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  • Writer's pictureHugo Menard

How to get over a mistake at work

Have you made a mistake at work, but no-matter how hard you try you just can’t get over it?

We all make mistakes. We’re never going to get to a point where we can sit back and say "ah, my days of making mistakes are over, it's perfect sailing from here on out". While there are some mistakes that we can laugh off and put behind us, others stick around and nag us despite our best intentions of moving on.

Throwing logic out the window

One of the things that can do your head in, is that it’s not always logical which mistakes stick with you and which mistakes don’t. Sometimes it's the big things that we can’t shake such as: costing the company untold sums of money, causing irreparable damage with a construction mistake or severely damaging an important relationship at work. But it can sometimes be the little things, like getting a decimal place wrong in a calculation, miss-understanding what someone asked or saying something wrong in a meeting.

“I should be able to get over it”

It is easy to kid ourselves that we’re not affected by small mistakes. Because after all, “it was just a small thing”, “it’s no big deal”, “I should be able to get over this” we tell ourselves. But in working with clients, I’ve seen again and again that the little things aren’t always so little. Sometimes a mistake seems objectively small but packs a punch.

Plus, all those little mistakes can add up and be as devastating (if not more devastating) than one big cataclysmic event.

For example, imagine a child going to school and every day, a bully tells him he’s stupid. Now imagine a different child who is never told he is stupid, but one day he gives a speech to his whole school and unintentionally says something wrong. Everyone laughs at him and he feels so embarrassed he never forgets that moment for the rest of his life. Is the first child’s experience really less damaging than the second child’s experience?

Time does not heal all wounds

As you’ve probably already discovered, simply telling yourself to "just get over it" or trying to convince yourself that "it will be fine" often isn't enough. And science shows that just waiting for time to heal the wound is unlikely to be an effective approach.

On the contrary, often the longer that “wound” is left unhealed, the greater the effects will be.

I’m sure you can think of things that happened years ago that still get to you now when you think about them. Perhaps someone did something to you when you were in school and you still feel resentful when you think about it now. While we’re not always aware of these little grudges and past hurts, make no mistake, they are there.

The cost to your health

The mistakes that we can’t overcome aren’t just innocent things that pop into our heads every now and then. These unresolved and unprocessed mistakes have a very real effect on our health, the functioning of our brain and our nervous system.

If every time you remember a mistake you cringe, feel a tightening in your gut, feel ashamed, embarrassed, angry etc, your body is going into fight-or-flight. Sometimes it’s only a little stress, sometimes it’s overwhelming. Regardless of the degree, the chemicals of stress that this produces erode the health of your body over time.

Plus, the parts of your brain you use for logic and creativity, for problem solving and goal setting are essentially shut down as you become more reactive and on the lookout for danger.

This stress means you’re less focused on the things that are truly important because you’re being badgered by this annoying thing that happened. You also have less energy and are less intelligent in this state. Ultimately, this makes it more likely that you will make more mistakes.

Keep in mind that we can experience stress without being consciously aware of it. You may keep remembering something that went wrong but you feel like “it’s in the past”. However, if it keeps coming to you, that’s an indication that it may still hold some stress.

This is partly why the notion to “just get over it” isn’t great advice. Mistakes have very real effects throughout our system that we have to contend with in earnest if we’re to truly overcome them.

The bigger picture

The effects of unresolved mistakes go beyond our health. They can shape our lives and how we see the world at large (and not necessarily in a good way). For example, if we are unable to overcome a mistake at work, we may become overly focused on avoiding such mistakes in the future, fearing something could go wrong at any moment.

This could mean incessantly checking details to the point where we waste time and get on people’s nerves. It could mean trying to control everything and thus not allowing each team member to bring their expertise to the table. It could mean we respond harshly to criticism because it’s hitting that mistake that still bothers us inside.

But, if we’re able to overcome what happened, we can become wiser and more intelligent. The fact that it happened can mean that we’re more prepared for similar situations (in a productive way). We learn from the past rather than accumulating scars from our journey.

What to do

A very useful tool that you actually apply to get dramatic results is called “Tapping”. If you’ve never heard of it before, you can learn the basics below. If you’re already familiar with it, feel free to jump to the next section in this blog where you’ll get some tapping prompts and ideas.

“Tapping” (EFT) is a scientifically proven, mind-body connection method. It allows you to rapidly reduce the emotional intensity of situations in your life, allowing you to move on.

This isn’t just a mental hack, this is something that has profound effects at the level of your nervous system, your biology, and your subconscious mind.

Tapping involves lightly tapping on acupressure points on your body while focusing on a specific problem. This physical action of tapping sends a calming signal to your brain and body. The result is that the problem that once caused you distress, now has little or no power over you. In other words, you’re removing what’s in the way rather than using more force.

Remember to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.

Tapping: how to do the basics

1) Identify a specific negative experience (past, present or future) to work on.

2) See if you can feel any emotion or physical sensation when you focus on this. (eg: feeling stressed, angry, tightness in your chest, pit in your stomach etc). Identify the level of intensity for you right now on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity, 10 being maximum intensity).

Side of hand point

3) Tap the side of hand point continuously while saying the following 3 times:

“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.

eg: “Even though I’m stressed by this project, I deeply and completely accept myself”.

(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).

The 8 tapping points: Top of head, Eyebrow, Side of eye, Under eye, under nose, Chin, Collarbone, Under arm. For the points that are mirrored on both sides of the body you can tap either one or both. It is recommended that for the collarbone point, you use your whole hand to tap both points at the same time.

4) Gently tap the 8 points about 7 times each with your fingertips while repeating a brief phrase at each point, that reminds you of the problem. eg: “feeling stressed”, “this project”.

5) Test to see if there has been any change on the 0-10 scale of intensity or a change in emotion/physical sensation.

6) Repeat until intensity is 0, adjusting statements to reflect any changes you experience.

keep in mind that these are just the basics of one method. You may either need more knowledge or the guidance of a trained practitioner to get the results you want. Check out these blog posts where I cover the most crucial information when it comes to getting results with “Tapping”:

Learn how “Tapping” works

How to get real lasting results with “Tapping”

Tapping prompts

You will get the best results with Tapping when you focus on your specific situation and use your own words to accurately describe it. However, having some prompts can be helpful to get you started. I encourage you to use the following as starting points rather than strict rules to follow. Use what resonates with you and discard what doesn’t:

A good place to start is to accept the mistake, because we spend so much time and energy trying to make it better, to not look at it, to have someone else say that it’s OK, that it wasn’t our fault etc. Try these prompts:

Even though I made this mistake, I deeply and completely accept myself

Even though I don’t want to accept that I made this mistake, I accept that this is how I feel

Even though it would be so much easier to push this away and soldier on, I choose to look at it and resolve this at my own pace.

Even though I don’t like that I made this mistake, I completely accept that it happened, and I’m here working on it.

Even though this happened, I take responsibility for my part in it, and I acknowledge any discomfort in that responsibility.

Tapping on each individual piece of what happened will likely get you the most resolve. For example, if you gave a presentation that went south you might tap on things such as:

  • Remembering being in front of everyone when it started to go downhill

  • Seeing their faces

  • Feeling the fear/shame/uncertainty etc

  • Seeing a slide not come up and realising the tech equipment wasn’t working

  • Finishing your presentation knowing it went bad etc

You may also benefit from tapping on how it is affecting you now. For example:

Even though I feel_____________(insert how thinking about the mistake makes you feel) when I think about the mistake, I deeply and completely accept myself

Even though it keeps nagging me and it won’t leave me, I accept myself

Even though I wish I could undo it, I accept myself having done it

Even though I feel the mistake_____________(insert where you feel it physically: eg: “in my gut”, “buzzing in my head”, “like a heavy weight on my shoulders” etc), I accept that this is how I feel

Even though it feels like I’ll never get over this, I deeply and completely accept myself.

Once you remove the intensity, then you’re in a much better place to see how you can learn from the mistake.


Side of hand photo adapted from Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Tapping points photo adapted from Albert Dera on Unsplash

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

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