What to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life) 

What to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life) Beautiful African American woman holding a cup of coffee at home cover mouth with hand shocked with shame for mistake, expression of fear, scared in silence, secret concept (image description taken from Adobe Stock)

I’ve titled this article, ‘what to do when you make a mistake’ not ‘if you make a mistake’ because let’s face it, no matter how optimistic or perfect you try to be – you will make mistakes.  These can be small barely noticeable faux-pas’ to full-blown want the ground to swallow you up mis-judgements.  

But here’s 3 things you need to know about mistakes…

  1. Everybody makes them – you don’t have a monopoly on this – they are universal
  2. Every one you make can have a positive outcome
  3. If you’ve never made one you’re not fully living

Your key focus here should be your reaction to the mistake.  If you’re anything like me your go to response (until now) would have been panic and assume the ostrich position.  However, taking responsibility to deal with our slip-ups in the best way we can frees us to turn – what currently seems like – the worst thing ever into a positive opportunity for personal growth.  

With this in mind, here’s what to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life)

– Accept it. Own it! –

Starting with the basics, when you make a mistake one of the worst things you can do is try to cover it up or pass the blame on to somebody else.  In doing so, some of the trust people have in you will disappear – which is harder to win back in the long run.  People who take responsibility earn far greater respect than people who try to wrap the mistake up in a pretty parcel filled with excuses.  

Although you might currently be feeling ashamed or afraid of being judged, remember… you are only human, nobody is perfect.  You might have made a mistake, but it doesn’t define who you are.  Accept these facts.  The process to recovering post error will be a lot quicker when you take this first step.  

What to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life). Image of a single hand being raised up on a blue background
Time to hold your hand up to it?

– Seek to rectify if possible (or necessary) –

Some mistakes are easily rectifiable with a well meaning apology.  An acknowledgement to the wronged party of your error and your intention to heal the situation is often enough.  Occasionally further efforts are required on your part.  The key is to not let things linger.  Have courage and take action.

However, at times, the path to remedy isn’t so clear cut.  You might find that you’re unsure of the best way to handle the situation or you’re worried your actions may make things worse.  Here you should gain a trusted opinion.  A different perspective can help put things in perspective.  They may have full understanding on what has taken place or offer an outsiders take on it all – either way you’ll feel more supported and have confidence in moving forward with your plan.  

Finally, not all mistakes are realised immediately.  Sometimes weeks, months or even years after an event – with the benefit of hindsight – we realise we may have acted in error.  Whilst you may feel guilt, it may not be appropriate to take action.  You have to consider that sometimes reawakening old wounds isn’t necessarily in the other person’s best interests.  If the mistake isn’t something you can act to make amends on, resolve to follow the remaining steps outlined here in order to best position yourself not to make the same error again.  

What to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life) Human hand holding adhesive note with Sorry text

– Don’t dwell on it – 

You’ve accepted you’ve made a mistake.  You’ve shown you’re someone who takes responsibility for their actions.  You’ve taken the necessary steps to rectify and if possible make amends.  Now move on!

Avoid placing yourself into victim mode.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Don’t carry the fear of making a mistake again with you, otherwise you’ll end up in a cycle of constantly attempting perfectionism.  The perfectionism cycle is damaging to your mental well-being.  

Instead forgive yourself.  Show yourself some compassion.  Imagine a friend made the same mistake as you.  What would you say to them?  Apply this kindness and understanding to yourself.  

Most likely your intentions were good even if your action was misguided.  

Need some help in showing kindness to yourself? Read: Are you kind to yourself? The importance of kindness.

– Learn from it… grow from it! – 

Mistakes are a valuable learning experience.  This is your time to take a negative situation and use it to positively impact your life moving forward.

Don’t let your pride get in the way of the personal growth opportunity you’ve been given.  Take the time to reflect on what happened.  Why did it happen?  What could you have done differently?  How will you alter your behaviour in the future?  

What to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life) Quote graphic featuring the quote "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better" Maya Angelou

The answers won’t always be obvious to us.  Sometimes more complicated and serious mistakes take us longer to learn from and alter our ways.  Additionally from time to time we actually have to make the same mistake a few times before we realise the root cause behind our behaviour.  But once you realise, you can make a positive change.  

I used to be quite materialistic – I was more about ‘things’ than feelings.  Possessions made me believe I was happy.  But, as you can appreciate this could be quite frustrating for those around me. I never intentionally wanted to make people feel bad but nevertheless it was a by-product of the behaviour.  Then I made a friend who was even more materialistic than me.  I experienced first hand what it was like to know someone who was more interested in what you have rather than what you are.  This was over a decade ago now, but it made me realise my own mistakes.  It made me question my behaviour and look for the root causes behind it.  I identified I used ‘things’ as a band-aid for my unhappiness.  I resolved to end the materialism and deal with the identified issues head on.  Yes I will always like what I like – but I will never put any material thing above the people I’m blessed to have in my life.

Knowing you can bounce back when you make a mistake will hopefully provide you with the courage to push forward in your life, fully experiencing what is on offer to you,  whilst feeling more content in the knowledge within every mistake you make lies positive opportunity.

Is trying to exert too much control the root cause of some of your mistakes? Read: Confessions of a control-freak – How to manage a fear of losing control


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I hope this has helped you with knowing what to do when you make a mistake.  We’ve all been there!  What has been your go to response up until now?  Have you also panicked and assumed the Ostrich position?  However you handle it – if you have any questions, comments or concerns – please get in touch by leaving a comment in the box below.  I’m happy to help and I always love to hear from you! 

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4 thoughts on “What to do when you make a mistake (in any area of your life) 

  1. Such great advice here. Getting pulled down by a mistake is a waste of energy better spent elsewhere isn’t it. I need to remember this! Thank you for sharing xxx

  2. Wise words Alex & wholeheartedly agree of course. I was actually having this very discussion with my 13-yo last night. He had been misbehaving at school and wouldn’t accept responsibility for his mistakes and his actions. I was trying to teach him how to own the mistake and learn from it. Here’s hoping he has a better day today!

    1. Sounds like you’ve already got it sussed as you’re already giving your son such good advice and support – I’m so pleased this has resonated. Fingers crossed for his better day today – and thanks so much for reading! x

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