When I watch a player make a bad play and then continue to screw up I can relate. I’ve been there, I’ve done something poorly that I can usually do, or just made one of those all too human mistakes and then can’t forget about it. Because I would continue to go over the mistake, essentially live in the past, I couldn’t perform well in the present.
This is what’s going on with those players. Let’s say a pitcher throws a ball that a batter hits out of the park. You can tell when they’ve been unable to let go of their mistake because they continue to pitch poorly. It’s only when they can forget about the mistake and come back to the present that they begin to throw strikes again.
The faster a player can move on, the more successful they will be. Think of the superstar players in any sport. One of the things they do better than those less successful is to learn from and then forget their mistakes in the moment. This has been labeled athletic amnesia, a term first used to describe what the successful quarter back Eli Manning does.
What you need to remember was best stated by the great spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes: “Never limit your view of life by any past experience.” What happened in the past does not need to dictate what will happen in the future. Get to really know that and you’ll be more open to opportunities, more willing to try again and more than likely to succeed.
So how do we stay present after a screw up? I know being able to forget a mistake and move on is easier said than done.
Here are some ideas for coming back to the present and not getting caught up in negative emotions after making a mistake or performing badly:
Go over the mistake once only. Learn from your mistake and then move on. If you find yourself replaying it over and over learn to recognize that and then tell yourself to stop.
Practice staying present. If you don’t meditate I highly recommend starting. The spiritual leader of Shambhala Buddhism, The Sakyong provides great instruction in this video.
The practice of meditation will help bring awareness into your everyday life so that you will notice when you get caught up in the negative emotion surrounding a mistake. When you notice something you can change it.
Distract yourself. Sometimes we just can’t let it go. We find our minds going over and over the mistake no matter what. This usually happens when it was a big mistake and in front of others. Our embarrassment is a highly charged emotion that can make letting go more difficult. This is the time to work on a task that will absorb all of your attention. You just need to get away from it and then slowly go back when the feeling isn’t so strong so you can learn from it.
What if you absolutely have to continue to perform in the moment like that pitcher in the ballgame and you just can’t let the mistake go?
Relax. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that ball players chew gum. It relaxes the jaw which is where a lot of us hold our tension. You can also shake your body to loosen it up, take a few deep breaths, and even count to ten. Hey, it works to calm ourselves when we’re angry with someone. When we make a mistake we are angry at someone, ourselves.
Let go of perfectionism. Most likely the mistake we make will not be the end of the world. We can simply learn from it and move on. In fact mistakes help us achieve a better performance in the long run if we can learn from them.