How Acknowledging Your Mistakes Improves Your Life

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Written By Brie

Acknowledging your mistakes is often a scary and nerve wracking thought.  And you might be thinking “OMG, if I have to do that I’m going to have a panick attack”.

I hear ya, I totally get it.  But stick with me for a minute here.

Not that long ago I made a big mistake at work, we are talking seriously screwed up!  Vice Presidents, the CFO & the CEO were brought in type screw up.  And yes I just admitted to that on the web where anyone can read it.

When this mistake was brought to my attention owning up to it was NOT my first reaction. I immediately thought of what likely caused the mishap and how it was someone else’s mistake.

This is a “normal” ego based response called self-justification.  It happens, our egos are built to protect our sense of self, and when people point out our mistakes we get 2 choices.

  1. Acknowledge the mistake, and revise our definition of who we are (ie sense of self)
  2. Protect your definition of yourself.  Blame someone else, pass the buck, evade or cover-up the mistake.

Most people pick #2 as a matter of course, and it largely has to do with our ego’s self-defense mechanism.

What happens when we Acknowledge our mistakes?

You probably already know that there are some benefits to admitting your mistakes.  But did you realize how it affects those around you?  Or your perception of yourself?

It allows you to learn from the mistake.  Thus allowing you to make better choices in the future.  Mistakes are often our greatest teachers pushing us out of our comfort zone and into a new level of awareness in an effort to NOT make the same mistake again.

One of the most frustrating aspects of human nature is the one of self-justification.  When we start to justify our actions leading up to the mistake we end up blinded by areas in our life we could grow.  Eventually the domino effect that this creates will set you farther and farther off track from what you want out of life.

Keeps small problems from getting huge, and big problems from getting bigger.  If you step up and admit a mistake as soon as it happens it usually is easier or at least simpler to take steps to correct it.  That mistake I admitted to above? Yeah, if I had run 1 report the morning after the whole issue could have been resolved with a few simple (though not easy) steps on Wednesday.  However as I didn’t run the report we found out on Thursday, at which point we needed to do a LOT more manual work to get the situation resolved.

Others will respect you more.  Fessing up, apologizing and taking steps to correct the issue tends to engender respect from others.  While we (myself included) like to assume that people will think less of us if we admit to making errors more often than not it has the opposite effect.  There may still be consequences, but people will see the honesty.  However if they use your admission to belittle you, it’s likely you don’t really want to be around them anyway.

It Strengthens your relationships. When we acknowledge our mistakes the people around us have less “automatic assumptions” that they make about the situation.  For instance if I forgot someone’s birthday I might explain it to myself as “I was sooooo busy lately it just slipped my mind.”  However my girlfriend will be more inclined to explain it to herself as “She forgot cause she just doesn’t care.”

My explanation includes the external situation, her’s blames my character.  If I step up and tell her, “I’m sorry, I should have remembered your birthday even in this busy time.”  She has an explanation from me, and a bit of reason.  Just don’t over do it on the reason here k? That’s not acknowledging that’s passing the buck. The point is to show empathy and with the person and genuine sorrow (people can spot a fake a mile away, don’t try it).

You’ll make better choices.  Not only do we learn from mistakes but we also grow as people.  We define more of who we aren’t and move forward, our choices will change as we grow to ensure we don’t make that same mistake again.  (You can bet your but I ensure that report is run the morning after EVERY. . . .  SINGLE . . . . . TIME I have to do that task now.)

Taking responsibility for our Mistakes

The biggest thing here is that we can’t take responsibility for something we don’t acknowledge.  If we don’t see where we are making mistakes we can’t fix the issue.  And mostly that mistakes help us learn new more effective behaviors.  This affects those around us, and how we live our own lives.  Stepping up in this way helps us take back control over our lives instead of letting everything “happen to us”.  When we feel in control of our lives we tend to be more confident, more likely to pursue learning opportunities, step up into leadership roles, have more discipline, and are better able to deal with stress & challenges in general.

HOW to take Greater Ownership of your Mistakes

The biggest thing to note in taking ownership of your mistakes is that this requires great humility.  Often times people who admit their mistakes are also doing it in a way that comes across a tad narcissistic, that’s not ownership, that’s ego boosting.  Confidence is a good thing, but it needs to be linked to an honest self-assesment.  I could go around saying I’m awesome at surfing which would show a lot of confidence.  But I’ve never set foot on a surf board, nor swam in the ocean (and frankly the amount of sea life that could possibly touch my skin and freak me out causes me too much anxiety to try to remedy this) so I have no clue if I could be good at it or not.  I’ve never tried.

Stop justifying the little mistakes.  If you start justifying the little ones you’ll need to keep justifying them as they get bigger or repeat themselves.  It takes less brain power to remember the truth then a lie, and it’s also easier to have integrity.

Listen to any dissonance (niggling or otherwise).  Only a sociopath don’t feel some sense of cognitive dissonance when they make a mistake (some call this your conscience).  For most of us it is a quick event and just as quickly put away with justifications on why they’re not at fault. Really this is the self-defense mechanism of our ego talking when we put that feeling aside.   To take better responsibility listen to the dissonance and find out what those justifications are so you can root out the issue.

Have peeps to keep you accountable.  If you want to shirk responsibility by all means surround yourself with “yes” people who never contradict your justifications.  If you want Ownership & control then find those who will challenge you.  I know this is not easy, I’ve done it with Mr. B. and it can be painful when you are challenged.  Do it anyway, and work through it.

Don’t play the “if only” game.  If you catch yourself playing this game, STOP.  Essentially you are passing the buck here.  The only variable you have control over is YOU, if you let others dictate or “make” you have to… well you get it, you’ve just handed over the power in your life to that other “if only” person.

Increase your problem solving skills.  We tend to act in ways that support our desired outcomes in any situation.  Which means we blame others and play the victim when we don’t belive that we can solve a problem ourselves.  So the more problem solving skills you have, the less likely you are to blame someone else.

Put yourself in other people’s shoes.  Empathy is an important life skill for many reasons, one of which is that it helps us look at things from someone else’s view-point.  For instance, my husband and I have rather animated discussions some times.  And can occasionally talk about a relationship “points system”, for us it is an internal joke that neither of us take offense to because we understand where it is coming from.  However to some people in my family we sound like we are having a major fight and are about to break up and that we have a “scoring system” on who is winning in our relationship … mostly because that is what they witnessed when they were younger.  By putting ourselves in their shoes my husband and I are better able to control our “high energy” debates and engage in them only when we are home together.

Get over the concept that mistakes = being stupid.  Seriously people, if we are not making mistakes we are not challenging ourselves enough in this life.  For people who equate mistakes with being stupid they are basically putting excessive amounts of pressure on themselves to be perfect at all times.  That alone is enough stress to cause you a whole host of problems.  It’s not worth it, GET OVER IT.

Success does not mean you never failed, it just means you tried 1 time more than you failed.

Would you tell a baby that it failed because it fell over trying to walk?  Yeah, didn’t think so, you would encourage it to keep going yes?  The short-term fall did not make the kid dumb, nor indicate some inherent stupidity right?

So why would you falling over in your journey to walking mean you are dumb or stupid?

The dark side of acknowledging mistakes.

So I know this person who is constantly owning up to mistakes, they apologize and show guilt and often do so multiple times a day.

The “dark side” of this whole concept is that it can swing too far & cause a person to take on more responsibility for others choices then they need to.

In this persons case I’ve heard them apologize to their kids (repeatedly) for how bad the kids childhood was. Now I’m sure there were challenges as this kid grew up. Based on what this parent said though it sounds like this kid can never expect to be good enough because the parent screwed up so badly that the kid is now forever damaged.

I’m sure the kid really didn’t appreciate being told by their own parent that their life is worthless because it didn’t have some “picture perfect” situation like the parent wishes they could have done.

The other thing I’ve seen through the eyes of an abuse victim, is that I used to acknowledge other people’s mistakes as mine to avoid that persons anger. When we take responsibility for other people’s actions (which we can’t control) we also give our power over our own choices away.

And thirdly, admitting mistakes as a way of becoming the victim. This usually seems to be something that happens in our heads and then spills out in some sob story about it being so far out of our control that we had no choice. But the big thing isn’t that they are genuinely acknowledging the mistake, it’s that they are playing at being the weakling, and it has more to do with ego and protecting the role they have assigned themselves to. Be careful dealing with people like this, they will usually surround you with drama.

The point

The big point I want to make here is that acknowledging our mistakes is the first step in healing the problem caused by the mistake. It opens us up to be more honest, and closer with the people around us. And it’s an invitation to take back control of your own life. Not to mention an opportunity to define yourself better along with your core values and how you want to proceed in life.