How to Recover from Mistakes

How to Recover from Mistakes

After you learn and practice this recovery strategy, you will be able to rebound from mistakes so quickly and effectively that you may stop being afraid of making them.

Guest blog written for

Although I’m an eternal optimist, I know that mistakes are an inevitable part of most human endeavors. This is especially true with complex or sophisticated tasks that need to be performed under pressure, with serious consequences for failure. However, I have realized that in sports, business, and the performing arts, it’s not whether or not you make a mistake, but how quickly recover you can recover and get back on track.

In my experience with Olympic and professional athletes, Wall Street traders, and Juilliard students, I have observed that they often tended to respond to costly mistakes in similar ways. Unfortunately, these reactions can often delay the recovery from the error, or even worse, set up another mistake. In some cases, this can lead to a train wreck. What is needed to preclude that is an effective strategy for getting back on track without delay or further damage.

After you learn and practice this recovery strategy, you will be able to rebound from mistakes so quickly and effectively that you may stop being afraid of making them. Once you stop fearing them, knowing that you can bounce back immediately from them, you will tend to make fewer of them. After that, any mistake will be an isolated event that rarely occurs, followed immediately by competent performance.

Here is the strategy that I have found to be effective with my clients to help them recover faster from mistakes:

(1) Accept the Mistake

Yes, you screwed up. Get over it – immediately. Let it go. There is no sense in denying what really happened. Resist the temptation to analyze the error or figure out how to correct it. This is not the time. You have better things to do.

(2) Take a Few Breaths

Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply into your lower abdomen, in through your nose and out through your mouth.

(3 ) Relax Your Muscles

Mistakes frequently cause people to cringe, making their muscles tighten. Drop the tension in your forehead, jaw, neck, and upper body.

(4) Get Back into the Present

Bring your mind back into the here and now, not the past mistake. Focus on what you need to do right now, to be performing competently in this moment.

(5) Perform at a Reasonable Level

Do not attempt to compensate for the mistake by attempting to give the best performance of your life. This is not the time for a peak performance. You will just compound the error. Get the train back on the tracks before trying anything risky.

The faster you can learn to accept a mistake, breathe, relax your muscles, and bring your focus into the present, the sooner you’ll be able to have an occasional mistake be an isolated event that is immediately followed by competent performance. As long as you live in this world, and attempt challenging tasks under pressure that have serious consequences, you will have the opportunity to get better at this strategy.

So, the next time you attempt something challenging and slip up or make an error, use it as an opportunity to get better at the recover strategy.

Use More of Your Brain Everyday

Use More of Your Brain Everyday

Using a few tricks to organize that brain processing power, you will become more efficient at work and at home.

Guest blog written for

Have you ever heard the old saying that we only use 10% of our brains? The good news is that brain scans now prove this myth wrong. The brain is firing and active all the time, no matter what you are doing! However, what you may be blown away to learn is that by using a few tricks to organize that brain processing power, you will become more efficient and productive at work and at home.

Your brain is divided into two hemispheres, known as the left and right brain. Each hemisphere has specific functions and limitations. The left brain thinks in words and numbers. It is good at analyzing, calculating, reasoning, and logic. These functions take extra attention and effort. The right brain perceives through sounds, images, and physical sensations. This side of the brain is good at art, music, and creativity. These functions also take focused attention, but they can be accomplished with less effort or cognitive strain than the left-brain expends.

Both the left and right hemispheres are involved in most, if not all, work situations. Think through your own job. What are some daily tasks you have to complete? If you were to break those tasks down, each step would be accomplished more efficiently by either the left or right hemisphere. For example, decisions involving numbers, like proposed budgets, would be best to start in the left brain with the appropriate calculations and analyses. Then, you would check in with your right-brain to see how the numbers fit within the big picture before confirming your final decision as rational and logical.

Another example would be tackling complex projects. Begin in your right-brain by freely imagining all the possibilities without any restrictions. Once you have explored the possibilities, use your left-brain to laboriously construct the steps and ensure that they are fiscally feasible and reasonable. Finally, check back in with your right brain to decide the one(s) that resonate as correct with your gut or intuitive senses.

Using different functions of the mind in the proper sequence has proven highly effective in the business world by Daniel Kahneman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Princeton University. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, he presents his groundbreaking research on the subject. Dr. Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in Economics for his pioneering work on financial forecasting, new corporate strategies, and a revolutionary model of two systems in the mind involved in critical decision making.

So how do you implement the order of left vs. right brain processing at work? The first thing is figure out the requirements and nature of the task. Will it need more analyses, effort, and number crunching or more creative thinking? Determine the appropriate sequences involved in thinking effectively about the task and reaching correct conclusions.

It is also important to also consider at what times of day you have high and low energy. It is best to schedule most or all left brain activities during the time you have the highest energy. Right brain usage would then come before or after those activities or at times of the day when you have less energy. By coordinating the sequences of a project with your energy levels, productivity and efficiently will increase dramatically.

The next time you need to speak in a meeting or give a presentation at work, try this before-hand:

  1. Start in your left brain by writing down the three most important topics that you will address in your talk. Also write out your opening two to three lines that you will say. 
  2. Use your right brain to visualize yourself on stage or in front of the group, feeling very confident and hearing your opening lines just the way you would like them to sound. 
  3. Move back to the left brain to write down all the important facts and figures that will support your 3 main points.
  4. Then rehearse your entire presentation in your right brain several times with all the facts and figures until it all sounds, looks, and feels right in your mind.

Now go plan out your next project and get to work!

Performing in Flow

Performing in Flow

Flow is the mental state of a highly motivated individual when fully engaged in a chosen activity. The person is immersed in a feeling of energized focus and a sense of total involvement. Flow is completely focused attention; it is a single–minded absorption into an event. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but they are positively energized and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is feelings of spontaneity, freedom, and joy while performing a challenging activity at the peak of one’s talents and

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (Me-High Chick-Sent-Me-High) wrote Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance. He grew up during World War II in what is now Croatia where hewitnessed tragic and horrible conditions. Dr. C, as I refer to him, was fascinated by watching the adults who “kept their heads” and rose above their dismal circumstances to stay clearly focused on what they wanted to accomplish. He eventually wrote a dissertation on creativity and became a professor at the University of Chicago.

Dr. C interviewed more than 8,000 individuals about their richest life experiences. He focused on people who described being engaged in enjoyable yet highly challenging activities. Dr. C spoke with visual artists, composers, competitive athletes, dancers, musicians, chess players, rock climbers, and many others about what they experienced when they were totally involved in their chosen pursuits and performing at their peak level of functioning.

In the interviews, people described their peak experiences feeling like water in a stream flowing smoothly. His own description of flow was “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Flow can be thought of as a state where focused attention, strong motivation, and a challenging situation intersect, resulting in a productive harmony of peak functioning.

Dr. C found that individuals with an “autotelic” personality trait were better equipped to enter into flow states and remain there longer. These traits include curiosity, persistence, and a preference for highly challenging activities that demand undivided attention. These endeavors cause individuals to transcend normal states of consciousness and ordinary levels of functioning. A person like this enjoys what they do to the max, especially when they’re in flow. The autotelic personality has five main characteristics, which he called the “five C’s”. They are: clear goal, continuing feedback, choice, commitment, and challenge.

Each interviewee started out with one clear goal that had many checkpoints along the way. For example, a chess player needs to know if every move is getting them closer to winning or losing. A musician may opt to play with a beautiful sound or execute a musical phrase exactly as they want. Continuing feedback is essential to keeping focused on the task at hand and remaining in flow. Choice indicates that you have chosen a task that you not only want to do, but you love to do. The fourth characteristic is the ability to fully commit: to give everything that you have to reach your best. An autotelic person will pursue increasingly greater challenges after achieving a peak experience, constantly seeking higher motivation.

Photo Credit: JESHOOTS

When people are engaged in challenging activities that require a high degree of concentration, they’re able to get beyond life’s daily frustrations, worries, and doubts. If they’re performing music, they can’t be worrying about their unpaid bills, or they’ll miss a note. If they’re rock climbing, and think about some problems at work, they’ll fall. They can’t afford to let their minds wander. When a highly challenging situation demands our total attention, less critical concerns quickly disappear. In the flow state, the attention that is usually split is merged into a single, highly concentrated laser beam of focused awareness. People who are in flow are much more efficient in their actions.

In flow, there is a merging of effortless action and awareness. People become completely absorbed in the challenging activity and what they’re doing in the here and now. The focus of their awareness is narrowed down to the task at hand and nothing else. Finally, there is a necessary surrendering or “letting go” to the experience, enjoying the bliss to the max for as long as possible. There is a lack of self-consciousness, namely a dropping of the ego. After flow experiences, people feel good about themselves and grateful for what they experienced after releasing their self-consciousness.

There is a critical balance between the level of difficulty and the participant’s ability to meet that challenge. When activities are too easy, not requiring full involvement or attention, people get bored and are easily distracted. If the activities are beyond people’s skill level, they get intimidated, anxious, defensive, frustrated, and often give up, or simply don’t enjoy the experience. In the flow state, you are always playing on an edge. It is an edge where control is possible, but not always guaranteed. You can fall off that edge if you lose your focus or if you don’t use your skills to their full potential. That’s what makes flow exciting and demanding.

Reaching flow state is the most desirable accomplishment in any endeavor. The accompanying joy and feeling of satisfaction can propel you to keep at a difficult task. I think everyone is capable of reaching that flow state if they remain focused and emotionally positive when performing. Sometimes the most secure performance comes from taking the greatest risks.