EVERYBODY MAKES MISTAKES. And mistakes
can be distressing, producing stress hormones. What can you do
about the mistakes you will inevitably make? You might want to
avoid taking blame because guilt is upsetting. Or maybe you could
think positively about it: "It's not really a mistake, it's
an opportunity." But I've found that the least upsetting
thing to do is to ask myself three questions: What did I do right?
What mistakes did I make? What do I want to do differently next
The emphasis on next time allows you to
directly confront the fact that you screwed up without a lot
of extra bad feelings. The worst feeling you get is a kind of
grim determination, which isn't very stress-producing.
Darlene just had an argument with her boyfriend
on the phone. She was very angry at the time, but now that she's
off the phone, she's starting to regret some of the things she
said. Applying this principle, she asks herself the three questions
one at a time.
"What did I do right?"
She thinks about it for a minute and comes
up with several things. For example, when he told her she was
being selfish, even though she was angry and wanted to defend
herself, she knew deep down he had a point, so she said, "Yeah,
I guess you're right about that." She knew that was the
right thing to say. It was good.
Okay, so now she was feeling pretty good
about doing some things right. So she turned to the next question.
"What mistakes did I make?"
"I shouldn't have raised my voice,"
she thought. "I didn't listen to him very well either."
These were easier to face after giving herself credit for doing
some things right.
Then the last question: "What will
I do differently in the future?" Here she thinks about the
moments of decision in the conversation. She now has the time
to look at her options. She decides on a few things she would
like to do differently next time. She imagines herself doing
those to see how they might go. Following this method, she has
less bad feeling and more improvement over time than she would
with any other method.
One possible alternative to doing this
is to blame other people or the circumstances. It is their fault.
The only problem with this approach is it produces anxiety. Why?
Because, if it's their fault, you aren't causing it, which means
there is probably nothing you can do to make it better. So you're
stuck feeling worried that it will happen again.
When you see your circumstances as controllable
that is, that you have some control over how things go,
you have some power to influence it the less you will
worry or obsess about those circumstances. But you become more
vulnerable to negative rumination when you feel you don't have
much control over how things turn out.
Here is what you need to remember: You
have a lot of control over whether or not you feel you have control.
When you squarely look at the part you
played in making things go the way they went, you realize you
have some control over how things go in the future. This is a
relaxing realization. You are not the victim. You have some say
over what will happen. A sense of control is more relaxing than
the uncertainty of what "life will bring" you. Find
out what mistakes you made. Figure out what you'll do differently
in the future to make sure it turns out better.
crane's big mistake
Joseph Crane was called to John Patterson's
office. Patterson was the owner of National Cash Register (NCR).
Cash registers were new on the market at that time, and believe
it or not, they weren't going over very well. Patterson had looked
through his salesmen's files to discover who was selling the
most registers. It was Crane.
Patterson wanted to know, of course, how
Crane had been was selling so well when the rest of the salespeople
weren't selling squat. Crane explained that some time earlier,
after a sales presentation to three potential customers, all
three said no. Thinking about it afterwards, he realized that
he'd forgotten to mention some important selling points.
Instead of moping, he decided to take advantage
of this mistake. He decided he'd never make that mistake again,
so he wrote a sales talk that included every single important
point, and memorized it. And at every presentation, he recited
his sales talk word for word, thus never again failing to mention
an important point.
Patterson was impressed by Crane's story
and asked him to give his memorized sales talk to a secretary,
who wrote it all down. Then Patterson gave it to all his salesmen
and made them memorize it. Patterson made it official
company policy that any salesperson who was asked to repeat it
and couldn't do it off the top of his head was fired on the spot!
NCR's sales started increasing and continued for years.
The start of this climb was a mistake:
Crane failed to sell three potential customers because he left
out important information. We can all look back now and see what
wonderful benefits came out of that mistake, not only for Crane,
but for the whole company. It's easy to look back and
see it. The test is: Can you look forward and see it?
Can you look ahead from a state of disappointment and imagine
how you could correct your mistakes and what might be the result?
It would have been foolish for Crane to
think, "Three clients gone. What a failure I am." Yet
that would be a fairly normal, natural response. An unusual response
a response that sets you above normal, a response
that will change your attitude and your circumstances for the
better is to commit yourself to responding constructively
to mistakes. Commit yourself to using your mistakes rather than
simply regretting them.
Every cloud doesn't necessarily have a
silver lining unless you are determined to see that it
does. And then every cloud has a silver lining. What you see
depends on how you look.
When you feel badly about something you've
done, face it squarely. Admit your mistakes. But skip the self-punishment
and think through exactly what you want to do differently next
time, if there is a next time. This is a sane, calm, productive
way to improve your conduct.
Ask yourself what you did right,
and what you'd do differently in the future.