Learning from mistakes

How a mindful approach to mistakes can take away feelings of guilt and anger and actually help you learn from them.

So, I am not a super-human meditator who lives her life without stress – stress happens to me everyday as I work part-time as a communications consultant and am also a mum to a dynamic 7-year old. Meditation helps me switch my approach to how that stress does, or does not, define me. I wrote this blog piece a little while ago but deliberately didn’t publish it at the time so anyone who knows me wouldn’t jump to conclusions about the mistake in this story – this is how you can switch your views towards both stress and your ‘mistakes’.

Today I made a mistake at work – one that potentially could damage a situation with an important contact. It certainly damaged my credibility with the team, as they were annoyed that I got something ‘so simple’ wrong.

I feel a flood of emotions:

  • anger at myself for rushing to do this job – yes I was trying to help out, but no – I did not allow enough time to avoid a silly mistake
  • self-blame and guilt at myself – for not pausing and thinking
  • blaming others – if we weren’t under such pressure as a team right now, would I have made this mistake?
  • critical analysis of the situation – what could I have done to avoid this? Where did I go wrong?

What should I do next time?
Now, I reflect back and realise this silly mistake happened from a position of fear and stress. By being worried about lack of time to get everything completed, worried about missing a deadline, worried about being ‘good enough’, wanting to prove I can be helpful and supportive – I rushed and messed up – so in fact was the opposite of the helpful person I was trying to be.

Before I learn from this, I feel guilt, blame, self-deprecation and I start to spiral on a downward cycle of sadness, guilt, upset and self-blame.  I start feeling ‘what a bad day’. I start letting this singular event define my day, define my mood and if I don’t stop it will define if I sleep tonight and how I step forward from this mistake tomorrow.

I have to stop – as I am doing the school run today – but all these thoughts and feelings bubble in me on the walk in the sunshine (do I even notice the lovely day?). In a conversation with a friend I think I just ranted about my work.  Holding my child’s hand – do I give him any attention? I vent to my boyfriend (pretty inconsiderate as he’s unwell and in bed feeling sorry for himself) and then finally, several hours later, I pause.

I remember my mindfulness meditation training and daily practice and now I truly stop and pause.

I pay attention to how I am breathing and take just a few moments to notice all these negative and unhelpful emotions bubbling in me. Then I consciously try to breathe out each negative emotion, one at a time, feeling the shift, feeling the anger and guilt start to shift.

I become more rational, more focused, more able to look at the situation objectively. I realise it is only from this place of calm can I learn from my mistakes. If I carry on from a place of stress – I am likely to do the same again – make silly mistakes, or not be able to see another way to approach a particular challenge.

I invite you to try to notice when you are on this ‘stress’ autopilot in the day and how long it is before you pause. The quicker you build in the pause – the faster the stress will pass and the faster you can deal with a particular situation – or perhaps avoid making a mistake in the first place.

In my mindful pause, what I notice most is how at first I feel such a heavy burden of failure. After meditation, I am thinking more clearly and feel much less a failure – now I am just a person who made a mistake.

Yes, I made a mistake – but not everything about my day was a mistake – meditating helps me treasure all the moments of joy that I missed earlier and all the great things I completed at work. It makes me want to act on the mistakes I made.   Make time to make a cuppa for my boyfriend, read a story to our son, call my friend to apologise for ‘ranting’. Appreciate all the wonderful things that happened today. Appreciate that mistakes happen and there will be consequences, so I need to be in a calm, focused state – not a stressed one to be able to deal with work tomorrow – to present a way to move forward and some other positive steps that can turn things around for the team I am working with.

So with that I am off to meditate again!


Judy Claughton
Meditation Coach & Communications Consultant
Balance Time