How To NOT Lose Control After A Mistake As A Perfectionist

How do you respond to mistakes? If you lose control

Think back to the last time you made a mistake. It can be within your sport, schooling, work, or personal life. Just think of anything you deem to be a mistake.

How did you respond?

Were you able to take the mishap in stride, understanding mistakes happen, and move on? Or, did you respond negatively, losing control of yourself in the process?

Now let me ask you another question. Would you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?

The very nature of perfectionism leads you to beat yourself up after each mistake. Chances are, if you answered yes to the second question, then you fall into the second category from above.

Perfectionists have a difficult time handling mistakes. Though, responding in a very reactive, negative way, is only going to lead to further missteps in the future.

As a perfectionist, knowing your tendency to catastrophize after a mistake, and your desire to be the best you can be, it’s important for you to learn how to not lose control after each mistake you make.

What Does A Mistake Mean To A Perfectionist

Why is it that a simple mistake has to be a trigger for losing control emotionally? How come the tendency for those of us with perfectionism is to respond in an often irrational way?

The reason has to do with how our minds are perceiving the event.

A great example I can provide is from my time as a baseball player. Specifically late in high school and early in college.

During games, one mistake at bat would likely be followed by self-doubt, anger, and insecurity. This would open the door for some of the worst performances I had. Such a snowball effect is what we’ll discuss in the next section.

But, what really highlights what I’m trying to convey right now is how I responded to hitting in the batting cage (specifically alone or with one other person).

I would be hitting, with the round going well. All of a sudden a few balls aren’t hit how I’d like. What happens next is all the good hits I had leading up to that point are forgotten. I begin to lose control of my emotions.

Not that I would start crying or screaming, but on the inside my confidence plummeted and I started criticizing every movement I made.

Why? Why such a severe reaction to simply mishitting a few balls?

I’ll tell you why, and it’s the reason perfectionists have such a difficult time handling mistakes. Those poorly hit balls meant I wasn’t perfect. They signified I was not ready, and would likely not be perfect come game time.

I grew insecure and worried about failing in front of my coaches, teammates, and fans. If I couldn’t hit perfectly in the cage, how on earth would I hit perfectly in a game?

Simply put, a mistake to a perfectionist means you aren’t good enough.

Perfectionists have very black and white thinking. Therefore, we are either perfect or we aren’t. Any mistake points us to the latter, indicating we are in fact not perfect, and so we are not deserving of feeling confident or prepared to perform.

The Snowball Effect

When I found myself growing upset due to a few balls being mishit in the cage, it was only by a spark of luck I regained the rhythm I had prior to those poor hits.

The reason being the snowball effect. Once we begin to grow upset with ourselves, allowing emotions to overtake us, one mistake turns into another, and another, and another.

One of the best examples I can provide is how one strikeout would often turn into three or four for me.

I was admittedly a very streaky player, which had to do largely with my poorly managed emotions. My mental state would largely determine the type of game I would have. More specifically, how I responded to a mistake early in a game.

Most of my bad games resulted from an early setback. Whether that was a strikeout, or an error in the field. I would lose control of my emotions, responding in the same way as in the batting cage, yet it was now amplified by the pressure of competition.

One instance, I can remember striking out five times in one game. There wasn’t anything inherently great about the pitcher, nothing I hadn’t faced before. What beat me was my own inability to regulate my emotions after an early mistake.

Opposite to this is learning to control your emotions as a perfectionist. Not only did my performances improve when this skill was applied, but I found so much more joy in performing.

I learned how to take mistakes in stride, understanding they are part of the process. Instead of beating myself up after each one, I learned to control my emotional response.

In turn, this called upon the snowball effect, but in a much more positive way. My positive emotional state snowballed into more feelings of confidence, and ultimately higher quality performances.

Steps To NOT Lose Control After A Mistake

Mistakes as a perfectionist tend to be turned into catastrophic events. Something that to someone else may appear to be no more than a small blip, to you signifies failure.

Losing control after a mistake as a perfectionist is only going to cause you further harm. While it may seem to be your natural response, it doesn’t have to be.

Instead of allowing one mistake to derail your confidence and turn into many more, you can learn how to better manage your emotional response. By doing so, you will be able to handle mistakes (no matter how large or small) in a much more positive manner.

Pause And Breathe

Right now your responses are quick and reactionary. So, the first step you need to take when wanting to control these reactions is creating a disconnect.

When you are removed from the situation where you make a mistake, whether it’s on the field, court, or at work, it’s easy to see the way you’re responding is not optimal.

Rationally, I was aware my negative reaction to striking out early in the game, or growing miserably angry with myself after an error was only causing me harm.

But why is it that such rational thinking is not translated to the moment immediately following a mistake?

Emotions get in the way.

Mine were anger mixed with embarrassment. Or, I guess you could say, embarrassment that spawned anger as a cover up.

Kicking dirt, slamming my helmet, and occasionally breaking my bat were what followed a mistake. I lost control, all due to the emotional reactivity I was experiencing.

Had I given myself the power to pause and think about the situation, I would have realized such a response not only makes me appear a fool but hinders my success moving forward.

A disconnect allows for such a moment. A breather, if you’d like, where you can take a step back and cool yourself down.

Immediately after a mistake, force yourself to pause. Take 10 deep breaths, placing your attention on your breathing.

This will help to remove your focus from the mistake.

Now, it’s not going to be easy for you to do this, as your natural response is going to pull you towards emotional reactivity. Do your best to fight the urge and give yourself this time to pause and focus on your breathing.

Develop A Mantra

After you’ve gotten yourself detached from the mistake, the goal is to counteract your natural emotional response.

Just because you’ve paused and done some breath work, does not mean you won’t still feel the negative emotions that tend to boil up after a mistake.

How can you take control of the way you feel in these situations?

The best way is through a mantra you create for yourself.

When a mistake happens, the negative emotions you have are driven by the self-talk playing out in your mind. Think back to when you made your last mistake where you lost control, what were you saying to yourself?

What thoughts were filling your head?

I can tell you that whatever thoughts may be occurring, one thing is for certain…they are powerful.

So powerful in fact, you are going to have great difficulty in eliminating them. That’s why, instead of forcing yourself not to think a certain way, we are going to utilize substitution.

You are going to substitute your typical self-talk with a positive mantra, or affirmation, repeated over and over again.

Press play and let that phrase cycle, non stop, through your mind.

Our goal is to put a stop to the cycle of negative self-talk by interjecting a positive affirmation. This will keep your negative emotions at bay and drive a more positive and productive feeling.

So, how is a mantra decided? Well, it’s going to be designed specifically to what your desired emotional state is. To craft your own mantra, ask yourself these questions:

  • What emotional state do I normally feel when I lose control?
  • What would be my desired emotional state?
  • Where would be a good place to focus?
  • What is it that gets me so upset about making a mistake?
  • How am I feeling when performing my best?

By answering these, you can outline an affirmation that helps you control focus, counteract the negative feelings you’re experiencing, and trigger an optimal emotional state that will help you perform moving forward.

Here’s an example for someone who loses control after a mistake: Let go, focus on the present, I am confident in my skills and abilities to succeed.

Simple, easy to remember, and works to get you letting go of the mistake, refocusing in the present moment (which was what your breathing helped to do) and instilling that sense of confidence.

Use this example, accompanied by the questions from above to craft your own mantra.

What’s Next?

At this point, you’ve paused, disconnecting from the mistake, and are repeating your positive affirmation to yourself. Now what? If you’ve performed the previous two steps, you should be feeling much more calm and confident than usual.

Now, you need to ensure you do not allow the mistake to carry with you. I told you how one mistake would often turn into many more for me. That was due to the negative emotions I felt, but also because I continued to dwell on the mistake.

How many times have you made a mistake and kept on thinking about it, wishing you could change what happened?

It’s natural, but detrimental.

I’ll be the first to admit, I have a tendency to focus on mistakes, going over them repeatedly in my mind. Thinking about how if I had done one, small thing differently, maybe the outcome would have gone another way.

All this type of thinking does is hold us in the past. Even if you performed the previous two steps, and have yourself under control emotionally, it will mostly be counteracted if you allow your mind to begin drifting into the past.

That’s why, one very simple but powerful question needs to be at the forefront of your mind: what’s next?

Don’t worry about how you can change what’s happened, focus on what you need to do next to get yourself moving forward.

If you’re in a game, this means focusing on the next play. Throwing yourself back into the process, consumed with each step you need to take in order to succeed in the future.

As someone who finds themselves losing control after a mistake, you must get yourself moving forward as soon as possible. That leaves the mistake in the past, and does not allow you to carry the baggage with you.

Final Thoughts

As a perfectionist, it’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill. Seeing one mistake as a catastrophic event that spirals you out of control.

All that does, however, is leave you feeling miserable and multiply your chances of making even more mistakes.

What you need to do, to not lose control after a mistake, is first take a moment to pause. Breathe, settling yourself into the moment, and creating a disconnect between yourself and the mistake.

Next, repeat a mantra to yourself that counteracts the negative dialogue taking place within your mind. Lastly, ask yourself what’s next? Get moving forward, and let the mistake be a brief moment in the past.

Do not allow one mistake to turn into many due to you losing control.

I hope you found this article helpful, and will put into practice the steps I outlined, so that the next time you make a mistake as a perfectionist, you don’t find yourself losing control.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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