We all make mistakes.  No matter the level of preparation, effort or experience, mistakes are going to happen. The differentiator between success and failure, however, isn’t necessarily the mistakes made as much as it is in how we deal with our blunders.  In other words, mistake management may be key to success.  One approach to mistake management is focusing on increasing the positive and decreasing the negative consequences of our errors. A second approach, mistake prevention, focuses on working faultlessly—yes, easier said then done.

Research offers some helpful insights into mistake management.  In two experiments, error approaches were manipulated through task instructions and measured by on-task and off-task thoughts (Dimitrova, et al., 2015). In both experiments mistake management resulted in more task-focused thinking. Experiment 2, however, further demonstrated that mistake management resulted in, not only a greater focus on the tasks, but better task performance. The researchers concluded that mistake management makes people more focused on a task during practice, which in turn results in higher performance after practice.  The lesson here is that rather than fussing about our failures and faux paus, focus greater attention on preventing future errors and increase the positive while decreasing the negative consequences of your errors. In other words, take extra measures to ensure your actions gain the results you seek and if not, learn from your mistakes by applying lessons learned to future actions. Manage your mistakes to minimize current damage and maximize future success.


Dimitrova, N. G., Dyck, C., Hooft, E. A. J., & Groenewegen, P. (2015). Don’t Fuss, Focus: The Mediating Effect of On-Task Thoughts on the Relationship between Error Approach Instructions and Task Performance. Applied Psychology: An International Review64(3), 599–624.