The Day After
December 3, 2017 5:06 PM   Subscribe

How do you recover when you feel like you really bombed at something? What techniques do you have for mentally letting things go when you don't feel like you did your best?

I tend to believe that people fall into two basic categories: those who believe things are generally fine unless they hear otherwise, and those who believe things are crap unless they hear otherwise. I unfortunately fall into the latter category. I really do not like this about myself, as it seems so needy and nothing good ever comes out of it.

As a result of this, my brain tends to work this way:

1. I do something.
2. I don't hear that it wasn't crap.
3. I reach the obvious conclusion that it therefore was crap.
4. I can't stop thinking and feeling bad about the thing in step #1.

If you can relate to this, and you have found a way to break out of this cycle, I would love to hear from you about how you did it.

Thanks, as always for your help.
posted by 4ster to Human Relations (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have, or can you develop, your own rubric for judging your work? It might be helpful to refer to that instead of assuming that because other people didn't say anything nice about it, it must have been terrible.

You can also ask someone you trust for feedback. Even awesome work can usually take some improvements and asking for feedback helps me find any gaps I need to address. And nice people who are good at feedback with both tell you what can improve and what's already strong about your work.
posted by bunderful at 5:30 PM on December 3, 2017

I generally feel better even about failures if I can reassure myself that my process was sound and diligent. That is, that I prepared as best I possibly could, got other opinions in advance, got a good night's sleep beforehand. If it goes badly anyway, it's still painful, of course, but I try to remind myself firmly that I did all that I could.
posted by praemunire at 5:38 PM on December 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

Have you ever lived in a place with serious public transport? You know how the buses and trains just keep coming? I say to myself, "There's always another x. There's always another x." I am in medical school and I know this feeling well, believe you me.
posted by 8603 at 5:42 PM on December 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

The best technique that I know is borrowed by from CBT
Take a sheet of paper and list out every single negative thought that you have your performance -
both general and specific. Be sure to include all the negative consequences. I bombed. Everyone thinks I'm an idiot. That joke sucked. I forgot to say something important. Keep going - every thing you can think of.

Then go back and for each and every one write down the most positive believable alternative. You don't have to be sure that it is true but it should be at least as likely as the negative thought. This often takes more than try for me. So "No, everyone really loved it" isn't believable. "Most people probably forgot about as soon as it was over" is better but kind of negative. "I bet at least some people thought it was good and most probably thought it was OK"

The truth is probably somewhere in between - that's OK. There's something about giving all those negative thoughts a place to go (onto the paper) and then to see the existence of at least the possibility of positive thoughts that help me reset.

In the beginning, doing it in writing is very, very much more effective than doing it your head. After you've done it for a while, you can start doing it in your head.

Second, "perfect is the enemy of the good" You can go a good job, even a great job and still have room for improvement. So take a minute and figure out what you want to improve next time. Try not to beat yourself up for making mistakes - you are human and therefore my definition imperfect - instead focus on how to be just a little better next time. No body wants to make mistakes, but having made them, you might as well get the benefit of learning from them.
posted by metahawk at 5:46 PM on December 3, 2017 [14 favorites]

If this something that you do in lots of areas of your life, check out Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. Most self help books just make me feel more inadequate but this one is so friendly and supportive that I found it actually helpful.
posted by metahawk at 5:49 PM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you have, or can you develop, your own rubric for judging your work?

I don't know whether you're referring to filing paperwork or oil painting, so I'm not sure how much this applies, but;

In creative work I found a long time ago that it's important to do what you think is your best work, as opposed to what you think someone else will like. If you're second guessing someone else and then they don't like it what can you say? "Yeah, I didn't love it either, I just thought you would like this shit". It's a losing situation. If you do work you think is good and they don't like it, well, everyone has an opinion. "I could have done better but I didn't think they would like it" will eat at you, and no one will know what you could have done.

If you're talking about mopping the floor try to do better next time.
posted by bongo_x at 5:50 PM on December 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are two questions you're asking. First, how do you avoid doing crap work? And second, how do you avoid dwelling on the thought that your completed work may be crap?

The answer to the first one is easy, and the above commenters have covered a lot of good points. Try searching for "deliberate practice" as well.

The answer to the second is to do another thing immediately. Keep your mind occupied on what you're currebtly doing, rather than what's already done. Think of a football quarterback who throws an incomplete pass. The best thing to get over that is to go back out and throw another pass. Keep yourself so busy that you don't have time to look back.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:06 PM on December 3, 2017

May I ask: Is it possible for you to give more self-kindness? To evaluate your words and actions as though they were those of a colleague you like and value? To tell shame and doubt to take a hike so you get better at discernment? To realize that a lack of feedback may have more to do with those around you (and their busy brains and schedules and to-do lists) than with the You feeling vulnerable? Consider it possible, too, that you may do good in the world in ways you'll never perceive, and that the immediate worst-case explanation may be entirely wrong and an impediment to the work of reflection and/or making changes.

Rooting for you, 4ster. Peace.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:50 PM on December 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some of the strategies in this thread might help.
posted by stray at 7:16 PM on December 3, 2017

How do you recover when you feel like you really bombed at something?

By remembering that it is feedback, and not failure. I own as much of it as I can because that means I have the power to improve or change things. I learn from it, do not beat myself up, but I see what I did right in all of it, and face what I did wrong. If I can fix the situation, I do.

I see life as a long science experiment, and if I have results that I can use, I can make myself better than I was before.

No one is perfect, and I am not trying to compete with God.

And sometimes, when you think you really messed up, you later realize that wasn't as horrendous as you thought it was. Sometimes you weren't given tools to prevent a problem. Sometimes it is a sign that you were in a bad situation, and you should find another path. Sometimes your thinking patterns need to be questioned, and you become a better person for it.

I hope you are all right, judging by the question. I used to teach public speaking to college kids, and I would tell them that sometimes they would do everything right, but there are times when everything goes wrong in public. The sun will still come out tomorrow, and there is no death penalty for making a mess of things.

We have all been there and frequently. And if all else fails, go do something really kind for someone who wouldn't expect it. It just brings you back to a more peaceful reality.

Good luck.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:51 PM on December 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do you have people you trust to give you feedback, both positive and critical? For me, if I never get any feedback, or if I never get any critical feedback, it's hard for me to trust my own instincts about how I'm doing.

When I have people I know I can trust to tell me how I'm doing, especially when I know they'll give me critical feedback when it's warranted, I stop worrying about it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:38 PM on December 3, 2017

posted by karmachameleon at 10:56 PM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

If this is a creative project: Make more things just for yourself. Promise yourself you will never show them to anyone or even tell anyone you are creating them. Get into a regular habit of making the specific type of thing you criticize yourself for most. For example, if you are most self-conscious about your poetry, it won't help to have an everyday journal. Once you've made things for yourself, do not edit them. You don't even need to ever look at them again. Once you've done this for a while, if you feel so strongly about something you've created that it forces you to break your promises of eternal secrecy to yourself, then go ahead, edit it and polish it and show it to the world.
posted by capricorn at 9:51 AM on December 6, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you, friends. Your responses are all very helpful and got me through a rough patch. I enjoyed reading them.
posted by 4ster at 9:55 AM on December 25, 2017

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