Rebounding from Mistakes

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Nowadays we’re told to accept our mistakes, to embrace our mistakes, even celebrate the fact that we’re making lots of mistakes.

Besieged with countless memes quoting famous folk, we are educated to view our blunders as opportunities for learning and growth.

I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.

– Michael Jordan

There is, of course, merit in this perspective. All of us are flawed, and none of us are immune to error. It’s true that we improve our abilities by going beyond our present capabilities, and making mistakes can indicate that we’re extending our comfort zone.

Logically, we all understand this, but here lies the problem. In the moments after a mistake has occurred, when the heat is on, our logic is smothered and extinguished by emotion. Like much in life, maintaining this perspective after we falter is easier said than done.

It is in these moments that, in reality, many flounder and dwell, whilst a select few regroup, reevaluate, and then return stronger than before.

Post mistake response

Most of us blame ourselves after making a mistake. Despite being a common reaction, it is also counterproductive, increasing our risk of entering into a spiral of negativity.

When we make a mistake, we experience an emotion, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, and so on. This is natural, and applies to us all. However, it’s how we respond at this juncture that will determine whether or not our subsequent performance level is negatively affected. At this point, we either prolong or diminish this emotion. Put another way, depending on how we interpret the mistake, we’ll take one of two paths…

Negative pathway

If we take the negative path, we continue to experience our initial emotion, remaining angry, frustrated, anxious, and so forth. This in turn leads to detrimental cognitive and somatic changes in us, including an amplification of muscle tension, heart rate, and negative thinking, and a marked reduction in focus. As a result, we’re likely to make further mistakes.

Positive pathway

When we take the positive path, our mind and body quickly return to an ideal performance state, where we’re sufficiently relaxed yet highly focused. A state of being that gives us greater opportunity for executing our skills to the best of our ability.

The power of habit

So how we do we travel down the positive pathway? One word – habit. Our habits have a powerful influence over our actions and reactions, and therefore our outcomes, so it’s important that we shape these habits through consciously and consistently implementing a positive and effective routine.

Our aim should be to create a routine that becomes automatic, so that when we make a mistake, we’ll be in the habit of tracking down the positive path. Similar to any skill, the more we practice, the more efficient we become. Therefore it’s critical that we practice our routine in training, so that we’re able to apply it automatically during competition.

There are three key elements that make up an effective post-mistake routine…

  1. Timing
  2. Simplicity
  3. Individuality

Timing

The routine needs to be implemented immediately after making a mistake, so that we don’t have time to dwell on the error.

Simplicity

It should be simple to use, and easy to apply, at any time and in any situation.

Individuality

What works for person A may not work for person B, so it’s essential that we build a routine that is right for us.

For example, some may use a physical routine, such as a batsman patting down divots on the pitch, or a golfer tossing up a few blades of grass in the air. Others may actively use positive cue words, like “Watch the ball,” or “Strong front arm.” Whilst a few may even smile or laugh, which is a surprisingly simple, yet highly effective, natural mechanism to shift mood and focus. 

It’s not so important as to what the actual routine is, more it’s how easily and quickly it enables us to return our focus back to the task at hand. Essentially, when we go down the negative path our focus is on the past, fixated on the mistake we’ve made. When on the positive path, we stay in the here and now, and it’s this ability to re-focus that strengthens our chance of rebounding from the mistake. 

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42 Thoughts

  1. This is such a damn great post. It’s like when writing, and getting downed by all the “helpful” advice for writers on certain platforms (sometimes difficult to avoid) My first reaction, shit I have to rewrite everything! Immediate plan of action is to write a poem or something that’s subjective – mind %#&%ery 101 (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, applicable to many fields as I pondered the today’s news of the loss of three of my four bee hives. I am choosing the positive pathway. I am not sure exactly where the failure is at the moment, but I am sure I will find it when I crack open the hives to see what is going on. Great post, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting way to look at it for physical things such as sports.

    I write. With a damaged brain due to chronic illness. Inexplicably, I will have periods in which I just can’t focus for a few days, and no fiction gets written (fiction takes my best creative efforts – can’t do it otherwise). But as soon as I have the use of my faculties again, I’ve learned to just go back to basics, and the processes I’ve set up to control complex plotting and characterization ALWAYS work – and I get going again.

    I can’t tell that there has been a break, when I look at the finished product.

    It is immensely reassuring to know I can do this – as soon as I can.

    People waste a lot of time on things like worrying which don’t contribute to the product they say they want. Sometimes I have to remind myself explicitly of this, but it’s getting to be second nature: brain back? get back to work.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Here is an interesting thought, do we ever really make mistakes? we might think or do things that do not lead us to our intended results. And afterwards, we label our thoughts and actions as ‘mistakes’. But they are not mistakes, they were right at the time, they just did not produce the desired results. So, based on our outcomes, positive or negative, we just have to adjust our thoughts, behaviours and actions until we get the desired result.

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    1. Hi Steve, thanks for your comments. Yes, it’s an interesting thought to ponder…I guess it comes down to our perspective on the event. The definition of a mistake is ‘an act or judgement that is misguided or wrong’, which we all do. So I think that, when applying this definition, we do make mistakes. However, the important element, for me, relates to HOW we react to the mistake – do we use it as a learning opportunity or do we use it do fuel self-defeating thoughts and then behvaiours? Great question, thanks!

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      1. Thank you. mistakes – do we use it as a learning opportunity or do we use it do fuel self-defeating thoughts and then behaviours? It would be interesting to discover what percentage of people turn their experiences into ‘learning opportunities’. I think to a point, most people probably do on an unconscious level no? If our mistakes lead us to have self-defeating thoughts and then behaviours, then for me, there is possibly a deeper fundamental problem in someones thought processing and in the way that they perceive their lives to be?

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  4. Great read with many valid pints I need to start using. I know with every assignment I receive I set goals to try and do my very best, but mistakes happen which I do not deal with well. This is the perfect read as I start my journey to finishing my portfolio project to graduate.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well said. I like the positive spin. When I make a mistake the first thing I do is accept responsibility and turn it into a positive. I was always taught how wrong it was to make a mistake. I realized one day how costly mistakes can be but also how valuable it can be as a teacher. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another great piece Nathan, thanks. Thought-provoking. In a business context you can also be helped immensely by having a great boss who supports you, rather than blames you,when you make a mistake. Making a mistake for the right reason is better than making a mistake because you took the easy, or even lazy, option. With a good manager you can work out, together, what went wrong, why it didn’t work, and plan to do it differently next time. Thanks for this useful reminder re rebounding when it goes wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree with all that you say Christine. Leaders, whether they’re in business, sport, or any sector, can get so much more from their followers when they support and empower them. I really like a quote I heard from Dr Dave Alred, which goes something like…. “If you want to help someone to really learn, catch them doing something right!”. Unfortunately, in my experience, I see too many leaders pouncing on people when they’ve made a mistake, which I believe is counterproductive and diminishes confidence. Thanks for these great insights 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

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