When mistakes happen, letting go will help you get ahead
Monday, July 06, 2015
When mistakes happen at work, do you tend to dwell on them and worry about what your boss and co-workers may think? If so, you may not only be causing yourself a lot of stress, but you may also be holding yourself back.
Several recent studies show fixating on mistakes can negatively affect your performance and your ability to interact effectively with others. By learning to let go, you can minimize the consequences of your mistakes and improve your standing in the company.
Acknowledging a mistake is the first step toward correcting the problem. You need to understand what went wrong and how you can prevent making the same mistake from happening again. Overthinking or fretting about the problem, however, is counterproductive.
A new study conducted by researchers from Florida State University and the University of Arkansas found that employees who have a hard time letting go of their mistakes were more likely to experience job stress, sleep disruption, depression and strained working relationships — all of which impeded their performance.
These employees also tended to worry about whether others in the organization might think less of them because they made a mistake, filling their thoughts with "negative information," which just increased their anxiety.
While some anxiety is a good thing — you don't want to be nonchalant about your duties and responsibilities — too much anxiety can lead to poor performance and deteriorating health, according to Maryam Kouchaki, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. Her research shows that because anxiety causes people to focus inward, they are less willing to share information, collaborate, or be proactive — behaviors she refers to as "good citizenship."
They may even resort to unethical behaviors, such as lying, cheating or stealing, to try to compensate for their negative feelings. This can create a corrosive atmosphere for the employee and those around them.
The first step to a more positive, productive attitude is to realize that everyone makes mistakes. Dr. Patrick Cohn, who specializes in mental training for athletes, noticed that some athletes will "check out" after making a mistake, trying to distance themselves from the error because they have come to believe they should never make a mistake. This only leads to a lack of concentration and more mistakes.
"When this spiral begins," Cohn says, the athlete "might become frustrated, get angry, lose confidence and/or give up altogether."
Cohn found athletes perform better all around when they learn to accept their mistakes and be realistic about their expectations. They then can refocus and get back in the game mentally.
You will feel better and be more productive if you develop a more "forward-thinking" outlook. When a mistake occurs, take some time to reflect and write down what happened. What was the mistake? What could have prevented the mistake?
What was going on when the mistake happened? Were you trying to do too many things at once? Were you distracted by a colleague, phone call or email? Were you feeling pressured to meet a deadline? Did you not have enough information? What will it take to correct the mistake, if you have not already done so?
The answers to these questions will help you avoid repeating the mistake again and give you confidence that you are a good performer. Then put the mistake behind you, toss your notes in the trash, and focus on the next task at hand.
Bear in mind that people will remember what you accomplish, not the occasional blooper. Let go, move on and direct your energy toward what you do well.
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