How to deal with mistakes

mistakesMistakes are unintentional, but can lead to serious consequences. Mistakes can keep us from achieving desired outcomes, small wins and big goals. Mistakes suck. They sometimes feel like colossal failures.

Mistakes will occur over and over again because they are a core part of the human experience. Because you can’t completely avoid making mistakes, you need to know how to deal with them when they do arise.

1. Know the difference between a mistake and a bad choice

Mistakes are not done on purpose. They are fueled by cognitive biases in our thought process. They usually result from things beyond your control, such as inexperience, lack of knowledge, external pressures, complex problems, and unstable conditions. A bad decision, on the other hand, is made deliberately, often with knowledge of the risks and consequences involved.

Running a stop sign when you didn’t see it, because you were zoning out, is a mistake. Running a stop sign even after you saw it, because you were in a rush, is a bad choice.

Disclosing information you didn’t realize was confidential is a mistake. Giving away private information, when you were told to keep it a secret, is a bad choice.

Incorrectly applying a client payment to the wrong client is a mistake. Embezzling money from your client is a bad choice.

When you refer to your action as a mistake, make sure you’re not just failing to take responsibility for a bad choice.

2. Own up to your mistake 

Compared to bad decisions, mistakes are easier to accept. But admitting to them still requires self-knowledge, courage, and a willingness to manage or conquer blind spots.

Through deliberate reflection, you become more aware of the tendencies, motives, biases, personal circumstances, and external factors underlying your mistakes. Are you driven by immediate rewards, instead of long-term payoffs? Do you dismiss red flags when starting a relationship? Are you a procrastinator who doesn’t thrive well under pressure? Do you need to get new prescription eyeglasses?

It’s natural to feel bummed out about a mistake. But dwelling on it doesn’t do you much good. Owning up to your mistakes means recognizing your flaws and fallibility, and stopping short of beating yourself up over them.

This skill allows you to save time and energy you would otherwise spend covering up or ignoring mistakes. When you drop the ball on a project, you need to communicate with your client, offer a sincere apology, and discuss an actionable solution to make up for the mistake.

The purpose of owning up to your mistake is not to get the people affected off your back or to reduce your sense of guilt. Rather, to really work, it needs to come from a place of sincere regret and a true desire to make progress (even it this includes making more inevitable mistakes).

3. Reframe the mistake as a learning opportunity

Mistakes give you practical experience to grow, hone a sharper and deeper perspective, and gain wisdom. Trial and error has led to human innovations and inventions such as penicillin, silly putty, chocolate-chip cookies, x-ray images, and the microwave oven.

Just like a toddler learns to walk by falling and standing again, you also have to get back up again when you take a tumble. Staying stuck when there’s a way out is not an ideal way to live.

You will not get things right every single time you take action, venture into new territory, tackle a problem, provide a service or make a product. Use the mistake to help you discover unhealthy patterns and habits and to decide what you will do differently next time. Capitalize on your mistakes to build your expertise and refine your ability to recover from setbacks.

Mistakes are a pathway to creating an enriched and meaningful life with fewer regrets. When you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing, pushing your limits, and moving out of your comfort zone. In turn, life gets stagnant and monotonous and you feel stuck and uninspired.

Cherishing your mistakes empowers you to take worthwhile risks, develop your strengths and capabilities, move through fear, and contribute to a healthier community.

4. Share your mistakes with others

Discuss the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you learned with your peers and colleagues, your organization, and your community at large. If this is too daunting for you, choose a best buddy, a thoughtful mentor or a trusted confidante to talk about your mistakes.

Sharing your mistakes encourages others to talk about theirs as well. It enables you to see you are not alone. We all make mistakes.

Sharing your mistakes creates a culture of learning and helps others avoid the same mistakes. Leaders who admit they make mistakes are more likely to earn respect, encourage trust, and build a stronger team, which contribute to better results.

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Embracing mistakes is not about taking on a cavalier attitude toward important matters, acting irresponsibly, and engaging in trial and error when there’s a more systematic method to create solutions. But some mistakes are inevitable — no matter how much proofreading, planning and preparing you do. The most you can do is deal with them so they contribute to your progress and success instead of keep you down and defeated.


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Photo by: Kristy Johnson

The True Benefits of Play (for Grown-Ups)

sand castle

Play is essential to every child’s mental stimulation, emotional development, and physical well being. But play for grown-ups is often downplayed as secondary to personal responsibilities and professional obligations. It’s a luxury you get to enjoy only after all your work is done. And sometimes your work is never done. So there’s barely any time left for play.

In our work-obsessed society, lack of play is at the heart of many health-related problems. It can leave us feeling drained, bored, stifled and anxious.

When I became a mom two years ago, my priorities shifted. I made career changes, shed energy drainers, and re-evaluated personal goals. One big change involved starting my own law firm in October 2014. Since then, I’ve had the flexibility and freedom to decide when and where I work.

With the right attitude, careful selection of clientele, and a strong support system, I’ve been able to practice law and do productivity coaching – while indulging in lots of play time with my toddler daughter.

Whether it’s digging in the sandbox, making art, kicking a ball, or going down the slides, play time for kids has positive, lasting effects. Play has significant benefits for grown-ups as well.

Play allows you to fully enjoy the moment. 

One summer afternoon, my kid and I hung out together by building a sand castle. (Well…at age two, she dug up and poured sand randomly, while I built the castle.) When we were done, I couldn’t help but admire my creation. I turned around to reach for my camera, but before I had a chance to snap a photo, she had smashed and kicked down everything flat. She giggled with glee and I spontaneously laughed along with her.

We had played together for the sheer joy and with no end goal in mind. But the adult part of me took over when I decided to try and take a photo of the sand castle for posterity’s sake.

Play is a process and an end in itself. The most joyful kind of play is about the experience; it’s not connected to a larger purpose or a desired result.

Play provides a necessary break from your daily responsibilities and ever-growing list of things to do. 

Play sparks your creativity, nurtures your imagination, and opens you up to different experiences. It adds levity to an overly serious and super busy life. When you have duties and responsibilities to meet, you still need to play. It’s an activity you get to do no matter how many things you have to do.

Because free play has no results to measure, it enables you to let go of the roles and responsibilities you take on in your job and community. During play, the demands you place on yourself are dropped, at least temporarily. Instead of fixating on being productive and practical, you can tap into your intuitive wisdom to just be you.

Play serves as a positive reinforcement for good habits. 

For children, time-outs and taking away privileges are sometimes necessary. But using positive reinforcement encourages the desired behavior to become a more established habit.

Play is one of the main ways to reward and reinforce good habits. If a child has waited patiently and played quietly while the parent makes an important telephone call, the parent can take him out to the park to encourage the same behavior next time.

Getting positive reinforcement (rewards) for practicing a good habit is usually more effective than suffering negative consequences for not practicing it. Although I don’t particularly like learning music theory, it enhances my musicality, creativity and ability to improvise when I do play the piano, which is fun. The promised reward of playing piano pieces I enjoy encourages me to learn the language of music.

Play makes a mundane task more bearable (and even fun to do). 

When my toddler became big enough to get her toys out on her own, she also had the physical capabilities to put them back. While the play part was no problem, the cleaning up part was. She would not put her stuff away until after we started attending a toddler class, where we learned to make clean-up into a game and sang a clean-up song while performing the task. Now she likes tidying up after herself and putting stuff back in their place.

Grown-ups, too, can use play to make mundane tasks more tolerable. You can have a blast doing dreaded tasks if you layer it with something you enjoy. Listen to music, make up your own songs, or dance while you vacuum. Although doing expense reports aren’t exactly fun, you can make this into a game by setting a record time to beat.

Play helps you stay sharp without the pressure of getting things right. 

My toddler loves to stack, sort and string blocks, often building very tall towers. Her creative thinking and motor skills are enhanced by this activity. But she’s not especially interested in creating a sturdy structure that won’t fall down. She loves knocking down the towers she built and starting all over again.

Play allows you to let go of story lines, judgments, criticisms and expectations concerning what you think should happen. The social connections, memory skills and other benefits you gain are just an added bonus; they are not the core reason for play. True play does not involve an emphasis on winning or pressure to perform superbly.

If you’ve forgotten how to play, here are a few ideas: 

  • Blow bubbles
  • Go on a bike ride around your neighborhood or on a scenic trail
  • Sort out and assemble a jigsaw puzzle
  • Create your own songs or play improvised music
  • Throw a frisbee in your backyard or at the park
  • Splash in a puddle
  • Build a snowman or make snow angels
  • Play fetch with your dog
  • Try some adult coloring. (Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest are among the most popular adult coloring books.)

Do what you enjoy and what energizes you. When young kids play, they don’t think about how it will make them socially astute, mentally sharp, physically adept or emotionally healthy. A toddler twirls, dances, kicks a ball, and runs for the sheer fun. It’s only until they reach around age 4 they begin to develop a competitive streak. And they become more influenced by societal pressures the older they get. Playing to win is not necessarily a bad thing. But it can make play less playful, which isn’t great.

If you’re a grown-up who has lost your playfulness, start with a fun activity that aligns with your temperament, preference and fitness level. Rediscover how to enjoy simple pleasures. Once play becomes more routine and is not just a guilty pleasure, you can then expand into new territories.

Play is not one more thing you cram into your schedule or do mainly to develop your skills. It’s a voluntary, fun and fluid activity that makes you feel alive in the moment, regardless of the practical and tangible benefits you receive in the long run.


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Photo at Pixaby

The 5 Ds of Productivity: How to Use Them to Your Advantage

When it comes to managing overwhelm and juggling multiple priorities, the 5 Ds of productivity come in handy.

The 5 Ds are: Do, Diminish, Delegate, Defer, and Delete. Your mental obstacles and bad habits can get in the way of implementing them.

Here are tips to overcome the psychological barriers and self-sabotaging behaviors that can stop you from using the 5 Ds effectively:


1. Do

Procrastination often leads to long to-do lists without the necessary follow through. Putting things off can create more overwhelm, reduce the quality of your work, cause you to miss deadlines, and damage your reputation.

In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen advises that if an action will take less than two minutes, do it as soon as it’s defined. You also first need to prioritize what’s most important to you, then break down the task or project into small, manageable steps that you can readily execute. Carve out non-negotiable time to complete each step.

In certain situations though, procrastination can work. Sometimes you do need to reflect on things, clarify your intentions, and determine your ultimate goal before you take action. Some problems take care of themselves if you stay out of them. Some circumstances improve over time and with little or no effort on your part.

Choose the right things to do. Doing the wrong things might offer temporary relief, but no long-term value. If a colleague fires off an angry email to you, the temptation might be to craft and send an immediate, defensive response. But it’s best to wait until you’re in a calmer state of mind and address it on your own terms. Or you could just ignore it.

Do the things that really matter. Embrace procrastination when it works.

2. Diminish

Being a perfectionist can cause you put in too much effort, energy and time into minor things that have minimal value. Perfectionists tend to be perpetually anxious, generally dissatisfied, and overly goal-oriented.

When a task or project must be done by you personally, focus on the most critical aspects rather than the trivial pieces. Perhaps a timely first draft is more important than a flawless but delayed final version. Strive to deliver a good, workable product instead of perfecting the parts that don’t matter. If the client wants a simple solution that takes care of the basics, there’s no need to deliver one loaded with bells and whistles.

Pinpoint what you can’t control — such as how critics feel about you — and let it go. Focus on what you can do to influence the situation, improve your circumstances, and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

At times, being a perfectionist can present advantages. Maintaining impeccable standards and high expectations, and aiming for them, can work to your benefit. Catching damaging errors and paying attention to critical details are typical strengths among perfectionists, including many lawyers, surgeons and accountants.

Diminish tasks that aren’t valuable to others or meaningful to you. Allow your perfectionist tendencies to help you hone your craft, without forcing you to lose sight of the big picture.

3. Delegate

Delegating tasks or projects to another person is hard when you’re a control freak or a micro-manager. You want things done a certain way and you’re hardly ever satisfied with the results of others’ efforts.

But in many instances, you need to delegate and hand over control to others — especially when the task doesn’t have to be done by you and can be done better by others. L. David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders, describes levels of leadership in which you move from telling people what to do to not telling people what to do. The levels he sets forth are as follows:

Level 1: “Tell me what to do..:”

Level 2: “I think…”

Level 3: “I recommend…”

Level 4: “Request permission to…”

Level 5: “I intend to…”

Level 6: “I just did…”

Level 7: “I’ve been doing…”

When you encourage others to take responsibility, you free up your time to focus on strategic matters and critical tasks that are better handled by you. You also reduce overwhelm due to taking on too much, as well as boost your productivity in areas that truly count.

Normally, however, you cannot delegate until you have defined what tasks need to be accomplished or what problem has to be solved. Setting healthy boundaries and reasonable limits also doesn’t mean you’re a control freak or a micro-manager.

Delegate responsibility to others who can do the thing just as well, if not better than you. Channel your desire for control into communicating assertively when lines are crossed.

4. Defer

Overachievers have trouble deferring goals and dreams for later, even when they are at peak capacity. They load up on stimulants, work around the clock, and attempt to multitask to get the maximum amount of things done in limited time. But going into overdrive – with no breaks for refueling and recharging – adds wear and tear. Running out of steam compromises your ability to accomplish your highest priorities.

If something is important to you, and you just don’t have time for it now, deferring it is a viable option. Set a reminder for when you will start to take action on the deferred item. Keep a journal for all your creative ideas that require fleshing out. Create a bucket list or someday list for things that call for more planning, but can wait.

Realize that setting goals and having the desire to achieve them can move you out of temporary dips. Knowing your ideal direction allows for strategic thinking, deliberate choosing and achieving your top priorities.  But you can still lead a purposeful life, even if you experience disappointment from not achieving a goal, big or small.

Defer pursuits that you still consider worthwhile, but must give way to more important matters and true emergencies. Use your ambition to get you to the next level without running yourself to the ground.

5. Delete

When you’re a people-pleaser, it can be very uncomfortable to say no. You say yes to projects that are boring or stressful to you because you want to help someone out of a jam. You agree to commitments that aren’t in line with your priorities because you want to be of service.

Your time, energy and attention span are limited. Say no to requests gently, directly and compassionately, while nixing the guilt.  Consider moving goals off your someday list if they have lost their luster and reflect an old version of you.

The habit of striving to make others happy, to the detriment of your well being, can be transformed into a more positive quality. There is a big difference between a kind person who genuinely cares about others and a people-pleaser who depends on others for validation.

Decline unsuitable job offers, re-negotiate commitments that don’t match your values, and delete icky tasks you don’t have to do. If you want to serve your community well, hit the delete button to clear out unnecessary clutter and create desired space for what really moves you. Give yourself room to breathe.


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Photo by: Phil Dolby