We all make mistakes from time to time. Some everyday mistakes we might make include: making an error on a concrete task (writing, typing, graphing, etc), offending someone, doing something you regret, and engaging in risky situations. Since accidents are common, it is important to learn how to fix and cope with them. Solving any blunder involves: understanding your mistake, making a plan, engaging in self-care, and communicating appropriately.
Identify your mistake.
You must first understand what you did wrong in order to change it.
Define the mistake. Did you say something wrong? Did you accidentally make a mistake on a project at work or at school? Did you forget to clean the bathroom like you promised?
Understand how and why you made the mistake. Did you do it on purpose and then later regret it? Were you simply not paying enough attention? Think to yourself something like, “How did I forget to clean the bathroom? Did I not want to clean it and avoid it? Did I get too busy?”
If you are not sure what you did wrong, ask someone (friend, family member, teacher, co-worker, boss) to help you find out. For example, if someone is upset at you, you can ask,”I sense that you are upset with me, can you explain?” This person may then say, “I’m upset with you because you said you would clean the bathroom and you didn’t do it.”
Remember your past mistakes.
Look at your patterns of behavior and how you have had similar issues in the past. Are there other times when you forgot to do something?
Write down any patterns or themes you notice that keep coming up for you. This may help you identify a larger goal that you need to work on (attention span, certain skills, etc). For example, perhaps you tend to forget tasks that you don’t want to do such as cleaning. This could indicate you are avoiding the task or that you need to become more organized in order to remember to complete certain responsibilities.
Understand that your mistake is your own. Take the responsibility that is yours and avoid blaming it on someone else. If you play the blame-game then you cannot learn from your faults, and you may continue making the same mistakes over and over again.
Write down the parts of the problem that you contributed to, or the specific mistake you made.
Identify things you might have done differently to produce a better outcome.
Think of past solutions.
One of the best ways to solve a problem or mistake is to identify how you have solved similar problems or mistakes in the past. Think thoughts such as, “I have remembered things in the past, how did I do that? Oh yeah, I wrote them down in my calendar and checked it several times a day!”
Make a list of similar mistakes you’ve made. Identify how you dealt with each mistake and if it benefited you or not. If it didn’t then it probably won’t work.
Consider your options.
Think of as many possible ways to fix the mistake as you can. In the current example, there are many options: you could clean the bathroom, apologize, offer to clean another part of the house, negotiate, plan to do it the following day, etc.
Use your problem-solving skills to think of possible solutions to your current issue.
Create a pros and cons list for each possible solution. For example, if you identified that one possible solution to your issue of forgetting to clean the bathroom is to make sure to clean it tomorrow, a pros and cons list might look like this: Pros – the bathroom will get clean eventually, Cons – it will not be clean today, I might forget tomorrow (I can’t completely ensure that it will get done), it doesn’t help to solve my problem of forgetting to clean the bathroom. Based on this assessment, it may be better to clean the bathroom the same day if possible, and develop a plan to remember to clean it in the future.
Decide on a course of action and do it.
In order to fix the problem you must have a plan. Identify the best possible solution based on the past and available options and commit to carrying it out.
Follow through. If you make a promise to fix the problem, do it. Being dependable is important in building trust with others and forming lasting relationships.
Formulate a back-up plan.
No matter how foolproof the plan is, there is a possibility it won’t fix the issue. For example, you may clean the bathroom but the person who asked you to clean it could still be upset with you.
Identify other possible solutions and write them down from most helpful to least helpful. Go down the list from top to bottom. The list might include things like: offer to clean another room, apologize profusely, ask the person how he wants you to make up for it, or offer the person something he enjoys (food, activities, etc).
Prevent future mistakes.
If you can successfully find a solution to your error, then you are beginning the process of success in the future and avoidance of mistakes.
Write down what you think you did wrong. Then write down a goal of what you want to do in the future. For example, if you forgot to clean the bathroom you could identify goals such as: write down a list of tasks each day, check the list twice per day, check off the tasks once they are finished, and put reminder post-its on the fridge for top priority tasks.
Give yourself a break.
Understand that it is okay to make mistakes. You may feel guilty but it is important to accept yourself in spite of your weaknesses.
Forgive yourself and move on instead of dwelling on your issue.
Focus on doing better now and in the future.
Keep your emotions in check.
When we make a mistake it is easy to get frustrated, overwhelmed, or give up altogether. If you are feeling overly emotional or stressed, take a break. It won’t benefit you to try to fix your mistake if your emotions are heightened.
Focus on ways of coping with negative emotions that may make you feel better. Think about ways you have coped with making mistakes in the past. Identify ways you have coped well and ways you coped that made you feel worse.
Some common coping strategies for dealing with mistakes include: positive self-talk (saying nice things about yourself), exercise, and relaxing activities such as reading or playing a game.
Some unhelpful ways of coping with mistakes include engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as: using alcohol or other substances, harming the self physically, ruminating, and thinking negatively about the self.
Using assertive communication skills means saying how you think and feel in a respectful and appropriate way. When you are assertive, you admit when you are wrong and take ownership of your personal faults. You do not blame others for your mistakes.
Avoid passivity, which involves avoiding talking about it, hiding, going along with what everyone wants you to do, and not standing up for yourself.
Do not be aggressive, including: raising your voice, yelling, belittling, cursing, and violent behaviors (throwing things, hitting).
Avoid being passive-aggressive. This is a mix between passive and aggressive forms of communication where you may be upset but not be forthcoming with your feelings. Therefore, you may do something behind someone’s back to get revenge or give them the silent treatment. This is not the best form of communication and the person may not understand what you are trying to communicate or why.
Send positive nonverbal messages. Our nonverbal communication sends messages to the people around us. A smile says, “Hey, I should be frowning, but I can be brave and get through this thing.”
Use active listening skills.
Let the person that is upset vent his frustrations and wait to respond.
Try to focus solely on listening to the person instead of thinking about how to respond. Focus on the other person’s feelings and thoughts instead of your own.
Make summary statements and ask clarifying questions, such as, “I hear you saying that you are angry because I forgot to clean the bathroom, is that right?”
Empathize. Try to be understanding and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
When we make mistakes we sometimes hurt others. Saying you are sorry shows that you regret the mistake, feel bad about the harm you’ve done, and that you want to do better in the future.
Don’t give excuses or try to explain it away. Simply own up to it. Say, “I admit I forgot to clean the bathroom. I am so sorry about that.”
Be careful not to blame others. Do not say something like, “If you would have reminded me to clean it then maybe I would have remembered and done it.”
Commit to positive change.
Expressing ways to make up for the problem and committing to working on the issues are effective ways to fix a mistake when it involves another person.
Try to work out a solution. Ask the person what they would like you to do to make up for it. You could say, “Is there anything that I can do now?”
Figure out how to do things differently in the future. You can ask the person, “What do you think might help me not make this mistake again?”
Tell the person that you are willing to put in the work to reduce the likelihood of making the mistake in the future. You could say something like, “I do not want this to happen again so I will make an effort to ____.” Say exactly what you will do such as, “I will make sure I write down a list of my chores so that I won’t forget again.”