So you’ve just made a mistake! What does that do to your body and mind? It can change your thinking, can affect your emotions, and can then influence your behavior.
Thinking – mistakes can make you think differently – if you make a bad mistake early on, you may think that it’s not your day, and begin to imagine other mistakes occurring later. This kind of negative thinking is very common in sport. But it’s not only sport – it can happen in any environment. For instance, I work a lot with doctors, and if they make an error while being questioned by a senior consultant on clinical rounds, the first inkling might be a little voice in the head that says, “How humiliating, I feel like such a dumb idiot in front of these other doctors”. Once they start to feel this way, then it starts to be a habit. Successful people break those habits and develop mistake-management skills that enable them to ignore such negative self-talk and to focus clearly on what to do next to achieve their task. They focus on the elements of success.
Emotions – mistakes can affect you emotionally – dent your confidence, make you feel frustrated, fearful, and angry. Anger is an interesting emotion, and some people use it to great effect – remember tennis player John McEnroe, in his heyday, smashing racquets and arguing with the umpires? However, although anger can have certain temporary physical benefits (for instance, it may energize you), over time in tends to impair performance rather than enhance it. This is particularly so in skills that require precise eye-hand coordination, fine perceptual judgment and delicate motor movements. Doctors take note!
Behaviour – mistakes can influence behaviour during pressure situations, such as an interview, an exam, or a competition. For example, in sport, a football player who makes a silly mistake may subsequently hide, avoiding passes, or shirking defensive or attacking responsibilities. To try and correct this problem one common approach is to try and wipe clean the mistake by taking a decisive action shortly afterwards. This may be over-compensation and may lead to bigger problems as more risks are taken.
To learn from setbacks we need to remind ourselves of the four components of performance – physical, technical, tactical, and psychological. In particular, I find that poor communication or lack of engagement with the task, are common errors. For instance, doctors answering questions about clinical scenarios in their exams do not always take ownership, i.e. they do not respond as though the patient was their own patient in real life. Asking incisive questions when you reflect on your performance is probably the best way to begin to analyze your errors and mistakes:
My favourite saying is to tell clients that if they become distracted, lose concentration and make a mistake, they haven’t lost their knowledge and skills. All they have lost is their focus. So it is important to reframe any setbacks and mistakes. After all, you can’t control events, but how you react to them is entirely controllable by you. So, to conclude, here are some tips for reframing those setbacks:
As Wayne Dwyer once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”