None of us sets out to fail when we start projects, create programs and engage in human relationships, but we all do mess up from time to time. That’s why learning how to create a non-anxious disaster is a valuable skill.
Making mistakes is a natural part of being human. It is an essential component of the creative process. However, when we fail, our responses and reactions can escalate a situation and make it much worse, or they can calm a situation and limit the damage.
Imagine you are trying out a new way of preaching or public speaking, for example dispensing with notes, but suddenly you draw a complete blank. It’s embarrassing. You see many anticipatory and quizzical eyes on you. Panic sets in.
Now what? You can stand stock still with a panicked look on your face, then search through the nearest book for something to say. Or you can pull yourself together and calm your thoughts enough to continue the presentation, saying something valuable even if you can’t recover your original ideas.
Or imagine you are conversing with a group of people. A thought slips through your lips and a split second later you realize you shouldn’t have said that. Again you have choices. One person might apologize dramatically, repeating the offending statement multiple times in the process. Another will regain his or her composure, admit the mistake, apologize gently to whoever was offended and move on.
We can’t take back our mistakes, but we can learn to keep ourselves calm and contain the damage. Here’s how:
- Turn your eyes inward, not outward. Practice mindfulness by observing yourself without judgement. Notice what is happening inside you. Notice how your body reacts. Tell yourself, this is how I’m feeling, this is what is happening to me physically.
- Do not focus on how others are reacting. You will naturally notice how others are responding, but instead pay more attention to your own responses. You can control your reactions, but not the responses of others. If you focus on what you perceive as critical responses by others you will increase the likelihood that these negative reactions will grow.
- Do what it takes in the moment to calm yourself. Take deep breaths. Talk yourself through the situation with a positive pep talk. Pray. Crack a joke.
- Accept your limitations. Let go of your self-judgementin the moment. You will have plenty of time later when you aren’t dealing with the immediate situation to reflect, critique and learn. That can be valuable in its own time and place, but it will not help you recover composure in the moment.
- Look at the moment from a larger perspective. Remember, this is a small slice of time which will soon be over. Do what you need to do to stay focused and centered in the moment. Review your mistakes later, either in private or with a trusted confidant. If you handled the latest “disaster” with a low amount of anxiety give yourself credit. If not, identify what you might try next time. Then let the situation go.
Learning to respond less anxiously to our own mistakes and failings can make us much more effective leaders and more compassionate human beings.