and your acceptance of responsibility. You are growing. That mindset takes constant vigilance to maintain, and it’s well worth it. Growing keeps you living an excellent or engaged life. Isn’t that what you want for yourself?

You see others when they are stuck — being victims — and blaming the world for the situation not being fair or right, don’t you? Do you see people rail about deer that jump in front of them, or getting stopped by every red light in town? Victims. Angry that their flight is delayed? Victims. Enraged because the weather is wrong for the activity they had planned? Victims.

The death of my three spiders offered me several lessons. I’m still stuck in perfection at times. I’m taking on responsibility for the spiders’ lives. I’m not learning and acting on the lessons I’m given. I again get to learn to accept my human qualities. All beings have their path and karma, according to my beliefs, and the spiders followed their karma. Especially after the first death, I could have moved the spiders outdoors so they could find a safer place than my sink to live in.

Consciously converting the negative, angry, resentful reaction to one of peace and acceptance goes a long way in keeping your blood pressure down and your joy-factor up. Railing against whatever issue or setback you are facing doesn’t help, so why waste energy on it? With enough practice and intention, your mindset can change so that you more consistently have a positive mindset.

The positive mindset, in contrast to the victim reactions we’ve been talking about, is a growth mindset. It’s a mindset that utilizes gratitude to keep the heart and mind open to all possibilities. It’s a mindset that lets you move forward rather than spin your wheels or get bogged down. When your mind stays calm, it stays clear so you can proceed with better decisions than if you are riled and agitated. This positive mindset approach puts you on the path of living an excellent and engaged life. Isn’t that your ideal life?

When I realized as a young adult that I could control my mindset and reactions I started feeling more peaceful. I started being kinder to myself with my mistakes and life’s injustices. I started taking responsibility for my thoughts and actions. That helped me be kinder to others as well. You can’t be fully compassionate with others until you are compassionate with yourself. This growth mindset process takes intentional living and mindfulness. Practice gratitude and find the gifts in life’s tests. That’s part of living an excellent life.

1 thought on “How Do You Handle Mistakes?”

  1. Timely article, Kit. I hit a pothole the other day which cost me a new tire. Really wish I hadn’t done that but it forced me to take a look at how worn both front tires were and that they did need to be replaced. Not even a blip on my radar!

    My approach is to do the best I can, make decisions after getting as many facts as I can, and just keep going. Looking back and beating myself up with “shoulds” don’t seem productive. Yes, learn from your mistakes — don’t dwell on them.

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