How to Stop Stressing Over Mistakes
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. Let me repeat that- we ALL make mistakes. I like to tell people that we make mistakes because we’re human and humans are imperfect beings. And yet, many of us beat ourselves up and put ourselves down whenever we make a mistake. And this leads many of us to anxiety. Why do we do this to ourselves and how can we stop doing it in the future?
Why Mistakes can Make us Anxious
I have noticed that the things people most often get anxious about are things that have already happened or things that have not yet happened. Funny, but both are things that you cannot change! Things in your past are already done and finished, and things in your future may never happen. This type of worrying can easily lead to anxiety.
Mistakes come under the category of things that have already happened. But when you start worrying about it, chances are that you start putting yourself down- “I should have been able to do better!”, “Why do I always mess up?”, “I am such an idiot!”. You wouldn’t talk to anyone else this way, so why do you talk to yourself like this?
Another thing that you might find yourself doing is focusing on the mistake and what you did wrong, while completely ignoring everything that you did right! In cognitive behavior therapy, we call this the cognitive distortion of mental filter. If you filter out everything that is good and positive, then this can lead to anxiety and depression. A good example is if you have been working at a new job for 3 months now. During that time, several of your new co-workers have come up and told you that they’re glad you’re there and that you are learning quickly. However, there’s one thing that you just haven’t been able to master despite someone showing you how to do it a couple of times now. When you go home at the end of the day, you worry that you’re doing horrible and that you will be fired because you are focusing on the one thing you haven’t mastered yet and are ignoring the praise you’ve received from everyone. This is mental filter.
Focusing on (possible) Consequences
Sometimes when we make a mistake, we look to the future for all the terrible things that might result from that mistake. We focus on what occurred as a result of our mistake, or on what MIGHT happen. This can be a form of catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is defined as another cognitive distortion in which the person jumps to the worst possible outcome possible with no proof to support that this will occur. In effect, this is when you turn something minor into a full-blown crisis or catastrophe. I think it’s easy to see why this could lead to anxiety.
How to Cope with Mistakes
1. Look to your thoughts! Closely examine what your thoughts are surrounding your mistake. Look especially for any of the cognitive distortions noted above. Once you notice a cognitive distortion, change it! So for example, if you noticed that you were using mental filter, which if you remember, is filtering out all the good and focusing exclusively on the mistake. So to change this type of thought, you can say something like, “I know I made a mistake, but I also did this thing well and am proud of that”
2. Remind yourself that the mistake is already in the past and so it isn’t worth worrying about. Try to keep the mistake in perspective in your life. Ask yourself, “Will it be important to me in a year?” If the answer is no then it’s not worth worrying about now! If the answer is “yes”, then make a plan of what you can do to recover from the mistake. Remember, we all make mistakes. The mistake isn’t who you are, it’s just something that you did in 1 moment in time. You can move on from this mistake. Give yourself permission to do so.
3. Instead of fixating on the mistake, try to focus on what is happening right now. This is the practice of mindfulness and can really help if you are anxious. As stated above, anxiety often occurs because you are focusing either on the past or the future. Instead, try to focus on what is happening right now this very minute. If you are cooking dinner, focus exclusively on cooking instead of trying to divide your attention between cooking, watching TV, and cleaning the bedroom. Focusing on one thing at a time will help to calm your mind and decrease your anxiety. A mindfulness activity you can try is taking a mindful walk. Just take a walk wherever you are and notice what is around you. What is it that you see? Notice the colors and the textures that are around you. What do you hear? Do you smell anything? This will help you to improve your focus and to release some anxiety.
I hope that some of these thoughts will help you to deal with your mistakes in the future and will help you to experience less anxiety. If you would like to talk further about this topic, or if you would like anxiety treatment, please follow the link!