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 Brené Brown’s No. 1 tip for learning from your mistakes

Missing a deadline, forgetting an important birthday, or saying the wrong thing in a meeting can trigger a cycle of severe self-criticism, commonly known as negative self-talk.

Many people believe that being hard on themselves after making a mistake will prevent future errors. However, this is often not the case, according to Judy Ho, a neuropsychologist and professor at Pepperdine University.

“We beat ourselves up thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to motivate me,’ but in reality, it leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Ho explains.

Instead of motivating us, this pattern of self-criticism can undermine our goals. Brené Brown, a New York Times bestselling author and professor at The University of Houston, concurs that excessive self-scrutiny doesn’t make us stronger.

“The core of mental toughness is self-compassion,” Brown shared on her podcast “Unlocking Us” in 2022. “People who are mentally tough stay that way because they don’t easily slip into shame, self-criticism, or self-loathing.”

Research from Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education supports this view. When you feel you’re not performing at your best, self-criticism can make you more emotional and less able to learn from your mistakes. Conversely, practicing self-compassion fosters resilience.

“We beat ourselves up in our head thinking, “Oh, this is going to motivate me, but actually, we just end up fulfilling a self-fulfilling prophecy”

To manage unproductive thoughts, Judy Ho recommends practicing self-compassion. Here are three strategies she suggests:

  1. Question Your Thoughts: Challenge your internal negativity by asking yourself what evidence supports your self-criticism and what evidence contradicts it. Write these down in two columns and compare them. Ho notes that often, there’s more evidence against your self-criticism than for it.
  2. Use the “Yes…and…” Approach: Recognize both what you wish had gone differently and what you did well. For instance, if your presentation didn’t go as planned but you met another important deadline, acknowledge both. Tell yourself: “Yes, I wish my pitch had gone better, but I did manage my time well this week.”
  3. Label Your Feelings as a “Thought”: Remind yourself that not all the stories you tell yourself are true. He explains, “It changes the relation to the thought because you’re saying, ‘I’m just having the thought, and it doesn’t have to be true.'”


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