Julie Tucker
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How to learn, develop and reset after a workplace mistake

It’s a fact of life that we all make mistakes sometimes, especially at work. Arguably, if we aren’t making mistakes now and again, then we aren’t pushing ourselves to try new things or find better solutions to our problems.

Despite this reality, it’s common for us all to feel bad when we don’t get it right and to mull it over with a negative attitude.

It’s time to turn that thinking around and to view our shortfalls for what they really are – a learning opportunity that offers a chance for growth.

So, why might we be getting things wrong?

1. Boredom

You might make a mistake because you are bored of doing the same repetitive tasks each day and can no longer concentrate or engage with what you are doing. The lesson here? You’ve probably outgrown your job and you’re ready for something that offers a new challenge and will engage your mind and abilities in a different way.

2. You tried something new

You may make a mistake because you tried something audacious, and it failed. The greatest achievements are all borne out of experiments that failed endlessly before the right solution was found. Inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes, great leaders, artists… they all have one vital thing in common: the ability to embrace mistakes, errors and failed attempts as a sign that they are pushing themselves like never before and trying new things in a bid to be even better.

3. You don’t have the necessary skills yet

Another common reason for making a mistake is because you ‘aren’t good enough’. The lesson here? Give yourself a break! We all fail at times, so if you fall short, it’s a sign that you need to invest in your own knowledge, skills and abilities to approach your work differently in future. You can ask others to help, build new networks, adopt new processes and get advice from more experienced colleagues. Again, it’s a welcome ‘wake-up’ that encourages your continual development and personal evolution.

How to respond positively to mistakes

When mistakes occur, it’s natural that you will have an immediate and emotional reaction to them. As humans, we are all too often raised to believe that making mistakes is bad, which means we avoid taking the risks that lead to them, but mistakes can be a wonderful learning opportunity that offer us a chance to reset, develop and learn.

Why we must practice self-compassion

When a colleague makes a mistake, do you berate them or privately think less of them? No! You treat them with compassion. This compassion must extend inwards when you consider your own mistakes. Rather than wallowing in negativity, remind yourself that you are only human and seek to put the error right.

Once the immediate mistake has been rectified, remember that the consequences of your mistakes are unlikely to be too serious and take a breath. Beyond this, you now have an opportunity to reflect on the experience.

1. Reset: take your time to consider what happened and try to think objectively. Revisit the sequence of events that led to the mistake, but with compassion and understanding, rather than that little voice of self-criticism that we all know!

2: Develop: ask yourself, what can I do next time to avoid making a similar mistake and to improve the outcome? What action plan should I take to develop and grow?

3: Learn: follow up on your plan to learn, develop and grow – and make your next mistake more reflective of the even greater heights you are trying to achieve.

How mental health can affect the way we handle mistakes

It’s important to recognise too that our mental wellbeing plays a huge role in how we view our mistakes, their severity and their repercussions. Consider the good days when you feel mentally balanced, buoyant and well. If you make a mistake, you probably laugh it off, apologise to anyone affected, keep the incident in perspective and move on.

On a day when you might be feeling anxious, depressed or generally sub-par, the incident probably becomes magnified. For some people with mental health difficulties, mistakes can bring back feelings of shame and inadequacy that stem back to childhood and negative messages that they internalised through no fault of their own.

Resources that can help

When you realise that mistakes are just a part of life and unavoidable, you can stop trying to tip-toe through life and avoid errors at every step. Perhaps you can begin to live a little more freely, more creatively and more fearlessly when you accept mistakes as an inevitable consequence of creativity, innovation, drive and endeavour – and show the same compassion to yourself as you do to others.

You can also engage with useful resources that support this kind of personal development. For example:

1. Sign up for mental wellbeing newsletters that share ideas and resources, listen to positivity and mental wellbeing blogs and engage with influencers that promote useful, supportive and inspiring content. Often, leaders in the field are well worth following and listening to because they are brave enough to talk about the mistakes they made on their journeys to success!

2. Find your community – perhaps by working in a creative, open and supportive space with other like-minded professionals. For examples of this, visit Headspace.

3. Speak to peers and trusted colleagues about the ways they handle mistakes and seek feedback from a supportive manager so that you can continue to grow and feel supported.

How do you approach mistakes with the right frame of mind for growth? Let us know!


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