Mistakes. We’ve all certainly made a few in our time, and the idea of committing them is never a pleasant concept. The point is that we often screw up — sometimes badly. Maybe you said the wrong thing in the heat of the moment, or did something you never would have if not for your emotional state. We’ve all been there, and it’s agonizing. The key, really, is figuring out what to do after the deed.
It’s not the end of the world if you’ve behaved badly, but you will you be treated and judged by how you handle the aftermath. If you’ve messed up at work or dropped a bit of a misfire in the home realm, then check out this quick-fire guide to five of the best things to do when you’ve screwed up.
1. Apologize immediately.
Saying “sorry” really is the best policy when it comes to committing a screw-up of any magnitude. Staying indifferent is insulting and implies that you don’t even care, which comes across as deeply rude. Therefore, you should apologize immediately to the parties concerned.
You might have to eat a bit of humble pie at one point or another, but that’s the price that comes with being less than perfect. Choosing to select the more honorable route and apologize for your mistakes might be more awkward than burying your head in the sand and walking away, but it will also earn you respect, friends, forgiveness, and self-esteem. So when you’ve screwed up, apologize sincerely, and get right back to work.
2. Get some perspective and a reality check.
One of the most important things to do when you’ve screwed up is to take a step back and gain some perspective and/or a reality check on the situation. Hopefully, the situation you’ve just instigated isn’t too serious (i.e. something that will result in a stint in criminal court or your family never speaking to you again), and if so, it helps to try to logically and objectively evaluate what you’ve done.
If your screw-up is fixable, that’s something to be grateful for. And while it might have an effect on the people you care about or work with or spend time with, you can probably resolve this problem. Chances are you haven’t killed anyone, ruined anyone’s life, or caused anyone major distress. As the great philosopher Cicero said, “Dum spiro spero” which means, “While I breathe, I hope.”
3. Make sure it doesn’t happen again by crafting a plan.
It’s okay to make mistakes; everyone screws up once in a while (yes, even that picture-perfect, sweet-as-pie girl in the office or that immaculately put-together guy down the street). The point is that screwing up is inevitable, but it’s what we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again that really matters in the long term. Basically? Make a plan.
Decide exactly what you did wrong, and really think about what you can do in the future to help prevent that from happening again. Learn something, remember something, put something into place — make a concerted effort. After you’ve sorted your plan out, go to the person who you offended or affected with your screw-up, tell them what you’re going to do to prevent it from ever happening again, and then let the chips fall where they may. It’s human to make mistakes, but what makes you a great person is how you recover from them and ensure that you never hurt the same person like that again.
4. Take a break.
One of the best things to do is to get yourself out of the environment in which the mistake occurred, to stop your mind from dwelling on the situation. Staying in that immediate environment and muling over the mistake you made is only going to cause you to lose your focus, drop your ability to work and live in that situation, and end up in a shame spiral.
Go and take a breather; get yourself out of that office, or home, or wherever, and take a walk somewhere. Get yourself out of that negative headspace that will continue to haunt your mind and affect your ability to be a normal, functioning human being. Take a solid 15 minutes to gather your energy and strengths, and make your plan.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Finally, practice a bit of self-compassion following a moment of guilt and sadness over a mistake. In a world where we’re expected to be flawless human beings with physical perfection and ideal lives, the idea of screwing up seems almost horrific. It isn’t. You’re human. It’s okay to mess up.
Don’t go beating yourself up, and and don’t dwell on your mistake to the point of it having a detrimental effect on your mental health or your ability to be yourself around friends, coworkers, and loved ones. They’re human too, and the vast majority of people will readily help you recover and allow you to sincerely apologize. Take a deep breath, try to calm yourself down, and remember that it isn’t the end of the world. You can always start again, and when your head hits the pillow, just remember Scarlett O’Hara’s classic, life-affirming adage, “After all… tomorrow’s another day!”