The Best Way To Handle Mistakes in Service? Be Your Own Yoda

Originally published here for the Institute of Organizational Mindfulness.

Service is full of mistakes. You’re dealing with endless highly-individual needs, unpredictable particularities, a minefield of emotional triggers that clients will readily punish you for ever-so-slightly feathering an insecurity of theirs. You’re also juggling technical demands and chances are you have the precision of a flesh and blood human being, not a machine. The key to navigating mistakes skillfully is found in how you speak to yourself when you make one. The first impulse might be self-criticism. You may think this is your way of motivating yourself, but the effects are counterproductive.

My dad’s approach to my mistakes was to lecture: “You need to be more like this, or like this, or like this, or you’ll never survive in this world.” Perhaps at first he thought maybe if he kept throwing darts like that, one of them might eventually stick, but eventually seemed to realize that they inspired nothing more than me developing strategies of shielding myself from him.

It’s funny how I got into such a habit of tuning him out and yet later in my life I realized that I spoke to myself in exactly that voice wherever I wasn’t performing like I wanted to. Even though it makes no practical sense, this is a pretty natural phenomenon of the mind to pattern itself according to its influences no matter how ineffective we know they were.

I knew all it generated was self-doubt, but there I was, knowing full well I can speak to myself however I wish to (it’s my mind, after all), defaulting to a voice that I am used to tuning out or resisting in every humanly way I can conjure.

Apparently I’m not the only one to have realized the absurdity of this:

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

-Louise L. Hay

When deciding to approve of yourself, the “trying” stage might feel awkward and forced at first. This is what worked for me: the next time you find your mind bludgeoning you with unsolicited “help” via some critical tirade, imagine you’re the Buddha, or Jesus, or any idea of a wise, loving, Yoda-like mentor – or even just a good friend. If you can, a really powerful place to go is imagining that you are yourself years down the road as a fulfilled and fully-realized person. How would this person view your mistake? With the petty reactivity of a paranoid parent or an irritable customer? Or someone that cares and understands – and might giggle adoringly as you stumble along like the rest of us?

You can find this place within you every time that you slip up (in a way that I promise you is not the drama your mind thinks it is). It’s easy to find, because it’s always there – it’s just used to getting drowned out by the louder one of your inner critic.