Zen and the Art of Making Mistakes

zen-stones-1395147656aNVWe all make mistakes. Anyone who says they don’t make mistakes, simply doesn’t feel comfortable admitting this about themselves to others. A lack of mistakes is incongruent with growth, and we should all be growth junkies and productivity hackers of our own lives. Mistakes are the currency of success, landmarks on the road to our goals. When you do make mistakes, it is important to put them into perspective.

Step back and breathe. A mistake can overwhelm our senses, make our minds go blank for a moment. There is nothing wrong with feeling that way. It’s what you do next that matters. Once you’ve let it in, step away from your desk; or put down the phone, unplug, and just breathe for a moment. Take some deep breaths. Breathe the mistake in, and then breathe it out.

Own it. It was your mistake; now, take ownership of it. Understand what you did wrong and how you might have avoided it. Don’t wallow; don’t be ashamed. Search for what you did that made things turn out like this. It won’t be the end of the world; if anything, it will be the beginning of a new way of thinking that will make you happier and more productive.

Avoid misplaced blame. Sometimes, running away from something is the easiest, and only, thing you can think to do (or blaming the problem on someone else). Avoid misappropriating the decision-making process or the reasons why something happened at all costs. It was your mistake, not someone else’s. Don’t worry, I’m sure they will make a mistake soon enough.

Be timely. When you realize you’ve done something wrong, the instinct is to walk away from it slowly, looking around to see if anyone else saw what you saw. Delaying recognition of the mistake only exacerbates its effects. When something goes wrong, meet it head on, right there, and work through it. Avoidance will only make the process that much harder.

Apologize. Nothing reinvigorates a relationship like apologizing for something you’ve done. Don’t let your ego get in the way; don’t equivocate on the weight of blame. Just apologize and move on.

Offer solutions. Worry less about reporting the details of what you did wrong, and focus more on solutions to the problems your mistake has created. Finding solutions and not presenting problems is a good way to approach mistakes in general.

Keep your promises. You made a mistake, so what? You still have to deliver on what you promised, and now it’s more important than ever because the big, bright light of ownership isn’t currently shining on the results; it is firmly placed on this new mistake. Deliver on what you said you would do.

Follow up. Did your mistake have a lasting effect on others? Check in to make sure things have soldiered on in order to maintain and nurture that personal (or professional) relationship. Doing so will make all parties feel better.

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