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The 5 Steps to Take When You Make a Mistake

Learn and grow from your missteps with these simple strategies.

Image Source/Getty Images
Image Source/Getty Images

“I need to take a personal day today for my mental health,” I wrote to my boss at 7 AM.

It was the truth. I was working myself to the bone and wasn’t taking care of myself personally, either. I was 23 and didn’t know any better.

“That’s not really how it works, Chris,” she responded a few minutes later. “But I’ll let it slide this one time. Just clear any personal days or PTO with me in advance moving forward.”

“I’m really sorry for the last-minute notice, and I appreciate the flexibility,” I wrote. “It won’t happen again.”

And it never did.

[Editor’s note: There is nothing wrong with taking a mental health day for self-care and self-love. I just simply didn’t follow protocol for doing so.]

Truth is, I’m not one to make the same mistake twice. I do the best I can to learn from my shortcomings and wrongdoings and show up better and wiser with each new day. And that means I’m always successful.

When you’re focused only on how you can grow, you can never fail, you can only evolve into a truer version of yourself.

How about that for redemption? 

Follow these five steps to mature from every mistake you’ve ever made. No matter the size of the misstep, you can always right your wrongs if you promise to develop from the negatives. Like a picture coming to life, each mistake helps you expose more of who you really are. Each moment helps you bring your own self-portrait to light. Each learning lesson helps you step more fully into your destiny.

That’s how it really works.

1. Admit you were wrong.

Sorry to break it to you, but you can’t grow from how you’ve behaved if you don’t recognize that your behavior was disrespectful, inappropriate or just plain wrong. The first step in your course correction must be to own up to what you’ve done or your role in how things transpired. This process needs to unfold from the inside out because only you can recognize and replace the behavior in question. Only you can take ownership of how you’ve acted.

So, think long and hard about your missteps along the way. When have you been out of line in your relationships? When have you acted out or mistreated others? What have you done that negatively impacted someone else? Make a list. Get it all out there. Confess to yourself.

Use the following prompts to guide you:

  • I really shouldn’t have _______.
  • I didn’t feel like myself when I _______.
  • I feel bad that I _______.
  • It was a mistake to _______.
  • I wish I could go back and change _______.

To grow, you must first admit your shortcomings. Then, use those as checkpoints on your roadmap forward. That’s how you turn things around. That’s how you get back on track. That’s the first step to redemption.

2. Apologize.

Once you’ve sorted things out internally and liberated the truth, it’s time to shift that vulnerability outward. It’s time to say sorry.

But how exactly do you do it? Follow these six steps:

  1. Actually say the words “I’m really sorry” and/or “I sincerely apologize”.
  2. Acknowledge the act in question.
  3. Let the other person know that you recognize that what you did was wrong.
  4. Ask for their forgiveness.
  5. Let them know you intend to never do it again.
  6. Follow through on that promise.

Here’s a written-through example:

I’m really sorry that I broke your sunglasses when I borrowed them the other day, Jess. I should have taken better care of them and it’s totally my fault. Is there any way you can forgive me? Please let me know how I can have them repaired or how much they cost so I can send you the money or buy you a new pair. Again, I sincerely apologize and I promise it won’t happen again.

Doesn’t it feel good to just get it out there?

3. Forgive yourself.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of kindness available to you because it cleanses your spirit so you can find your way forward. But, if you’re like me, you may struggle to give yourself this very same gift; you may struggle to send this kindness back inward.

But you can learn.

Try this visualization on for size.

  • Close your eyes and take several deep breaths in and out.
  • When you reach a state of calm, picture a simple white room with just two chairs seated across from one another within it.
  • Sit down in one of the chairs and then call forth someone you love in your mind. Have them sit across from you.
  • Think about how much you care for this person and all of the great things about them.
  • When you’re focused on that feeling of warmth, mentally swap perspectives with that person. Imagine that you’re seeing yourself through their eyes. Imagine that they’re feeling that very same compassion and kindness towards you.
  • Allow yourself to sit with that warmth for yourself until you truly feel it.

The purpose here is to give yourself the same benefit of the doubt as you would someone whom you love—to truly see yourself with the same grace you so freely give to others. Because you deserve it, too.

4. Learn your lesson.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that anything you’ve ever been through is there to teach you something. Your mistakes are some of the greatest teachers you have in the School of Life. But only if you pay close attention.

So, do your homework. What wisdom are you meant to soak up? Look for the lessons laid out for you and get to studyin’.

Your personal and professional development depends on it. 

5. Don’t make the same mistake again.

A true sign of growth is when you recognize that you’re about to slip-up and fall into your old ways and you stop yourself from doing it anyway. The real signal of self-improvement is this widening gap between your awareness and choice where you consciously make an effort to live out of your light.

Ultimately, this is about values and ideals. This is about consistency. This is about integrity.

The only way you can evolve into a higher version of yourself is if you make an effort not to make the same mistake more than once. Because then you’ll have backed up your apology and your learning with awareness; you’ll have backed up your words with action.

And that’s what really matters in life.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in the past? Have you followed this five-step process before without even realizing it? Share your story in the comments—or Tweet me at @crackliffe.

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