Mistakes: How to Recover & Move Forward Using the Bright Method

July 8, 2024

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If you’re like me, making a mistake can wash you in shame and derail you for a period of time. Let’s talk about some guiding principles that have helped me, including advice I’ve received from others and ways I’ve used the Bright Method to help me get out of that mistake shame spiral.

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Full Transcript

Ep 60. Making Mistakes

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey, and welcome back! All right, so today I want to talk about mistakes. A friend and I were recently chatting about making mistakes, particularly in the career setting, and how we handle them both practically and also just emotionally. I mean, they can really throw you for a loop, and so, I want to talk about that today. What’s weird is that I actually deeply believe — and I know it sounds weird to say it, but I deeply believe that The Bright Method has helped me with this in the ways that we’re gonna talk about today.

So the main part of this episode is going to be about how The Bright Method has helped me and hopefully you and other people with mistake management. But as I was thinking about this, other things also came to mind, so it’s gonna be a little bit more wide ranging than that. So, just to kick this off, I want to talk about kind of the mistakes I’m talking about and then I want to go into three main points that I wanted to talk about, one of which is about The Bright Method, the other two are not. And there is also a prequel point because this is how my brain works. [Laughs]

Mistakes in the Workplace – 1:29

So the first point, just to clarify, is that when I think about mistakes (like those kind of just — oh, those mistakes that really catch us), it’s typically in the workplace, I would say at least for the more frequent ones. We obviously make mistakes in our personal life. They hurt just as badly. Hopefully they are less frequent. So in terms of what the common denominator or the common reality is that a lot of us make mistakes at work, and some of us really feel the shame-wash-over-us feeling when we have those mistakes happen. At least that has been my experience with them.

It’s really those mistakes that you think of — in the moment it’s happening, and you know it’s bad, and later you just recoil thinking about it. Your brain both wants to fixate on it and reject it. It just irks you so much. And it can be something that you said in a meeting. It could be maybe zoning out in a meeting for a second. You can even kind of zone out in a presentation. I’ve done that, where I’ve been giving a presentation and I think I’m really tired, and I just can’t get on the momentum track that I usually can get on and struggle with that. We all know those things that happen.

It might even be something more specific or concrete where you put some data or a case citation in a brief or some data in a presentation and it was wrong. Maybe the citation was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t good law anymore, whatever it might be. Maybe the data was outdated. There can be just very specific things that we do as a mistake in the mix of our career, and they’re gonna happen, but that doesn’t really help it feel great when it does. You know, it can really keep you up at night, make you feel like — almost make your eyes shut when you remember it later. It can be really, really all-consuming, at least for some of us.

And so, what do we do about that? If you are someone who, similarly, can get really thrown off by a mistake because it can consume you in this way, what do you do about it? And so, we’re gonna dig into those three points. But before I want to go into this prequel point.

Prequel Point: Feel the Feelings – 3:38

The prequel part about this, before I turn to the practical things to do around it, is that we first have got to feel the feelings. And this is something that is still somewhat new to me.

I’ve talked about it before, but for a bit of context, I’m in therapy right now to help with some personal things going on in my life, and I caveat a lot of things, and my therapist was like, “You caveat, like, everything. You bring perspective into everything,” and we were chatting about that, and I was like, “I just believe that perspective is very important though. As hard as some issues might be, I’m fully aware that my life is charmed. People have it far harder than me. I shouldn’t be feeling these things.” And her response was, “Perspective is important, but you first have to allow yourself to feel the feelings and then introduce perspective,” because I was using perspective to just shut down feelings, and there just hadn’t been an outlet for a very long time, which was part of the problem.

And so, this practice of feeling the feelings and then introducing perspective once the feelings have had a time to percolate and bubble up and do all the feeling-feelings things, it’s new to me, and so, I’m not a pro at it, but it’s been critical to me as well. And I thought I wanted to at least throw this out there in my non-expert way on this to say that sometimes these mistakes bring up a lot of emotions in us, and before we jump to the practical of how to logistically deal with these types of things, I think it is also important to allow ourselves to feel the feelings around them and let them come out and then bring in the action steps and the practical that we’re gonna talk about. So feel the feelings, first prequel point.

That said, once that kind of feeling the feelings becomes maybe all-consuming rumination, obsessive rumination that is kind of spinning out of control and no longer constructive in any way, then it’s time to figure out how to deal with it, how to deal with both the mistake itself, from a practical perspective, and the emotions around it. And learning how to deal with mistakes is really important. I don’t think I’m blowing anyone’s mind by saying that, but it’s hard, and I wanted to share this quote from Roger Federer.

So I’m a tennis player. I love Roger Federer. I think he’s phenomenal on and off the court, from everything I know. He was giving a commencement speech at Dartmouth, which is where I went to undergrad, so I was watching his commencement speech partly because of both of those things, and I really loved this part of his speech. He talked about how, even though he had won about 80% of his matches in his career, he had only won about 54% or so of the points in all of those matches. And so, he said, “Even top-ranked tennis players win barely more than half of the points they play. In short, we are all going to make mistakes and a lot of them.” And he said, “The best in the world are not the best because they win every point. It’s because they know they’ll lose again and again, and they have learned how to deal with it.” So let’s talk about how to deal with it. So this is where we’re getting into those three main points.

#1: Reclaim Perspective – 6:54

The first point really is related to advice my mom gave me, and it is about reclaiming perspective. Again, I said we’ve got to feel the feelings, but at a certain point, we do have to introduce perspective. I want to add that we are going to introduce perspective based on our priorities within our job, within the case, within the project, whatever it might be, is reminding ourselves of the priorities on our plate and does this mistake even relate to those things.

Taking a step back from this, I want to share that, for me, and I think it’s pretty common from what I’ve heard for at least some other people out there, is that any mistake can lead to these feelings of incredible emotion, whether it’s, to me, it feels like shame washing over me. There’s almost like a panicky, but I also let in feeling shame that could just take over my body. Like a washing over me is really the way that it resonates for me. I’m sure it can feel differently for other people.

But more to the point is that sometimes we make these mistakes, and no matter if they’re small mistakes or big mistakes, it’s not even registering. It’s like we made a mistake, and therefore we have this huge emotional reaction regardless of the size of the mistake. And I have learned that I have to actively manage myself around this. It’s not something that I’m intuitively naturally going to know or feel in the right way. My reaction is not in proportion to the mistake size on its own. Left to my own devices, my emotional reaction to making a mistake is going to be big regardless of the size of the mistake. It is not proportional to the size of the mistake.

And so, I have to actively manage my brain around it, and a big part of this for me personally is asking this question that my mom asked me a long time ago. “Will this matter in five years?” And it was her way of helping to bring me back to, “Is this a big deal or is it not and will it matter in five years?” And sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Often, it doesn’t. Often, the huge emotional reaction I’m having is out of proportion to the mistake and the long-term impact it will have on a case, my career, myself, whatever it might be.

Sometimes, I will say, it’s hard to tell. Sometimes I’m like, “I don’t know.” [Laughs] It has utility. It might be limited utility but often it helps me gauge in a good way, “Is this reaction I’m having, emotionally, that appropriate to the problem, or is it just overkill?” And as I’ve been reading more about perfectionism, this approach actually makes a lot of sense. There is something I’ve heard about perfectionism that in order to bring nuance into a conversation, the perfectionist doesn’t have nuance in a reaction. And this is a little bit my words of how it makes sense to me, but the perfectionist doesn’t have nuance. In short, it’s like, “I want things to be perfect. When they are not perfect (i.e. I made a mistake) I am bad.” And I don’t necessarily have the “I am terrible” language going on in my head, but the feelings of shame and the weight of them definitely probably are that other pendulum of things are really bad because I made a little mistake or a big mistake, whatever it might be. And so, you have to, whether you are dealing with a perfectionist (like a perfectionist child), or you are the perfectionist (you have to do this with yourself), introduce the nuance. “Is this a big problem, is it a medium problem, or is it a little problem?”

My mom’s question of, “Will this matter in five years?” was a way for me to kind of bring a little bit more — it was more effective for me in terms of big, medium, or small. Asking “will this matter in five years?” really has helped me, but you can kind of bring however you want to think about this into the equation of giving yourself the perspective and coming up with some sort of metric, not a hugely scientific one, but like “will this matter in five years” to give you a little bit more to latch onto when you might be spiraling. As I mentioned, I think coming back to priorities can really help here as well.

So back in my litigation days, I might have been like, “What are the main issues that we need to prove in this case, and did this mistake affect any of those issues? Did it affect some of our overall strategy or not?” Sometimes it doesn’t, and so, you’re just spinning out over something that’s not that critical to the case, and that can really help bring you back to just being a little bit more grounded.

Same with, you know, if you were in a company. What are the main things you’re trying to achieve right now in the company, in this department, with this project, whatever it might be, and did this really affect that? Sometimes it did, and we have to own it. But sometimes it doesn’t, and I think that helping ourselves kind of cut through what is really the issue here, what warrants this type of reaction, what warrants what is a big mistake versus a small mistake can be really valuable.

And because of that value, it’s important to bring that nuance and perspective into it but don’t expect yourself to naturally know how to do it. When you are spinning out, have a go-to question or touchstone that helps you evaluate, “Hey, I’m spinning out in that way that I do, no matter the size of the mistake. What is the size of the mistake? How serious is this?” And that can help you let go of some of the mistakes that can be let go of.

#2: Don’t Hide Your Mistakes – 12:14

So point two is some advice from my dad, now. So I did my mom. Now we’re onto my dad. My dad said, “A problem only becomes a big problem if someone hides it. That’s when it snowballs into a big problem.” As soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake, bring it to the person who is kind of in charge of you or the matter or the big project or whatever it is who could help you with this. Lay it out (lay out the problem in detail), own it (own whatever your part was in it), and then offer up one to two solutions on how to fix it. That’s pretty much it. That’s the synopsis of the advice on that point.

But I think that it’s really valuable that a lot of people I work with probably know to do that already. I would also consider giving that advice to the people below you. Being like, “I trust silence means things are moving smoothly. But I need to trust the silence. And so, if there’s an issue, I want you to come to me and –,” lay out what you want them to do, offer a solution. That’s a big one that I would say because people will come to you with problems, but as soon as they start brainstorming solutions, they can often solve it for themselves and don’t even have to bug you with it because they realized it’s not a big problem and they can fix it. But on the whole, big problems should be brought to you, and that can really, really be valuable.

So whether this is something for you or something you’re advising the people who work for you with, when it comes to mistakes I think this is invaluable, just great advice because it has served me very well in my many, many mess ups. It has avoided problems from becoming big snowball problems just by taking this approach of bringing it to the person quickly, laying it out, owning it (owning that it was my mistake), and offering up one to two solutions on how to fix it.

Now, the caveat here is from the lawyer in me. Do this in person and tell your team to do it in person or, at the very least, a phone call. Do not email that type of stuff. It’s a recipe for bad things. So it’s great advice to do this but do it in person or do it on the phone. Do not do it where there is a transcript or an email involved. That goes for Zoom calls right now too because a lot of those Zoom calls can be transcribed — Teams calls, same thing.

#3: Using The Bright Method – 14:31

Okay, the final point of this is using The Bright Method in this context, which is really what prompted this whole episode because this is where I feel like I can bring value into this conversation beyond advice which was given to me, which is great advice, and I love passing it on. But here is really why I wanted to make a podcast episode about it.

If you work with me, you will hear me say a bajillion times everything comes back to time. Everything. Even mistakes. Maybe even especially mistakes. [Laughs] So as we think about this from a practical perspective, because I love practical. Do not give me advice without giving me the practical like, “How do I bring this to life? How do I make this work for me?” Think about the action steps you need to take to, one, fix the current mistake if you can and if you have to, if it’s not too late to, and two, how do you avoid doing that going forward?

So, from a practical perspective, what are the action steps once you’ve felt the feelings, you’re like, “Well, how am I gonna deal with this?” is really understanding, “Okay, setting the emotions aside, how do I fix this? What action steps do I need to take to fix the mistake if I have to or if I can, and even if I can’t, how do I avoid making that type of mistake going forward?” And then I want you to consider calendaring those things. Sometimes we can’t calendar them.

Like if it was, let’s say you made a mistake in the brief that you would have caught had you done a heavier polishing at the end, then that’s not something you can calendar, necessarily, for the next brief right now. You might not even know when you’re drafting the brief next. But it might be smart to create either a workflow for the entire brief that you would kind of put this line item of what you do when you polish a brief in or, and this is what I used to do is I just had a checklist of, “This is how I polish briefs. First –,” I can’t even remember all the details now, but it was like, “– check every citation, including abbreviations, pin cites, the page I was citing to, check if it’s good login right before we file, whatever it might be, and then also check the exhibit citations.” I should have thought about this before I started recording the podcast, but, you know, if I’m citing to exhibits or a declaration in those paragraphs, check all of those.

I had a partner who really cared about spacings after periods, so check that all the spacings are one space and not two, and by doing that I mean Control+F look for two spaces and change them just to one. Whatever it might be, I would come up with a checklist of things you do to polish a brief, a presentation, anything like that, and then that is something that, as you get a brief, you always do that at the end. You have your polishing checklist, and you go through it before you finish the deck, the presentation, whatever it is, the brief, anything like that. You have that checklist of things that you go through at the very end.

If a mistake is something that you can calendar each year or each month or whatever frequency makes sense, then do that as well. So this is a small example, but I had someone once reach out to me and say that they always every year got a ticket in Boston because they didn’t have their car registration done, and every year they made this mistake annually. And instead of just beating themselves up every year and having to pay this huge ticket and feeling all those feelings that come up when you do something like that and you’re like, “This was so avoidable, but I keep doing this,” is just stop that and say, “How do I avoid this going forward? Okay, I need to pay it. When do I pay it? When do I register again? Roughly around this time of year based on the tickets I’m getting. Let me look it up,” and then you calendar that. “Every year on this date, I start doing this.” Maybe you duplicate it and do it two weeks later and be like, “Did I do it?” Every year, two weeks later: “Did I do it?” just as a backup measure, and that helps you avoid those mistakes going forward.

My Big Mistake – 18:36

I want to share one more big one for me. I made a mistake. I think this was even a year, a year and a half ago. I made a big mistake. I had agreed to do a presentation for a friend who was also a client. I had agreed to do a presentation for her whole company, and I had calendared the date, and, I mean, it was like a week or two before, I realized I had calendared the wrong date, and I could no longer do that the actual time we had agreed to. So I think it was December 9th. I’m pretty sure the actual presentation was on — I think it was December 9th, and I could not do that talk anymore, and so, we had to move it like a day earlier. And this was a presentation on time management, and I had double booked myself and could not do this anymore.

And I had my normal feelings of shame around that, and then I had the additional shame of, “I teach time management, and I double booked myself.” There was just so much shame, so much shame washing over me for a while. And I fixed it with her, and I owned it on the presentation, but I also wanted to say that I also had to get really clear with myself on, “How do I avoid this going forward?”

And how I decided to avoid it going forward is anytime that I agree to a presentation, even tentatively, I would send them a calendar invite for that time and just write “Tentative Time-Management Presentation by Kelly Nolan to This Company.” And I would send it to that person. It helped really clarify time-zone issues because I’m terrible at calculating time zone differences, and it also got it in my calendar and blocked immediately in a way that we could cross reference. Because had I calendared the date that I put in my calendar — we agreed on December 9th, and I put it in for December 8th. Had I sent her the calendar invite right away, “Tentative Time-Management whatever,” she would have been like, “Hey, no, that’s a day later.” It would have been a small, small embarrassing moment but great long-term save that would have saved me a lot of stress down the road.

And so, I raise that to share that that’s just an example of that was a massive mistake that brought on a lot of shame for me. It’s not massive in the scheme of life, but it felt pretty big in the moment. Instead of just sitting there and beating myself up for weeks on end, I could just be like, “How do I fix it with this person?” and I did, and then, “How do I fix it going forward and avoid this going forward?” To do both of those things, I calendared how I was going to fix it, how I was gonna address it, all that kind of stuff. And then I also have a rule in my head that anytime I set up anything, now even personal things, I send a calendar invite to make sure that we’re on the same page date-wise, time-zone-wise, all that kind of stuff. And that has really saved a lot of issues, I am sure, going forward.

Not only does this approach work in the sense that it prevents mistakes going forward and helps you fix mistakes in the short term, it also weirdly makes the mistake more neutral. It’s less of an emotionally-charged thing when you think about it, and it becomes a more neutral thing that you have to problem solve, and I don’t really know the science behind that, but that has really been my experience. There’s still emotion there. I’m not saying it’s all gone, but it brings the temperature down. It’s like instead of beating myself on end and ruminating about it, I think that ruminating almost comes from having no outlet for the energy, and if you can shift it into, “Hey, let me figure out how to avoid this going forward and fix this in the short term,” that energy has somewhere productive to go. [Laughs]

So that’s just the way I think of this is that somehow by using the calendar, I remind myself, “Hey, everything comes back to time. How am I gonna avoid this going forward?” By going back to time. By going back to calendar. What can I put in place to do this? It really just brings the temperature down, makes it more neutral and helps you move forward past it and just move onto the next thing so your brain is more freed up to turn to the more important stuff.

What I love about this is not only is it good for you but it does fix those solutions and helps you learn those lessons and not make the same mistakes again and again and again, and that I think can actually improve your relationships, is really what I mean. I read somewhere — oh, I can’t remember what book it was. I think it was like The EMyth. I think there’s an entrepreneur book I read. I wouldn’t read it unless you’re an entrepreneur. And one thing I’m pretty sure was in that book that the author talks about is that people can actually create better relationships with their customers when they mess up so long as they handle it well. People understand mistakes happen, but they are watching you very closely to see how you handle it, and if you can handle it well, your relationship has actually been shown to improve with that person than it was had you not made a relationship. I’m not sure how they did that study, but that’s what I remember from this book.

That makes sense to me. It’s surprising when I read it, and then I was like, “Yeah, that actually makes sense.” Because I think, as I said, we all know people make mistakes, but if we can trust that someone will come to us with a mistake, handle it well, have some more solutions to try and solve it and not make that same type of mistake again, then that is really powerful. Then you feel really good about that person and you feel like you can rely on them and trust them. I share that because I think that if we go through all the things that we talked about today and handle mistakes in this way, we can help ourselves reduce the fear around making mistakes by knowing, “You know, if I handle this well –,” I would rather not have to deal with this mistake, but, “If I handle the mistake well, not only can I save this relationship with this person, whoever it is that the mistake happened with (a boss, a client, whoever it is), the relationship actually might, in a weird way, even be improved, as long as I handle it well and with integrity and ownership and creativity and learn from it.”

And so, that’s what I hope a lot of this has given you today is a way to do those things, to feel the feelings but then transition into, “How do I solve this? What action steps do I need to take,” if there are any, if you can solve it or alleviate it to a degree. Calendar when you’re gonna do those things. It will also allow you to let it go until that time comes around and turn to other things that I’m sure you have to deal with. And then also, “How do I avoid doing this going forward? Do I add this thing that I should do when I polish up a presentation to a checklist?” And I always go through that checklist before I send out a brief or a presentation or whatever it may be. Do I send calendar invites for every single meeting even before they’re confirmed to say, “Tentative blah, blah, blah,” so that we’re all on the same page, and “Formal invite to follow,” whatever it is. But just really thinking about, “How do I creatively help myself fix this problem going forward or avoid this problem going forward using the tools that I have on hand?” And that really can bring the temperature down, make it more neutral, and help you problem solve with more creativity and strategic ability.

Okay, so to recap, we all make mistakes, feel the feelings, and then act when the feelings become too all-consuming, obsessive wallowing. Perspective is important, and if you need to use the touchstones of priorities on a case or a matter or for a department to help analyze, “Is this really that important or is it not?” Be up front about your mistakes. Own them, and offer solutions. Also talk to your team about doing the same if you want to but don’t have them do that — make sure that they know not to do it in an email or in some sort of transcript thing. And then use your calendar to help you bring it all back to the action and give yourself a game plan to fix any mistakes that you can and avoid them going forward.

Now, I want to end by bringing it back to Federer because I thought this part of the speech was so fantastic, and remember he talked about how he only won 54% of the points that he ever played. He said, “When you lose every second point on average, you learn not to dwell on every shot. You teach yourself to think, ‘Okay, I double faulted. It’s only a point. Okay, I came to the net, and I got past again. It’s only a point.’ Even a great shot, an overhead backhand smash that ends up on the ESPN’s Top Ten Plays, that too is just a point.

Here’s why I’m telling you this. When you are playing a point, it is the most important thing in the world. But when it’s behind you, it’s behind you. This mindset is really crucial because it frees you up to fully commit to the next point and the next one after that with intensity, clarity, and focus. Negative energy –,” and I’m jumping ahead in his speech a little bit. “Negative energy is wasted energy. You want to become a master at overcoming hard moments. That, to me, is the sign of a champion.”

All right, I think that’s a good note to end on! The last thing I want to say is if you are interested in learning The Bright Method in helping you kind of manage these mistakes, avoid them going forward, having a system to do that, having it be more concrete, all that kind of stuff, I do have a free five-day program if you want to check it out. I really believe time management is personal. I don’t believe The Bright Method is for everyone. It’s just a system that has worked really well for me and for the women who want to jump in the program, but it doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. So if you want to try it out to make sure it’s the right fit for you before you move forward with working with me, check it out.

I’ll put the link to sign up in the show notes. You can also just DM me on Instagram and ask. I’m happy to send you the link. I think if you DM me the word “refresh” my auto-response will also send it to you, so feel free to do that. But I really want to encourage you to jump in. I know I try and give a lot of value on these podcast episodes. At the same time, it’s not the same as learning the whole Bright Method, and here is some feedback from a woman who actually took the free five-day program. She said:

“I’ve been listening to your podcast consistently and found this resource, The Five-Day Program, to be nicely complementary, reinforcing some foundational things I’ve learned but also providing new strategies in ways of thinking to manage different parts of my life.”

So it’s not just duplicative. I encourage you to check it out. Again, the link will be in the show notes, or you can DM me the word “refresh” or email me, message me on Instagram, whatever you want to do. I’m happy to send you the link.

I also wanted to add, since this is coming out mid-July, that enrollment for my next program will open on August 1st at 10:00 AM Central. So if you are interested in joining The Bright Method program, definitely just start looking at it now, if you haven’t already, because spots are limited. I just want to make sure that I can really give really tailored, personalized support for every person that signs up. And so, just know that spots are limited. If you want to ensure you have a spot, make sure you are signing up at 10:00 AM Central on August 1st. If you have any questions, you are more than welcome to reach out to me. A lot of the details can be found at www.kellynolan.com/bright. But you are welcome to email me any question you might have. I also have PDFs on the website that you can share with your employer if you would like to see if they can cover it in whole or in part, and check that out. It’s on that same website www.kellynolan.com/bright. Most importantly, thank you for being here, and I’ll catch you in the next episode!

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