At the end of a mentally and emotionally draining day, I did it. I made a mistake. I sent a message to a client before verifying all the details of their situation, and half the content ended up not applying to them at all. I was dumbstruck, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.
While this may sound like such a small and innocuous incident to the logical and objective reader, at that moment, no part of me could connect with that side of myself. I was pure exhaustion, pure emotion, and unbearably uncomfortable because of it. If I could have balled up that feeling and launched it to the moon, I would have. Instead, I received the gift of having to sit with myself and look into the depth behind this tiny, fleeting moment of a mistake. What I learned was hard to look at and also changed how I face mistakes forever.
I learned that I hold myself to unsustainable standards. I hold myself to showing up as a master, as a perfect knower and worker in every moment, living behind all that is the fear of being found out as a fraud, as a failure. With that crazy matchstick box of expectations, no wonder this tiny moment sent me into a spiral. Why couldn’t I have just checked that message one more time? Can you relate?
As I sat with the discomfort, something interesting happened. The world didn’t come crashing down around me. No emails streamed in, letting me know I was going to be kicked off the planet. All my biggest fears didn’t come true. The gift of this experience, which honestly has been a lifetime of experiences, is that making a mistake, that being uncomfortable and having regret, isn’t the messenger of impending doom. Being uncomfortable was the vehicle to get my attention. Regret was a gift letting me know that something in my life —something in me — was no longer feeding my well-being. From this experience, I began a four-step practice to guide myself through every unbearably, uncomfortable mistake.
SEE ALSO: 10 Tools For Managing The Ego
Step 1 – Stop. Become still. Breathe
So often, when something unexpected happens, especially something unpleasant, we feel the impulse to move faster. Autopilot kicks in, and we want to do something, anything, to get out of that moment. The best responses are intentional ones. Pausing to find our breath is one of the best ways to make space for our intentions to come back to us.
Give it a try! The Box Breath (4-4-4-4) is one of my favorites because it helps regulate my physical response while also occupying my mind.
- Breathe in for a count of 4
- Hold for a count of 4
- Breathe out for a count of 4
- Hold for a count of 4
Try to complete at least 5 to 10 breath cycles before checking in to see how you feel. You can increase or decrease the count so that it doesn’t feel like a strain or too quick, so long as the counts remain equal.
Step 2 – See through the eyes of a friend
This one feels especially satisfying because we get to step outside ourselves, outside our discomfort, for a moment (which can also help the discomfort dissipate sooner). Role-play that you are your best, kindest, most understanding friend. One who would never judge you and with whom you feel able to speak entirely freely. From that space, ask yourself the following questions:
- What actually happened?
- What truth am I forcing on myself because of what happened?
- What feeling or fear lives behind that truth?
- What needs live behind that feeling or fear?
- What big or small thing can I do to help meet that need?
Being a great friend to yourself, seek out or do whatever answer came to you at the end of these questions. Self-compassion is the best antidote to the fears that haunt us.
Step 3 – Move yourself
If any residual feelings of discomfort, fear, or regret remain, get up and move your body. Take a walk, clean a room, stretch, or do a few rounds of a yoga flow. Any form of movement that feels good and creates space in your body will work. Emotions create an energetic imprint on our bodies, and intentional action helps clear the energy out.
Step 4 – Find the deeper meaning
Once you feel settled inside yourself again, pause, and take a moment to invite the deeper meaning of your experience.
- What golden nugget can you carry forward with you?
- What has the experience allowed you to see that you weren’t able to see before?
- What part of this do you want to embrace going forward? What do you want to release?
- What is one thing you can do to solidify the version of yourself you want to live going forward? When will you do it?
Ultimately, our mistakes and the regret they inspire are opportunities to bring our attention to something we are unaware of, have developed a tolerance for, or that our wisest self wants us to change going forward. Every moment, every experience, provides you with an opportunity to choose who you want to be. Who will you decide to become?