I recently had the chance to ask a group of teenagers what things young people feel stressed about today. They listed several items, including sports.
For them, it hits the high stress mark when they make a mistake as a player. Some of them agonize over it. Usually, it ruins the whole game for them, and they struggle with it all week.
These kids are serious athletes. To flub in front of everyone is infuriating. It’s also humiliating. It may even mean they’ve let their team down. There’s also the possibility that they can get pulled off of first string and dropped down to second string. This does not, by the way, have anything to do with violins.
I have several interests where I make mistakes. I love to cook, but I’m pretty forgiving of my faults there. My husband, Bob, says I should have a cooking show called, “Oh, It’ll Be Fine.”
And, though I also love gardening, I’m very aware that the battle with weeds and bugs is real and that my partner is, hellooo, Unpredictable Weather. Thus, I enjoy my status as an imperfectionist in that arena, too.
So, when did a mistake completely take over my week, causing angst and torment? Parenting! I still cringe when I recall mistakes too embarrassing to share. We all have those moments that still make us wonder if we’re the worst parents ever, and if even a small error will permanently scar our kids.
The reality is that there are untold numbers of mistakes we will all make in life. We will fail. often. I’m not talking about major sins here, just mistakes. President Dallin H. Oaks gave an excellent talk called “Sins and Mistakes” which you can access here.
It’s those singular, ghastly goofs that we ruminate about, which I want to address today. Why do we only remember the blunder, and not the positive parts of what we did? This happens in so many fields: a musician hitting a wrong note, a nurse unable to draw someone’s blood, a car mechanic leaving a tool in the engine, a teacher using poor grammar.
Why can’t we shrug it off? Sometimes it’s perfectionism. We hold ourselves to impossible standards, and nearly collapse when our humanity is revealed. We worry too much about what others will think of us. Ironically, perfectionism actually lowers our self-confidence, and can cause us to trip up.
Pride blooms when we make a mistake. Many of us are uncomfortable admitting we were wrong or that we failed in some way. Some people actually get angry and defensive. Most of the time we’re angry at ourselves, disappointed in our performance.
Here’s what might help:
- Embrace the fact that you have immense, eternal value. If God sees your worth, you should see it, too. And that value does not go up or down based on whether you failed or succeeded. Your self-worth should stay the same.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. We get plenty of practice doing this on social media, don’t we? Phone in hand, our expressions turn to concern if we’re basing our happiness on “likes.” In every excellent book, Self Compassion, Kristin Neff advises asking three questions: Do I want to feel better than others, or to feel connected? Does my worth come from being special, or from being human? And, Do I want to be perfect, or to be healthy? She also says, “Self-compassionate people are more oriented to personal growth than those who continually criticize themselves.”
- Remember that our failures teach us. We immediately become better. I once heard someone say, “If you always learn something from what happens, you’ll never be the loser.”
- If you’re a perfectionist, realize that you can’t fully focus on two things at once, and that giving your attention to what others are thinking means you aren’t concentrating on your own performance. You’ll be anxious and unable to do your best. Allow yourself to be human.
- If you become angry, work on learning to control these negative emotions. Anger fills you with self-doubt and anxiety. It blocks your energy, your motivation, and your ability to perform at your potential. Getting angry can make it just that much harder to get back on track. As the saying goes, “Don’t trip over what’s behind you.”
- Swallow your pride and apologize to those you’ve let down. Every one of them has made mistakes, too. And this won’t be your only flub ever; owning our errors is part of the maturing process in life. It impacts marriage, parenting, careers, and church callings as well. Remember what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf once said: “The heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes.”
- be realistic. My very wise daughter, Nicole, said of sports, “It isn’t realistic to expect zero stress because sports are inherently competitive. But the debilitating factor can be adjusted.” One way is to analyze the mistake and solve the problem. Maybe you need additional practice. As President Uchtdorf said, “No one likes to fail. But we mortals do not become champions without effort and discipline or without making mistakes… our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off and move forward.”
- Look at the big picture. Does this error represent a pattern or a one-off? When I’m late to anything, I no longer agonize over it. I’m a stickler for being punctual, so on the rare occasion when I’m late, I remind myself, “This isn’t how I usually am.” This can apply to parenting mistakes, sports, and a host of other endeavors when we simply need to forgive ourselves.
- Get some perspective. Ask yourself, “Will this matter in ten years? How about five years? one year? Next week?” All too often we berate ourselves over something that simply isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. And if it is a huge mistake, consider the words of Elder Kevin R Duncan, who said, “None of us should be defined only by the worst thing we have ever done.”
- Last, and most importantly, ask yourself, “How does the Lord see this?” If he isn’t worried about it, neither should you be. When our daily focus is more and more upon the Savior, we will worry less and less. That’s because we’ll feel His love more and more, and we’ll have that self-compassion we need when we make mistakes. We’ll truly believe in our unwavering worth.
Hilton teaches Seminar. She is also an award-winning playwright, and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, every humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.