We’re all human, and a big part of that means making mistakes. Sometimes, the mistakes might be relatively minor but still impactful, like a mistake at work. In other cases, the mistakes can be much bigger. For example, the life-changing consequences of impaired driving come to mind, or perhaps the effects of having an affair. No matter the specifics of the mistake you make and how terrible you might feel, the only option you have is to move forward. It can be easier said than done, but there are specific steps and strategies to put in place that will help you bounce back from a mistake in a healthy and productive way. 

Don’t Turn to Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

First and foremost, no matter the scale of your mistake, don’t rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms to get you through your initial pain and guilt. These might be the very actions that got you into the situation in the first place. For example, if you get a DUI, certainly don’t think that reaching for alcohol is going to help you feel better. Unhealthy coping mechanisms are a crutch with no value, and they can make you feel mentally and physically worse. For example, alcohol is a depressant. At the moment, you may feel better, but eventually along with clouding your judgment and masking your true feelings, alcohol is going to make you feel more depressed and possibly more anxious. These are the last things you want as you try to bounce back from a mistake. The best thing you can do right away is set boundaries for yourself to prevent spiraling into something even worse.

Allow Yourself to Feel Bad

If you make a small mistake, you might be able to get over it in just a few minutes. If you make a life-altering mistake, it’s obviously going to take longer. You should allow yourself that time to process what’s happened and how it can potentially affect you. You shouldn’t, however, let this go on for too long. If you feel bad for too long, you can start to get stuck in your emotions. That means that the emotions will keep building on top of one another. When you feel yourself starting to have that sense of emotional building, try to find a release at the moment, like running, writing, or talking to someone you trust. You may need some time to regroup. That could mean taking a few days off of work or spending a bit of time alone. Again, don’t let this go too far though. 

Accept It

There are a few things to know as you’re working toward acceptance of your mistake. The first is that you are more than your mistake, and it doesn’t define you. You do, however, need to own it. The sooner you can own your mistake and take the blame, the faster you can move forward and get into a healthy place. 

Delve Into Why You Made the Mistake

If we’re truly going to learn and grow from a mistake, then we have to understand why we did what we did. Until you can truly understand that, there’s a much higher risk that you’ll repeat the same behaviors. If you can identify why you made a big mistake, then you can start to recognize possible triggers that led you to that point, and you can start to figure out what you need to avoid in the future. You may discover along the way, as you’re considering the whys that underly your mistake, that you might need to make some pretty big changes. For example, if you got a DUI, what you might ultimately come to realize is that you need help with your alcohol use. If you cheated on a spouse, you might realize that there are certain relationship and intimacy patterns in your life you need to work through, potentially with the help of a therapist. As you reflect, concentrate on what you can do differently in the future, specifically. 

Create a Plan

When you’re dealing with a mistake in your life, whether it’s within your personal life, your career, or it’s a legal issue, try to create a plan to tackle the ramifications in a clear-headed way. Depending on the situation, as part of your plan, you may need to hire an attorney so you can learn more about what you’re facing legally and how to handle it. If you can create a plan and then tackle it step-by-step, it will help you not just deal with the specifics surrounding your mistake but also help you feel more confident as you gradually make progress. If you got a DUI, just as an example, you might start by talking to an attorney. From there, your plan could include going to counseling or perhaps seeking treatment for your drinking. 

Lean On Your Support System

You may feel too ashamed to talk to the people who care about you when it comes to making a mistake, but pushing others away is one of the worst things you can do for yourself. Not talking about how you’re feeling can start to make you ruminate more on your mistake.Lean on your support system. Talking it out with them can help you better accept your mistake because you’re admitting it out loud to someone besides yourself. You can also gain a sense of perspective. Often when we get stuck in our own heads, we amplify things even more than what they already are. When you talk to someone you trust, they can bring you back to reality and help you understand that there are many people who have made the same mistake as you, and they’ve found a way to go on. If you don’t have someone you can talk to, definitely consider a counselor or therapist. Some people find a neutral third party is actually better for them because they feel they can talk more honestly and openly. 

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash




Writer, editor, and founder of FEELguide. I have written over 5,000 articles covering many topics including: travel, design, movies, music, politics, psychology, neuroscience, business, religion and spirituality, philosophy, pop culture, the universe, and so much more. I also work as an illustrator and set designer in the movie industry, and you can see all of my drawings at http://www.unifiedfeel.com.

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