Mistakes are not the end of the world

If you are anything like me, the New Year rolls around and you are excited for new beginnings, and maybe a little depressed about what you didn’t get done in the last year. Whatever great intention you set for yourself last January is waaaaaay back there in the rear view mirror. All year long, things kept coming at you at a breakneck pace and you dropped a few balls along the way. For so many of us, it’s the dropped balls that we remember. Isn’t it lovely how those dropped balls shine so much brighter than all the good things you did?
We can accomplish a thousand great things, and it’s that one mistake that will eat us alive.
Failure is a funny thing. It can grip us in its claws, and make us feel horrible. We would do anything NOT to feel like a failure. So, what do we do? We beat ourselves up. We avoid taking risks. We play small. Our answer to failure is punishment. As if somehow, once we pay our penance, all is well.
At the end of one of my programs last year, a participant pulled me aside and “confessed” that his biggest fear was of failure. He spoke in a hushed tone, making sure none of his colleagues were in earshot. He said his normal pattern is to cover up his mistakes and once they are discovered, he goes on the attack to deflect criticism. When we dug a little deeper, it was clear that he is a competent person who is making his normal share of mistakes. The mistakes are not the problem. How he sees them is causing him all kinds of grief. 
I sooooo wanted to have a quick answer for him to turn all this around.  But I’ve been there. It’s not that straightforward. In my article The Secret to Better, I share some of the inner thoughts I have carried that block my ability to perform or to learn.
Mistakes are not the end of the world. They are a sign that you are learning.
It’s a daily practice to monitor my thoughts and keep my thoughts on the “improving” track instead of the “proving” track.
We all have an inner world that informs our outer world. It’s the inner game that separates those that perform well under pressure from those that get in their own way. (Some call this the mental game, but I argue it’s mind, body and emotion.) Nobody has this mastered – just look at some of the top executives and athletes that have reached the top only to fall. It is a lifelong journey to develop the inner tools to overcome the thoughts created by those burning dropped balls, even under great pressure.
So, this year, instead of making a New Year’s resolution or just planning the year ahead, I did a Prior Year Review. (Got the idea from Tim Ferriss, who does a great job of breaking down what creates world class performance.) The core outcome for me was that could see the patterns of activities, people and commitments that helped me be at my best. When I am clear on keeping these as priorities in my life, everything I do is more infused with genuine caring and love.
Here’s my list:

  • Water skiing – because it keeps me super fit and I still get a lovely adrenaline hit every time I get up on a slalom ski.
  • Meditating daily – After years of meditating a few times a week, I committed to do this daily two years ago and it is sort of like training an unruly dog. With practice, I’ve been able to teach my monkey brain to shift to more positive and useful thoughts.
  • Practicing gratitude – For me this is a mindset and an “eyesight” practice. It’s the quickest way I know how to shift from an unproductive state of mind into a loving state of mind.
  • Cold showers at the end of my hot shower every day – This one is actually very related to meditating. Not only does it actually feel pretty good, although it took several months for me to reach that conclusion, it teaches my mind things it would otherwise not learn. (Reach out to me if you want to know more.)
  • Sleeping well – This one is actually probably the MOST important. I’ve learned to highly value my sleep and I’ve also learned a ton of ways to make me sleep even better. I have a ton of energy and sleeping well may be the most important reason.
  • Time with friends – Almost all of my best experiences in the last year have involved being with good friends. I treasure them.
  • Note-taking, capturing what works and doesn’t – This could also include journaling – the practice of writing down insights is invaluable. This is not mine, but one of my favorites of the year was this one: Christmas time every year we make Spritz cookies with a cookie press at my brother’s house. Jen does most of the “press-work.” This year, she opened the box where we store the cookie press to find this note: Jen, it’s one click. No really, I promise. It’s just one click. The cookies will spread out.”  Lesson learned: make notes!
  • Walking/hiking – my best ideas and solutions to problems come when walking, preferable in nature.
  • Making things – Pottery and painting are my main two “making” activities; cooking is also serves the purpose. The act of making draws on something deep that fuels my soul.

Looking at all the good things of the year certainly dimmed the glow of those dropped balls. One of the exercises I often give clients is to write down all the positive things they have done for a period of time. The kind of answers that come up usually shock them – they discover they are doing a LOT more than they remembered.

What activities give you the leverage to do more with less time? What are all the good things you accomplished in 2018? What are you most proud of? Where are you doing things that totally drain you, just because you should? For obligations that you must do, in what ways can you be grateful? What practices and habits keep you at your best?