How to Get a Grip When You Screw Up

by Jennifer Miller on February 14, 2013

in Personal Effectiveness

Nesting dolls

Are you putting your mistake in too large a container?

When you screw up at work, how do you handle it?

Of course, it depends on the size of the screw up, right? Sent out a wrong meeting date to a few colleagues? No biggie. Send an apology email with the new date. Those are fairly easy to keep in perspective.

But what if you aren’t in a “no biggie” frame of mind? What if you’re thinking that maybe, it is a biggie? How can you gain the right perspective on a screw-up so you know how to proceed?

The key to gaining perspective to is accurately judge the magnitude of the infraction.

Here’s the thing – if you’re a conscientious professional, my guess is you are probably exaggerating the gravity of the error.  So to you to it looks like . . .

 Screw Up Huge



And to others, it looks like . . .

 Screw Up Small


Here’s an interesting mental exercise to help you gain perspective. I read about this in Health magazine’s How to Talk Positive to Yourself.  Psychologist Tamar Chansky, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety –suggests that you imagine your worry – let’s say you lost your cool in a meeting. You might be thinking, “Geez, I’m such a loser – I just totally set back my career 5 years”. Now, shrink that worry so it’s not such a big deal any more – “I could have handled that with more diplomacy.” Now visualize putting your concern in the smallest container possible.

When you look at your problem from this vantage point, you can “see” it for what it is – not an enormous obstacle from which you’ll never recover, but rather a small set back that you can handle. And using the mental image of a shrinking container can help you visualize a manageable solution.


The next time you’re tempted to beat yourself up – ask yourself: how big a deal is this really? Then move towards fixing whatever you messed up and move on.



Image credit: kanvag / 123RF Stock Photo

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