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!

Behaviourmistakes 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.




  1. Release frustration after a mistake either by standing still for a moment or by taking a big belly breath – defuses tension and annoyance
  2. For instance in some situations you can imitate or imagine the activity that should have been carried out. This helps to correct the mistake and override the memory of it for later on.
  3. Acknowledge the mistake, turn your back on it to symbolize putting it in the past, and then turn around to face up to the current situation.

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:


  1. What exactly happened when I made the error?
  2. When did my mistake happen?
  3. What was the result of my mistake?
  4. How did I react to the mistake?
  5. What physical, technical, tactical or psychological skills should I review?


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:




  1. Stop taking failure so personally.
  2. Try to put your disappointments in perspective.
  3. Stop torturing yourself about what might have been.
  4. Stop focusing on the mistake you made.
  5. Try to learn from the way in which others, particularly successful people, handle setbacks.
  6. Ask yourself what advice you’d give someone else who made a similar mistake
  7. Ask yourself what aspects of the mistake are due to factors that can change in the future
  8. Try to identify at least one good thing that happened as a result of your mistake.


As Wayne Dwyer once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

 Dr. Patsy Tremayne