Refuse to Dwell, Move On, Kick Ass
Thursday was not a good day for me. I botched a quiz I’d spent time studying for, discovered my lab locker was missing equipment, and managed to completely screw up my lab experiment for the week. I felt like a complete failure, as far as chemistry went. My lab TA must have noticed, because when I told her about the mistake I’d made in the experiment (the straw that broke my chemistry-related back), she took me aside.
“Don’t dwell. It happens. Re-do it and move on.”
The woman is getting her PhD in chemistry, so I assumed she knew what she was talking about. So I followed her instructions, re-did my experiment, and was back on track in a few minutes. Nothing exploded. No one ate me. My grade for the experiment, and in the class, will probably not be what I want, but I’ll survive.
Students–particularly students focused on doing college better–tend to dwell. Particularly for those of us who are interested in life hacks (ie, the target audience of this site), it’s frustrating when our software trick or study hack just doesn’t work. Sadly, we cannot hack the fact that we are human and will screw up. But, like my TA said, it’s not worth it to dwell. So, next time you find yourself tempted to keep rehashing a mistake you’ve made, try these tips. I know that I, queen of the dwellers, have found them helpful.
Give failure context: I know I already linked to Merlin Mann’s “Scared Shitless” talk, but seriously: if you haven’t watched it, go do that right now. One of the main points he’s making is about context. No matter how badly you screw something up, no one is going to eat you. I know it feels ridiculous saying it now, but it is incredibly comforting in the moment of your mistake. You may feel bad for a little bit, but there are worse things.
Do something else: This is less helpful for an activity like lab, but if it’s a mistake on your own–an unkind word to a friend who has stormed off, or a homework problem that you just can’t get–move on to something else. Right in the moment, there’s probably nothing you can do to fix the problem, and your stress helps nothing. Take even 20 minutes to do something productive (so no watching TV) and then get back to your problem. You will feel less hopeless, and chances are that your ability to do something is much greater after time has passed.
Put yourself around other people: This will do two things. First off, it will give you a sounding board for your problem. It’s amazing how much just telling someone about a problem can make it seem like less of a big deal. Secondly, being around other people encourages you to get out of your own head and pay attention to the group. It’s much harder to dwell when your friends are louder than your internal fraud police.
Mistakes happen, and failure will never be a good feeling, but guilt is very rarely a useful emotion. Refusing to dwell is a positive thing–it accomplishes something, and is the beginning of a solution (if there is one–and there isn’t always).