How to stop obsessing over a mistake at work

Making mistakes happens to all of us in our careers. But some of us cling to these mistakes longer than others.

Maybe you lay awake at night still feeling uneasy and anxious about how you frustrated a client by accidentally giving them the wrong information. Maybe you’re avoiding your teammates because you feel like they’re all judging you for that mistake, even though it happened last week. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you might be prone to error obsessiveness.

What fuels these constant worries is the shame of feeling completely inadequate and the fear that others will discover your lack of ability, said Tanisha Ranger, a Nevada-based clinical psychologist. Once you start obsessing over mistakes because of your shame, it can turn into bigger issues like perfectionism.

“Shame often gives way to perfectionism, and perfectionism makes mistakes monumental. Essentially, ‘If I don’t do everything perfectly well, then I’m a failure and everyone will see my defectiveness,'” she said. said, “I’ve had many clients who struggled to obsess over mistakes at work. [They lay] awake at night brooding and fighting over a mistake, not an intentional or negligent mistake, but a mistake.

There’s a better way to acknowledge a mistake while letting it pass. Here’s how:

1. Put the mistake into perspective.

After you make an obvious mistake at work, you may want the floor to swallow you up to save you the embarrassment, shame, and anxiety of having to face your co-workers again.

If those worries are keeping you up at night, challenge those thoughts by becoming more realistic in your thinking, suggested Shannon Garcia, a psychotherapist at Wellness Counseling States in Illinois and Wisconsin.

“Will the world end? No,” she said. “Are you going to get fired? Highly unlikely. Will you receive constructive feedback from your boss? Perhaps. Will admitting your mistake be uncomfortable? Most likely. Have you survived past mistakes? Looks like, if you’re reading this. Will you survive this one? Yes!”

Sometimes accidental oversights hurt your job performance, but it’s important not to catastrophize what happened.

“Of course, that caused a delay. Yes, it may have cost the company money. OK, this had a negative impact on job performance. But is this really the end of your career? Really? Probably not,” Ranger said. “Scaling things down to size, not ignoring/removing and also not overdoing or exaggerating, is an important part of letting things go.”

If it helps, try putting yourself in the shoes of colleagues who have also made mistakes. Once you see the compassion and sympathy you have for their slip-ups, you may be more inclined to have compassion for yours.

“When a co-worker made a mistake in the past, was that something you judged them for tremendously? Did you spend your day endlessly thinking about their mistake? No. People at work probably react same way,” Garcia said. “Nobody thinks about it more than you do.”

2. Learn that you don’t have to fight as penance.

To overcome a mistake, you must also rethink what it means to learn from a mistake. If you feel like flipping around how an interaction with your boss might have gone better, for example, take a deep breath. Give yourself permission to release those thoughts, says organizational psychologist Laura Gallaher of consulting firm Gallaher Edge.

People ruminate because they believe there are benefits to worrying so much; they think “A conscientious person would worry about that,” Gallaher said.

“When you know you can both be a conscientious person, and also forgive yourself to move on, it will be easier to do that.”

What Garcia tells her clients the most is “be kind to yourself,” she said. Reframe your worries in a more positive light.

“The fact that you are anxious about it means you care. It’s what matters most to your boss, co-workers and clients,” Garcia said. “Try not to blame yourself for it. Create an affirmation to repeat to yourself whenever those negative self-talk thoughts come up: ‘I accept my mistake, choose to learn from it, and move on.’

If you’re stuck in the world of “could/should have” when it comes to your mistake, be honest with yourself about what you didn’t know.

Ranger says she works with some clients asking them to think about why they “should have known better.” “It’s always so tempting to impose our current knowledge and wisdom on a past version of ourselves that couldn’t have known how to make that decision with the information we had at the time,” he said. she declared.

3. Do not hide the error. Take ownership of what happened, but don’t trust the judgment of others either.

When you make a big mistake at work, you may instinctively want to shut up, suppress it, and forget it ever happened.

If you feel the need to withdraw, challenge yourself to do the opposite. Be the one talking about it in a conversation with co-workers or your boss.

“If it was something that bothered them, apologize for it,” Garcia said. “Then it’s a conversation that happens where you’re involved, people are likely to be friendly and everyone can move on.”

It may seem counter-intuitive, but being transparent about your mistake and its impact can be beneficial. “It can feel like a cold shower – before you do it, you’re scared of it and feel uncomfortable or anxious,” Gallaher explained. “When it’s time to be open, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but once it’s over, you feel more rested 99% of the time. Taking responsibility without blaming anyone is the most healing.“

Once you model being open and responsible, it can encourage others to do the same. “A lot of the time when you lead with self-responsibility, that vulnerability is courageous, and courage is contagious: people usually respond with their own self-responsibility as well,” Gallaher said.

Of course, sometimes being honest about a mistake can also inspire unabashed judgment and harsh criticism from mean-spirited colleagues. You should hold yourself accountable for your mistake, but the judgment of your peers is also not something you should assume.

“Let them know what you intend to do differently to try to prevent something like this from happening in the future and then agree whether they can move on or not. That’s out out of your control,” Ranger advised. “Assuring the emotions of others is detrimental to yourself and prevents you from treating yourself with the kindness and compassion you deserve from you.”


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