How to reprogram yourself to recover from your mistakes (infographic)

Mistakes got so much bigger since the arrival of the internet. Today, each of us has the potential to have a mistake noticed, laughed at, and ridiculed by the entire world in just a few clicks. What tremendous power!

But mistakes can be more than just embarrassing. A mistake can keep you up night after night with worry. Distract you from driving. Increase the likelihood of you turning to drink for escape, or of develop an eating disorder. When you get obsessed with a mistake that you made, the damage from the worry can get far worse than the damage from the original mistake.

There’s also a positive side to mistakes, though.

Mistakes help us learn and grow. In fact, the reason we get so obsessed with them is that we have evolved a mental mechanism to make us reflect on things that have gone wrong. Your mind is programmed to think about your experiences when it has nothing else to do. And it is wired to concentrate on the bad stuff more than the good stuff. That’s fine when it works well – it’s what helps us to be strong, to survive. When it gets out of hand, keeps you up all night, or drives you to drink, you’ve got a brand new problem.

But just like study is a skill, learning from your mistakes is a process that benefits from dedication and application. Here are some ideas for ways to break out of that cycle of obsession with the mistakes you’ve made, so you can learn from them and move on to better things.

Distract yourself

Perhaps the most obvious solution to being obsessed with a mistake you’ve made is to distract yourself. Of course, the lengths you need to go to for that to work will depend on how obsessed you are. For example, reading a book is rarely a good way to distract yourself from your thoughts, because it leaves you alone with your inner voice. Soon your mind wanders and you’re not reading the book; you’re berating yourself for the mistake.

Instead, try to make it social. Meeting with a friend or relative forces you to engage with the external world. Even if you end up talking about your problem, this would-be distraction is probably more useful than obsessing mentally. Ranting about your mistake (if your listener is willing) can provide healthy catharsis. And just spending that time socially will make you feel better.

If you can’t bring yourself to socialize, a change of scene can do the trick. A walk in the woods, a trip to a café. Try to do something that will keep your mind busy or at least engage your body.


Your mind and body are connected in complex ways we will perhaps not ever fully understand. But we can at least observe some effects. For example, breathing well, exercising, or at least adopting a relaxed or confident posture can help you feel calmer and more confident.

If you don’t have space to move, try a breathing exercise. If you do have some space, try some stretches. If you can get out and about, take that walk we talked about. Or combine it all by finding a friend for a game of tennis or even ping-pong.

At least it will be a distraction. But at best, it will improve your inner chemistry and give you mental distance from your problem so that you can return to it with positivity and good intentions.

Thinking through your mistake

The problem with obsessing over mistakes is that we tend to go around and around them. Like a vicious circle, there’s no way out because your thoughts lead inexorably back to each other.

In order to drown out that voice, you need a more purposeful inner voice to speak up and pull you through the incident. And this second voice should be a lot kinder and more practical than the first voice!

Berating yourself internally does no good. Of course, you need to analyze your mistakes and to be aware in the first place when you’re wrong. But rather than label yourself as a failure or born loser, remember to think through your mistakes in terms of what you will learn from them and the opportunity to do things differently next time.

Concentrate on angling your own feelings. Reframing that feeling of failure as a feeling of opportunity makes you feel better, and has actually been shown to make you more likely to improve. Think through your mistake in concrete terms of what to do next time, or to fix things after this time. Make an achievable step-by-step plan that outlines the way forward so that you stop dwelling on what is behind you.

And listen to other people’s criticism, but don’t let it become the be-all-and-end-all. Again, there’s only so much criticism that is helpful before it just becomes somebody else bullying or venting at you. And try not to worry about them talking behind your back, either: remember, 60% of the time people just talk about themselves.

Next time around

So you’re not going to make that mistake again. Brilliant! But you will of course make plenty of other mistakes – well, let’s call them opportunities to learn.

To err is human as they say. So in order to make sure you don’t fall into the same pit of despair next time you slip up, learn to identify your triggers: are there certain times of day when you tend to over-think things? Can you fill these moments with something else in advance?

The good people over at NetCredit have created a helpful new visual guide to help you avoid getting fixated on your mistakes. Instead of wasting time and energy going over the same thing again and again, learn these simple rules and you can soon get out of the habit of obsessing on those moments when things go wrong. Just think of the power you’ll wield if you can truly transform every mistake into a masterclass for not making a mistake like that again!

How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Mistakes - infographic

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