Life, quite unfortunately, isn’t perfect. Things don’t always happen the way we want them to, and sometimes mistakes are made. Big or small, mistakes can negatively impact us and/or those around us. As irksome as they can be, mistakes are simply events, incidents in our lives, but they don’t need to become our lives, taking over our well-being. How we react to mistakes affects our mental health.
Recently, a very big mistake was brought to my attention. After reading Twenty-Four Shadows, a reader contacted me to inform me that there was a mistake at the end of the book. The About the Author page was inserted a few pages before the end of the story, thus disrupting the flow of the ending. Shocked, I investigated further. The entire interior contained errors because the publisher accidentally used the proof copy rather than the final version. Therefore, all of the copies purchased between May 1 and approximately June 24 were the wrong version.
I also learned recently that my new business cards have my e-mail address listed incorrectly. I swear I looked at it carefully when I was reviewing the order, but apparently I didn’t look carefully enough. This makes two big mistakes that could negatively affect me.
When facing mistakes, ours or someone else’s, we have the choice to react in different ways.
- Focus on the mistakes When dealing with problems, it’s easy to focus almost exclusively on what’s wrong. While we do need to pay attention to mistakes so we can correct them, focusing too much on them actually prevents us from addressing and fixing them. When we fixate on mistakes, we don’t have room for solution-focused thoughts, and as a result, we remain stuck and frustrated.
- Focus on the consequences (or imagined consequences) When something goes wrong, it’s normal for humans to look ahead and foresee all that could continue to go wrong. A degree of this is good; it’s part of planing and repairing damages. If we don’t know what problems the mistake could cause, we’re not motivated to do something about it. However, this can easily spiral out of control, harming our mental health. The act of imagining everything that could go wrong and blowing it out of proportion is known as catastrophizing. Catastrophizing can increase anxiety and stress and prevent us from taking effective action. If I imagined that “everyone” would think I was unprofessional and incompetent because of the error in the books and thus never want to read anything I write again, my anxiety would surely skyrocket, and I would find it difficult to step back and problem-solve.
- Become angry and blame No one loves a mistake. Mistakes interrupt our ability to live in a perfect world. Mistakes do have consequences. Readers don’t appreciate buying a final version of a novel that is actually the proof copy. People trying to contact me via e-mail aren’t able to reach me. That could be a problem. Sometimes mistakes are big, and they can’t be lightly laughed off. However, if we allow ourselves to get angry, and more importantly, stay angry, we remain stuck. And stressed. And maybe anxious. Definitely miserable. Not only is our mental and emotional health impacted, anger doesn’t move us forward. Anger keeps us keyed up, spinning, and less able to take effective action. Also, anger decreases our ability to connect with others to move forward.
- See it as a single event in the grand scheme of your life, and keep going forward. This is known as perspective. Yes, my publisher (Apprentice House, whom I am very pleased with and look forward to working with again) made a big mistake. But mistakes happen. This mistake doesn’t affect all of the writing and speaking and connecting I’ve done up to this point. It doesn’t take away the good things. It might have been off-putting to a few people, but I can’t control the reactions of others. Others might be understanding. Some won’t care, while others might want a different copy. Some people might have attempted to reach me via the incorrect address on my card. I might have lost some potentially good connections, and that’s too bad. But others have used the contact form on my website (that’s how I was alerted to the mistake). No matter what, I know at least three things:
- The mistakes have already happened. They’re in the past, and there’s no going back.
- I can choose my reaction going forward, which will determine my actions.
- Choosing a healthy perspective will keep me in a mentally healthy state, and I will be equipped to handle the mistakes.
Of course no one likes mistakes. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), they happen. The beautiful thing is that you have choices. How you react to mistakes affects your mental health, so what are you going to do next time you’re faced with a mistake?
Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.)