6 Steps to Take When You Make a Mistake

When was the last time you made a really bad mistake? A week ago? Yesterday? Two minutes ago? We are all human and we all make mistakes. If you have a hard time owning when you make a mistake, it is likely that you were overly criticized, over-powered or expected to be perfect to feel loved. This may be something you want to get some support around in therapy.  However, here are steps you can take when you do mess up. They are simple, but they require bravery. Our relationships with ourselves and with others are healthier when we can own our missteps, make an authentic apology and plan for doing something different in the future.

Step 1: Get Yourself Calm: If we are upset, defensive, angry – we will not be able to make a good apology. I know when I make a mistake, I usually get in a very defensive space and then my nervous system calms down and I can own my part. I am learning to skip the defensiveness and get myself calm before engaging in conversation and when I don’t succeed in that – the turnaround time is getting a little shorter between crazy lady and reasonable one. If we are making apologies from our flight/fight/freeze response, it will not go well. So do some deep breathing, go for a walk, wait a day (or a week). Just get calm first.

Step 2: Own it: The first step is to make a heartfelt apology.  Own it.  Own that you messed up and stop there.  You can explain what happened and why it was wrong, but don’t fall into the excuse trap.  Avoid blaming the other person or anyone else and use “I” statements.  Say “I’m sorry.” Is this hard?  Yes! Is it worth it? Yes. Owning our mistakes is a sign of bravery, emotional openness and strength, not weakness.

Step 3: Make it Right: See if there is a way to make amends. Can you correct the mistake you made?  Sometimes, this involves some serious risk-taking and courage.  Offer suggestions and ideas of how to correct the problem.

Step 4: Make Plans to do Something Different in the Future: What needs to change so the mistake won’t happen again? Are their skills you need? Is there a book you can read? Is there a class you can take?  What’s going to change?

Step 5: Accept the Consequences: Just because you make the world’s greatest apology doesn’t necessarily mean the other person is ready for forgiveness.  Don’t push it. They are allowed to feel what they feel.  All you can do is stand in your integrity and bravery and the rest is their choice.  It might take some time to rebuild trust or rebuild fondness.  Find a way to radically accept this.

Step 6: Let it Go! This is so hard for so many of us.  We either project our feelings of guilt and shame onto others and blame or we absorb it all and beat ourselves up for eternity.  After you have done the first 5 steps, work towards forgiving yourself.  Maybe you need to do something to balance the scales, volunteer somewhere or help others in some way.  Ask yourself, what can I learn from this? AND THEN MOVE ON! You cannot skip to this step though. In order to really be able to let a mistake go, it is important that you go through the other steps.

Making heartfelt apoloies require bravery, vulnerability and strength of character.  It can be one of the hardest things, but the connection and growth that can come from them are truly worth it. May you make some brave apologies beautiful badass people!

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