Stop Obsessing Over Your Mistakes

WE all make mistakes – that is called being human.

But, overthinking and obsessing about past mistakes is not helpful, and this can lead to anxiety, stress and reduced performance at work.

How many times have you made a presentation or produced a report only to keep thinking about it afterwards, wishing you had done something differently?

It is usually too late to change anything by then – so such rumination ends up being completely counterproductive.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, leadership expert Alice Boyes has some helpful guidelines to stop us obsessing over our mistakes:

1. Identify your triggers

We all have areas that attract obsession and rumination. Called triggers, these can range from working with people you don’t trust, to money issues, career advancement, or being around people who are brighter or smarter than you. Other areas can include obsessing over your fashion sense or mistakes made at work. In psychology circles this is known as ‘the spotlight effect’: or the phenomenon that many of us are firmly secured at the centre of our own world, with little regard for others 

2. Psychologically ‘distance yourself’ 

Putting some ‘psychological distance’ between you and what you are ruminating about can really help. For example, you may be continually worried about small things that have no real effect on outcomes: such as stressing about what someone thinks of you who has no impact on your career, or small amounts of money. One good way to put psychological distance between you and these concerns is to simply recognise them as ‘thoughts and feelings’, and label them as such when they do come to mind

3. Know the difference between obsession and problem-solving

Some people may find themselves stuck when working on a project or assignment due to fussing over small details or minor technicalities. Such ‘perfectionism’ is really just ‘avoidance coping.’ Indeed, it is amazing the lengths people will go to in order to put off something they don’t really want to do. When this happens, try to recognise it and take steps to deal with it, rather than procrastinating

4. When ruminating, try to distract yourself

When obsessing or overthinking something, (and this includes your mistakes), take some time out to distract yourself from the problem. Physical activity, such as jogging or walking, can be very helpful for calming the mind, as is meditation or yoga. It can really help to refocus the mind and reduce rumination and procrastination.

Part of the problem with obsessing over our mistakes or past occurrences is that as human beings, we are anchored in the world by our own experiences.

Many people have trouble distancing themselves from those experiences and therefore, cannot accurately assess just how much others are paying attention to them.

In reality, of course – and if the ‘spotlight effect’ is correct – everyone else is so obsessed about themselves and their own concerns that they rarely notice, or care very much about, what other people are doing or look like.

And when you look at it like that – it makes many of your obsessions and worries seem quite insignificant.

Indeed, so many of the things you worry about become much less significant when you take this viewpoint.

And if you remember this tip, you will soon realise most people are not as fixated on you and what you do, as you might think.

12 responses to “Stop Obsessing Over Your Mistakes”

    • Doing this too much is known as “ruminating.” It is a form of negative meditation that can block you from advancing in your goals. This is because by remembering events in the past you evoke the same negative emotions in the present. You can come to punish yourself for that gap that exists between the ideal and reality. You blame yourself for not being more organized, ambitious, smart, disciplined, etc.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. A deep article. I have a question in relation to p.3. Probably much behavior is not only procrastination but could be also a sign to stop doing this thing at all? How you could recommend to differenciate those things ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • When anxiety is free-floating, and in situations where we don’t realize we’re re-experiencing something from the past, anxiety can act as a magnet. Attaching itself to current life issues and thoughts, a snowball effect can occur, setting up an environment ripe for rumination. Here, the left brain perceives anxiety and creates confabulated explanations to explain it, based on the available evidence. This happens via the left (language) hemisphere of the brain, whose job it is to interpret our perceptions and visceral experience and find patterns that fit into a cohesive story.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: