Tend to beat yourself up over mistakes that you make when in front of other people, such as calling someone by the wrong name or pulling up the wrong slide in a work presentation? There’s an easy, study-backed fix that will help you forget about the goof and let it go so it doesn’t bring you down. Find out why researchers say this trick works so well. Then, listen to my 7 suggestions for incorporating this easy tip into your life.
Tend to beat yourself up over mistakes that you make when in front of other people, such as calling someone by the wrong name or pulling up the wrong slide in a work presentation? There’s an easy, study-backed fix that will help you forget about the goof and let it go so it doesn’t bring you down. Find out why researchers say this trick works so well.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Happiness Upgrade Podcast. I’m your host, Gabrielle Lichterman, health journalist and author of the book The Happiness Upgrade: One Small Step Up to a Happier Life. Every week in this podcast, I share one easy study-backed method to improve your mood, plus my 7 suggestions for ways to try the technique during your week. And now for this week’s Happiness Upgrade tip….
We’ve all had times when we felt like we made an embarrassing mistake in front of other people. For example, perhaps you called someone by the wrong name. Maybe you dropped your notes while giving a presentation in a packed conference room. Or maybe you regretted a joke that you made at a party.
Some of us can shake off these cringey moments and simply move on. It’s easy for these folks to forget about any small embarrassments. They’re the lucky ones!
Because many other people, like me, will spend hours, days, weeks or much longer churning over the embarrassing moment in our heads. I mean, I still remember something I said to the girlfriend of my husband’s cousin at a birthday party that took place in 2001 that I instantly regretted. I meant to say something nice to her since I was meeting her for the first time. But, once the words left my mouth, I realized what I was saying could actually be taken the wrong way. Throughout the rest of the party I thought about that mistake. And even though I never saw that woman again and it’s now over two decades later, the memory is still vivid. And whenever I think of that moment, I wish I could take it back.
So, today’s Happiness Upgrade tip is for people like me—folks who churn over goof-ups we make in public that remain vivid in our minds and we wish we could take back.
That’s because as long as you’re on this Earth, embarrassing mistakes are going to happen to you. And if you’re as socially awkward as I am, they could happen quite a lot.
Thing is, it’s okay to make mistakes. It really is! Hardly anyone ever notices the mistakes you make. And if they do, they often quickly forget them.
The problem comes when you start to ruminate on your mistakes, getting stuck in an endless loop of reimagining the embarrassing moment. That then drags down your mood. And understandably so. I mean, you’re pretty much punishing yourself by going over the gory details again and again. You replay the scene and think of ways you could have done it better. And then comes the negative self-talk. “How could I have been that stupid?” “What the heck was I thinking?” Etc.
Unfortunately, that can make you spiral down into a deep funk. It can also make you anxious about being around people again.
So, I’m going to share a little trick with you that will lessen this kind of happiness-robbing rumination. This way, you can let go of whatever goofs you make and simply move on.
The trick I’m about to share isn’t my own. It’s a tactic that scientists have been exploring for years. And in 2015, a research team consisting of Rebecca Blackie and Nancy Kocovski from Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada tested this method on university students who tended to feel more social anxiety—and these researchers found that it worked.
So, what’s the trick?
After you make a mistake in a social situation, as soon as you can, go off somewhere and distract your thoughts with an activity that absorbs your complete attention.
How does this help?
Distracting yourself right after a goof interrupts an action in your brain called post-event processing. This is what stores the mistake you made into your memory banks. And for folks who are more sensitive to making errors in front of other people, like those with social anxiety, this post event processing is one key reason the memory of mistakes you make are so vivid and last days, weeks, months, even years.
When you interrupt this post-event processing by distracting your thoughts, you make the memory of what happened a lot less sticky. You’re basically using up resources in your brain so that post-event processing isn’t as effective. This makes the memory of the mistake fade faster so you’re less bothered by it.
Now I’d like to share 7 ways you give yourself a Happiness Upgrade this week by distracting yourself after a mistake. Here are my 7 suggestions:
1. Pull out your smartphone and play a video game, such as Tetris. But don’t wait to download a game until you make a goof and need the distraction. Find an app now that offers a game you like and download it so you can instantly start playing when you need to interrupt post-event processing in your brain. Don’t have a smartphone? Then keep a book of puzzles you like nearby, such as Sudoku or crosswords. Most games require you to use your concentration, memory, imagination and/or decision-making skills, keeping your brain too busy to think of anything else.
2. Shop online or head to a store for something you need, such as office supplies, groceries or an umbrella. The many micro-decisions required when comparing prices and weighing the pros and cons of each option will blot out other thoughts.
3. Create something that requires intense focus, for example, bake cookies or hammer in another piece to a bookshelf you’re building.
4. Grab an instrument and play a favorite tune. Don’t play any instrument? Then sing! Music engages various areas of the brain, including emotion and memory, making it easy to forget your worries. I like to turn on songs that I haven’t listened to in years and see how much of the lyrics I can remember. I often surprise myself by recalling way more words than I would have predicted.
5. Read a book that captures your attention, such as an exciting thriller or inspiring autobiography. Books are famous for being able to transport you to another time and place. But, as with the first tip regarding games, have a book already picked out and on hand so you can grab it the moment you need it.
6. Rearrange part of a room or reorganize a shelf. Just like with shopping, the many micro-decisions that are involved when you change the placement of furniture or other items blots out other thoughts.
7. Get laughing by visiting a funny website, reading a funny book, watching a funny video or thinking back to a funny incident that puts you in stitches whenever you recall it. Not only will you disrupt post-event processing, laughter will also prompt the production of feel-good brain chemicals, such as endorphins, making you even happier.
Those were my 7 suggestions for finding ways you can distract yourself after a mistake. I hope you find them helpful.
Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Happiness Upgrade Podcast. I hope the mood-boosting tips that you heard today help you give yourself a Happiness Upgrade.
This podcast was inspired by my book, The Happiness Upgrade: One Small Step Up to a Happier Life. This book shows you how small, easy actions can halt an unwanted negative mood and lead to a rise in happiness. You can find my book, The Happiness Upgrade, at Amazon. It also introduces a simple method that helps turn any small act of self-care into a powerful tool to boost your mood. I think you’ll find it helpful!
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I would love to connect with you and know how you give yourself a Happiness Upgrade. So, send me an email at Gabrielle@HappinessUpgradePress.com.
I hope your week is filled with happiness!