Do you wince when you think of your worst mistakes? I can recall them as if I had made them yesterday. Why are our mistakes so hard-wired in our memories? Hundreds of thousands of years ago, when the human species evolved on the plains of Eastern Africa, mistakes were often fatal!

I've made a mistake!

How to Best Recover from Your Mistakes, Even Bad Ones!

Do you wince when you think of your worst mistakes? Some of mine reeked of stupidity, others were embarrassing, and some cringe worthy to the extreme. I can recall them as if I had made them yesterday. Why are our mistakes so hardwired in our memories, and how do we best recover from them?

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, when the human species evolved on the plains of Eastern Africa, mistakes were often fatal! Those who learned from their mistakes, and did not repeat them, survived to pass on their genes. We evolved by learning from our mistakes.

In Habits of a Happy Brain (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2016), Dr Loretta Breuning writes that negative emotions hard wire our brains quickly, strongly, and enduringly. Because our mistakes are so associated with negative emotions such as pain, anxiety, fear, or loss, memories of mistakes are keepers, ready for instant recall.

In modern society, we are less likely to die from our mistakes, but they can often limit success, stopping us from living life to the full. Our memories of them haunt our present and stalk our future. Subsequent anxiety and fear can paralyze important actions not associated with the errors of our past. In business, paralysis can be fatal!

How do we best deal with our mistakes?

David Rock in Quiet Leadership (New York: HarperCollins, 2006) informs us it is possible, but difficult to undo hard wiring, so how do we undo hard wiring? We best deal with our mistakes in three ways. First, learn the lessons from them. Second, do not dwell on them. Let them be. Third, focus on positive outcomes you can draw from your mistakes. Move forward!

By applying these three simple principles, the wiring within brain cell networks responsible for the memories of your mistakes becomes less connected or controlling. The memories become benign, no longer impeding us, but ready in the recesses of our minds to prevent future errors.

Here are some more lessons I have learned about making mistakes during thirty-three years in business:

When you make a mistake, own it. In the workplace, put your hand up. Do not blame your mistakes on someone or something else. Take full responsibility.

Take action by fixing your mistakes immediately, not tomorrow or the day after. Delay only makes your errors bigger in your mind as you sweat on them.

Everyone makes mistakes. Cut others some slack if they fess up. Show leadership and emotional intelligence. Help clean up the mess. However, be less tolerant of those repeating the same error repeatedly.


If you would like to deal with your negative emotions more effectively—even those caused by your worst mistakes—get my Book or better still, discover Get Wired for Success, my on-line course. In the course, discover Unit 4—How to Master Your Thoughts and Emotions. Get Wired for Success is a life-changing experience guaranteed!

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