Mistakes are inevitable. We all make them. What separates one human from another isn’t their immunity from mistakes but how they handle them.
Tom Toole shared a story of a recent and relatable mistake of his own—accidentally locking himself out of his car, with his laptop inside, which delayed his usual five-minute motivational video to his team.
That led to an insightful description of a post-mistake recovery plan with five essential steps.
Here’s the breakdown.
#1—Don’t dwell on it too long
The first is to allow yourself to feel awful—but not for too long. Scott Kompa calls it the five-second funeral.
After several minutes of dwelling on the mistake and feeling that he’d let his team down, Tom realized what he was doing. He started to consciously deal with his mistake so he could let go and move on.
You can allow yourself to feel what you feel. Just don’t get stuck there. That’s just step one, and it should quickly give way to the next.
#2—Keep it in perspective
Your mistake is probably a bigger deal to you than to other people. Tom realized that, as bummed as he was by his mistake, it hadn’t put anyone’s life, career or relationship at risk, nor had it ruined anything.
The stakes were pretty low. He’s not an airline pilot or a surgeon. And putting his mistake in perspective—as a small part of the bigger picture—helped him move on to the next step.
Think of a mistake you’ve made as an agent that, when you put it in perspective, looked much smaller (even if it still bothered you).
#3—Think of the worst-case scenario
The next step is looking at the worst thing that could have happened with your mistake. For Tom, the worst case was the video not going out (until the morning) and people on his team thinking he didn’t follow through on his promises.
That motivated him to move on to step four. If you’re not careful, though, and if you don’t keep your mistake and its consequences in perspective, you might just get stuck at this stage, dwelling on those worst-case scenarios and dragging yourself and your mindset further down.
Step four offers a healthier alternative.
#4—Apologize and take ownership
The key to apologizing is not to overdo it. Often, one sentence is enough to get the point across so you can move on to the next important thing. Don’t let your apology get mired in excuses or justifications.
And avoid verbally abusing yourself. It doesn’t add anything of value to your apology, and it carries an implied obligation on your listener to salvage your ego by arguing with you.
Simply apologize, take ownership, and move on.
#5—Create a game plan for the next time
The next and final step is to create a game plan that will help you avoid repeating the same mistake.
Part of that game plan is not waiting until the last minute to do something that needs doing. Another is to fight the temptation to multitask because most of us aren’t as good at it as we think we are. Multi-tasking spreads your attention too thin, which ultimately works against you.
A key part of this step is taking better care of yourself. Many mistakes happen due to sleep deprivation, dehydration, poor nutrition, neglect of exercise, and burnout.
All of these affect how your mind works. Poor health habits impair your attention, concentration, reasoning and problem-solving. Accidents become more frequent and more costly.
The next key element of this step is to earn back trust through action—not just talking the talk. Follow through and do what you say you’re going to do. Learn from your mistakes, then implement what you’ve learned.
Do all that, and little mistakes along the way will be quickly forgiven and forgotten. And you’ll bounce back quicker each time.