What to Do When You Really Mess Up and 9 Steps to Take

You wake up and you hope it was a nightmare. You shut your eyes tight like maybe if you just go back to sleep it will disappear. You brace yourself before checking your phone to take in the wreckage. We’ve all been there.

Humans make mistakes. Even robots make mistakes, so take comfort in the fact that even though you feel alone in your shame, messing up is a part of life, but you don’t have to let it eat at you.

So, what do you do when you really mess up big time, and you’re filled with regret?

Take Accountability

The first thing you need to do when you mess up is take accountability for your actions. Maybe you sent a really shitty text message. Maybe you self-sabotaged a good relationship. Maybe you didn’t think before you spoke and really hurt someones feelings. Maybe you let fear take over and missed a golden opportunity and are filled with regret. Maybe you made a financial mess. Maybe you drove drunk and crashed your car or injured someone.

I’ve made all of these mistakes and many more, so take it from me, I’ve had plenty of experience in messing up and cleaning up the aftermath, and the first thing you need to do to move on is hold yourself accountable.

Whatever it is, don’t waste your time blaming someone else or trying to figure out how you might not be at fault.

Ultimately, we are always in the drivers seat of our lives, and while we can be influenced by others, we’re the ones with our hands on the wheel and our foot on the gas pedal. Your foot accelerated, and you need to admit that to yourself.

It may feel easier to blame someone else, or even blame your parents for the childhood wounds they inflicted on you that cause you to do the things you do, but that kind of thinking is going to keep you stagnant.

When we take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves accountable, we can grow, learn the lessons, and do better in the future. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in life. You can either make yourself out to be a victim and stay small, or you can swallow your pride and become a stronger, wiser person. Choose the latter.

Apologize

Oftentimes, when we mess up, we’ve hurt others, or harmed a relationship of some sort. Sometimes, though, we’ve just messed it up for ourselves, whether we relapsed or skipped out on an opportunity that could have been great for us because we were scared.

If you messed up in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) apologize to that person. Don’t make excuses for your behavior. Just apologize, sincerely, and mean it.

Understand the full weight of your decisions, and empathize with how it must have felt in that persons shoes. They deserve your apology, whether they choose to accept it or not, and you will feel better as a result.

If your mess up is between you and you, apologize to yourself. Seriously, it sounds silly, but it’s true that our soul and ego live in the body we call home, and it’s kind of like the devil and angel on your shoulders. So, apologize to yourself for not taking the high road, and making a poor decision.

You’re going to have to live with yourself either way, so living in a constant shame cycle of reliving your mistakes and punishing yourself for them isn’t going to do anyone any good.

Forgive

When you mess up, you may seek forgiveness from someone else, and you may or may not get it.

You can give it to yourself, however.

We all mess up, and if you don’t forgive yourself, you’re going to be carrying a heavy load around that’s going to keep you small, stuck, and living in the dark.

When you forgive yourself, you acknowledge your imperfect human nature, and you can set yourself free.

Forgive anyone else you might want to blame, too, whether it’s your parents for “messing you up,” or someone else for “provoking you.” Forgive them, too. Maybe you want to blame society for putting rigid constructs in your brain, thus causing you to mess up. Forgive society. Forgive everyone, it’s the only way to move on.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The same thing goes for resentment. Forgive yourself, forgive everyone else, and spit out the poison.

Accept It

It’s common to want to go into denial when you really mess up, and to think maybe it wasn’t that bad, or maybe the other person didn’t notice, or doesn’t care. Maybe that’s true, but ultimately, we have to accept the consequences of our actions.

We can apologize sincerely and ask for forgiveness, but we also have to realize that what’s done is done, and the aftermath is mostly out of our control.

Sometimes things really do happen for a reason, or there’s some lesson we still need to learn. We have to accept that in life, things won’t always go the way we want them to, and we won’t always show up as the best versions of ourselves.

We have to accept the messy imperfect nature of our lives. Trying to fight and deny what is is like running full speed on a hamster wheel, you are burning yourself out going nowhere. You cannot undo the past. Save your energy by accepting reality.

Accept the present moment and that what’s done is done. Let the universe sort the rest out and vow to learn from your experience and do better in the future.

Share

Dr. Brene Brown, shame and vulnerability expert, tells us that shame grows in secrecy, and dissipates when it’s shared.

This doesn’t mean you should tell your coworkers what you did last night, or make a public post on social media, but telling a trusted friend or therapist can help lighten the load of shame and help us remember that we are only ever human, doing the best we can in the moment. The key word here is trusted friend.

If you are lucky enough to have a trusted family member or friend who you know you can safely share your woes with, I would encourage you to do so.

Better Help is also a really good resource for affordable ($45 per session) virtual therapy, and you can also look into pro-bono therapy.

Be Gentle and Patient

Be gentle and patient with yourself and anyone else involved. We all process at different speeds and have unique coping mechanisms. 

Going into the shame spiral of what you did wrong and stewing with regret doesn’t help. You also might not feel 100% better about your decisions in a day, so be patient. It will get better, though it may happen more slowly than you would like.

Yes, it’s ok to feel remorse, to cry, and to feel upset with yourself for making a mistake, but don’t let yourself stay in that place for too long. Be gentle with yourself when it happens, and be patient, knowing it will pass eventually.

Think of yourself like a child, because often it is the child in us that acts out. How would you speak to a child who has made a mistake that they feel awful about? Speak to yourself like that. Tell yourself it’s going to be ok, you know you’re sorry, and that you’re going to get through this.

Stay Present and Keep Moving

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”- Lao Tzu

Don’t let yourself dwell in the past and “what ifs” for too long, and avoid going to the worst-case-scenario in the future.

Try to focus on the present moment and small tasks at hand. Life still moves, and it’s in your best interest to move with it.

Keep up with your hobbies, chores, work, relationships, health, and goals. Work on yourself. Journal. Lose yourself in creative projects.

Move your body to get out of your head and overthinking. Go for a walk, a run, do body weight workouts, stretch, dance, swim, bike, roller skate. Do what you can to get into your body and get the endorphins flowing.

Stay Grateful, Stay Hopeful

Even if it feels like the world just turned upside down, stay grateful for your cup of coffee in the morning, the birds singing, sunshine, clean clothes to wear, a roof over your head, your sweet pet’s unconditional love, your friend you can call on, your health, or a kitchen stocked with healthy food.

Remember that you still have things you love to do, and there’s still so much to be grateful for in this life. Speak your gratitude out loud. Remember life is big, complex, and full of beauty.

Choose to stay hopeful. Choose to remind yourself there is so much love in the world, between us and others, or our love for nature, or flowers, or art, or music, or sports or whatever it is that lights you up.

Learn

Don’t get all up in an emotional tizzy for nothing. Learn from your mistakes. Vow to do better next time. Journal and work through your pain with a therapist. Read. Learn about yourself and work on yourself.

We don’t experience pain for funsies (at least, this is not that kind of blog.) We experience it because it is one of the seasons of life, and it’s how we learn, get stronger and become wiser. Storms roll in, and they can feel suffocating, and before you know it you look up at the sky and there’s a rainbow, and the seas are calm again. That’s life.

Learn from pain and allow it to teach you. Pain always has a lesson, an offering, and we have to be willing to open our arms and hearts and allow ourselves to crack open and receive it.

Try to not let fear get the best of your heart, even if it has in the past. Keep trying. Keep dusting yourself off and getting back up and looking towards a brighter future no matter how many times you mess up.

You’re human. You’re allowed to mess up. You’re worthy of a a good life, love, belonging, health, and wealth, no matter how many times you screw up.

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