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Best Way to Bounce Back From a Mistake

So you messed up. Psychologists have worked out a game plan for exactly what you should do next.
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No matter how clever, competent, or well prepared you are for the challenges of starting and running a business, you're going to screw up from time to time.

That's not only simple human nature but also a testament to how challenging entrepreneurship truly is. So how do you bounce back mentally after these setbacks?

This is a question on which psychologists have plenty to say. Their advice may surprise the more hard charging and highly strung among us but would hardly shock your kindergarten teacher. What's the best course of action following a screwup? Forget beating yourself up, and instead be nice--to yourself.

When it comes to learning from mistakes, you might think that holding yourself to a high standard and being uncompromising in your self-criticism is the best, if not most immediately pleasant, course of action, but that's not what a recent PsyBlog post on the subject recommends. Instead, try "self-compassion."

Researchers, the post reports, have compared whether distracting yourself from your screwup, actively trying to boost your self-esteem by remembering past successes, or viewing the mistake with compassion and without judgment helped people dust themselves off and get back on their feet the quickest. According to the post, the study found self-compassion worked best, helping participants to: 

  • See the possibilities for change
  • Increase the motivation to change
  • Take steps toward making a change
  • Compare themselves with those doing better, to help motivate their change

You might think you're being soft on yourself by forgiving yourself your sins and slipups, but in fact, this approach, the science suggests, is more likely than beating yourself up to help you actually change and improve for next time.

PsyBlog may recommend self-compassion as a general-purpose response to self-inflicted setbacks, but it's not the only blog suggesting it's both kind and smart to be softer on ourselves. Psychologists have also prescribed "self-forgiveness" as a cure for procrastination, according to a British Psychological Society Research Digest post on a study looking into how students can best bounce back after they have slacked off on studying:

Students who'd forgiven themselves for their initial bout of procrastination subsequently showed less negative affect in the intermediate period between exams and were less likely to procrastinate before the second round of exams. Crucially, self-forgiveness wasn't related to performance in the first set of exams but it did predict better performance in the second set.

The study's conclusion for students--"forgive yourself for you have procrastinated, move on, get over it and you'll be more likely to get going without delay next time around"--is probably equally applicable to entrepreneurs.

Are you guilty of beating yourself up for your slipups in a counterproductive way? 

 

IMAGE: Flickr Creative Commons
Last updated: Sep 13, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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