Not all mistakes are made equal. Learn how ADHD adults use these 5 steps to better handle the 4 different types of mistakes.
- There are four different types of mistakes.
- How you decide to respond to your mistakes depends on your preferences and the type of mistake.
- Just because other people think you made a mistake doesn’t mean you did.
- Your ADHD, of course, may be contributing to the mistakes you make.
- You can learn how to reduce some types of mistakes.
ADHD adults make mistakes, just like everyone else. You do or say things that produce unwanted or unintentional consequences. So how can you best handle these inevitable mistakes, as well as minimize the occurrence?
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults, like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills, to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to re-imagining productivity, with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
I know you may be listening to this podcast because you want to make fewer mistakes and I’ll get to that, eventually. While that may be one of your goals and something I help my clients with all the time, it’s also important to be comfortable making mistakes. Otherwise, you may be playing it too safe and not taking the actions you need to reach your goals.
According to Eduardo Brinceno, co-founder and CEO of Mindset Works, there are four types of mistakes.
A stretch mistake is one in which you could not have foreseen the consequences because you’re reaching beyond your current capabilities. This isn’t a bad thing. If you’re learning and growing, you need to reach beyond your current capabilities, right? Unless of course, you decide to only operate in your comfort level. Stretch. Mistakes are only problematic then if you continue to repeat the same mistake. You can course correct. Perhaps by upgrading your skills in whatever areas you made the mistake,
Then there are those, he calls the aha moment mistakes. You achieved what you wanted only to decide or find out later it was mistake. Typically these happened because you didn’t know any better. You know, like when you offer unsolicited advice to someone who really doesn’t want it. Oops… Of course, it’s no longer a mistake if you continue to do this.
The third type of mistake that ADHD adults find the most frustrating are sloppy mistakes. You know, like when you put in the wrong time for a meeting because you’re too distracted when they announced the time in another meeting. And then you end up missing it. These are the ones you can probably reduce by learning new strategies.
The last type of mistake Brinceno calls the high stakes mistakes, ones where the results can be potentially catastrophic. These are the ones of course you want to avoid at all costs. While these may take quite a bit of your executive functioning capacity to avoid, you may decide it’s worth it. So you make sure you leave in enough time and have the right directions to get to the interview for a job you really want. So you don’t end up speeding on an icy road and maybe getting in an accident because you really want that job.
You get it. Clearly not all mistakes are created equal. You can certainly grow and learn from stretch and a aha moment mistakes. Stretch mistakes are even desirable. You can also learn from sloppy mistakes, but these certainly are not desirable. And while you may be able to learn from high stake mistakes, the results are often irreversible and the cost is too great. You’re late for the interview and you just don’t get the job. So what do you do when you think you’ve made a mistake? When you think you’ve made a mistake, whether you have or not, in most cases you won’t have the capacity, at least in the moment, to really unpack what happened. You might need to take some time to gain perspective and regulate your emotions. One strategy for doing this is using the STOP method, S- T-O-P. “S,” stop for as much time as you need.
And then take a breath. “T” and then just be in the moment and “O,” observe what’s happening with your body, your thoughts, your feelings. Once you feel you’re in a place where you have perspective and your emotions feel regulated enough, then you can “P,” proceed. But proceeding doesn’t mean jumping to figuring out solutions right away.
Take time to process this situation if you think you’ve made a mistake. This includes figuring out whether you really did make a mistake or not. Because without pausing and considering the context, ADHD adults can be prone to relying on old stories and internalized messages, telling them, “you screwed up again.” For example, your spouse is furious with you because they don’t feel you gave them enough notice of your plans for Tuesday evening. Your initial reaction may be, “Ah, I screwed up again.” Even though you remember talking about it last week, and then you told them about it Tuesday morning, they still say, you’re not looping them in enough, just because they feel that way doesn’t mean you necessarily made a mistake.
However, of course it is something the two of you will want to figure out going forward. And, if you decide you made a mistake, rather than conflating the current mistake with all your other mistakes and deciding your screw up, then figure out what kind of mistake it was. That is, was it a stretch, aha, sloppy or high stakes mistake. Because remember not all mistakes are made equal.
Then if you decide you did indeed make a mistake and you know what kind of mistake it is, the next step is to give yourself grace, compassion and acceptance as illustrated in a Dr. Hallowell’s adapted version of the serenity prayer, which goes like this. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change; The patience to resist, trying to control everything I could had I the energy and time; The courage and skill to change the things I have chosen to change: And the wisdom to know the difference among all these.
It will also be important to acknowledge and accept any feelings you may have related to making a mistake. Though I know your inclination may be to avoid any feelings you consider, well, negative. You might do this by trying to think more positively or distract yourself. How’s that working? If you are like many people, it probably isn’t working very well, and often has the opposite effect. That is the very thoughts and feelings you’re trying to get rid of expand rather than dissipate.
The alternative is to acknowledge them and use strategies so they don’t hook you. For example, once you realize you missed the meeting because you had the wrong time and are thinking I’m an idiot, take 10 deep breaths as slowly as possible. And notice the sensations as you inhale and exhale. Then you might tell yourself, I’m having the thought I’m an idiot. You could expand on this and tell yourself I notice I’m having the thought I’m an idiot. You may even sing I’m an idiot to the tune of happy birthday.
Whatever you do, stay in the moment and allow your feelings to be, to move through you, rather than try to avoid them.
Try this with a thought you’re having now. What happened to the thought? Did you get some distance? To learn more about how to diffuse your thoughts? You can check out my article entitled, Do You Want to Get Rid of Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings. And for a more extensive exploration, you can also check out the book, The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It really is an accessible exploration of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or A-C-T.
If you can manage not to get hooked by your feelings, the next step is to be curious. Your ADHD symptoms will occasionally, or maybe often, be a contributing factor when you make a mistake, for sure. You know that. Knowing how your ADHD impacts your ability to operate the way you want can help to adopt work arounds. So you can minimize your chances of at least making the same mistakes. The following quote by a former client is a great reminder that you’ll need to figure this out in a way that works best for you.
Every now and then even streams and rivers have incredibly tough obstacles between their starting points and where they want to meander, like mountains. But over the years, they just keep on chipping away and turning and finding other ingenious ways to access where they’re going. So I’m not fluid like an established flowing river, but I am slowly carving out a crooked sort of flow. Okay, off to do some eroding.
You too can discover ingenious ways to work around your ADHD and minimize potential mistakes. This will include leveraging your strengths, as well as addressing your ADHD and other challenges. As you do this, you’ll significantly increase your chances of success because you will be breaking through the barriers, doing some eroding. When it comes to mistakes, what eroding can you start doing today?
The next step is to take action, if you decide this is what you want to do. This might include making amends by apologizing and/or correcting the mistake, if you can. Figuring out how you can decrease the chances of making the same mistake in the future, and then adopting whatever skills, strategies, or tools you need to be able to do this. For example, if you decide you want to minimize the chances of getting the time wrong for meetings in the future, you might decide that next time you will use an interactive way to take notes in meetings to increase the chances of being able to pay attention and get the information right the first time.
You might also email to confirm the time of meetings when there isn’t any written documentation, like an email you can refer to such as the example I use where it was just announced in a meeting. Also, as soon as the meeting’s over, you might put the meeting in your calendar and also double check the time. Then you might set two alarms to remind you when it comes close to the meeting. One to remind you, it’s time to wrap up what you’re doing. And the second to remind you that it’s time to actually leave.
But rather than defining yourself by your mistake or ignoring them, or just working harder, you can figure out what to do differently going forward, whatever type of mistake it is. So you can minimize the chances of repeating the same mistakes. And also get support if you’re not sure, sure, what to do differently.
Mistakes happen. Some are inevitable as you’re learning how to do something new, such as stretch mistakes. Others may be avoidable using certain strategies or tools. That may be the case in sloppy mistakes or aha mistakes. Regardless, being compassionate with yourself will help you process and determine what, if anything, you can do when you do make the inevitable mistake.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please feel free to pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might benefit. And until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done, and I’m Marla Cummins wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.