Calvin Strachan | How to recover from a mistake
Over the span of my career I've held many roles, most of which required me to perform under massive pressure.
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How to recover from a mistake

How do you recover from a mistake? When you have made a mistake and the pressure is on, how do you recover as fast as possible?

I’ll give you example from my life. A few years ago, I was a medical device sales rep. At that particular point in time, I was about five or six years into the role. Representatives at that point in their career know what they are doing. Typically they are not making rookie mistakes. In addition, they are not super senior either, but usually things are not going wrong.

What’s my point? One morning, I was about to head to the hospital and I received a call from the hospital just before they were about to start a surgery.

They said, “Hey Cal, how’s it going?”

A little surprised by the call I said; “Good”.

They said, “Listen, did you send the components to the hospital for the procedure this morning? The patient is in the room, on the table and we are about to start. But we don’t see the actual implants.”

I realized I did not send the implants. I just made a massive mistake. In response to their questions, I sputtered out;  “No, they are not there. I’ll get them.” In short, they were starting the procedure and they did not have the implants. Also, they had called my manager. He immediately called me and he flipped out. “What’s wrong with you? Where’s the stuff? How could you do this?” He just went crazy.

So, I was under huge pressure because the patient was on the table and my boss was being a bit of a…challenge, I was having a hard time.

My mind was racing. My heart was going a thousand miles a minute. I couldn’t think straight. I was still at home. I had to get to the hospital with those implants but I did not have them.

Oh, my gosh.” How do you recover in that moment?

It’s four steps.

When you are under that kind of pressure, maybe you are doing a pitch and you have said the wrong thing, or you showed the wrong slide. Or maybe it’s the fact that you didn’t bring the right materials for your client.

In that moment the first step is to be present.

When those moments strike, it’s very natural for your mind to take over. What happens is, your amygdala gets triggered because you have encountered a perceived threat. Examples of perceived threats are: showing the wrong slides; or providing the wrong data or not having the components.

So, the perceived threat kicks in and fear, doubt, and worry take over. Your heart is racing, your hands are shaking and you cannot think straight. The first thing you have to do is notice that response and be present. For example start to notice: can feel yourself holding your breath or breathing too fast? are your hands shaking or not, notice if you can feel your feet or not. Just get back into your body. Drawing your attention to your senses pulls you away from your amygdala. It pulls you away from the overreaction caused by the perceived threat and allows you to get back into the moment. In short, it will help you to relax more. Does that make sense?

Once you are present, the second step is to ask yourself a quality question.

Your mind is amazing. When you pose a question to your mind, it will find an answer for you. No matter what question you ask, your brain will go to work to find the answer. Are the answers always right or perfect? No, of course not. But the point is your mind will go to work to find that answer for you. When you are under pressure, you could ask yourself questions like: how do I solve this? What do I do? What’s the next right move? How do I solve this quickly? These kind of solution focused questions send the brain on a mission to find quality answers for you.

But there is a catch. When you ask quality questions, “How can I solve this? What’s the next right move? How do we do this quickly?” If you’re not present, your brain stays engaged by the perceived threat and screams, “You can’t, you’re dead. It’s over,” and you cannot come up with a solution. You have to be present first, relax your mind, and then ask the quality questions.

Once you have come up with your answers the third step is to act immediately and without hesitation

Be present, ask a quality question, when the answer comes, launch into action, don’t hesitate. Don’t allow the perceived threat to come back to you again.

Sometimes, after you have taken action, of course what happens? Occasionally, it’s not going to work. There will be times when you’re going to get it wrong. Do not get alarmed by this.

Simply, move to step four, be curious

If it doesn’t work, remain curious and ask yourself questions like why not? What happened? What’s not perfect yet because remember your brain will go to work to find the answer for you.

Resist the temptation to give up too soon after taking action. If you give into the temptation you could find yourself saying things like “come on, it didn’t work. This is ridiculous. I’m dead.” When this happens your mind recognizes the perceived threat and the whole pressure loop starts all over again.

To finish, lets circle back to my scenario, I was I’m in the house, I had to race to the hospital and my mind was screaming, “I don’t have the implants, the head office is too far way. What do I do? None of the neighbouring hospitals have the implants”.

So, I had to apply the steps.

Number one, be present and calm down. Specifically, slow your breathing down and get your hands under control.

Number two; ask some quality questions, how do I solve this? What’s the fastest way to solve this? They’re cutting the person now. I need that implant in about 30 minutes. What can I do?” I thought of a neighbouring city. I was about 20 minutes away. I thought, “Hey, they might have it.”

Number three; act immediately. Without hesitation I called the other representative and asked, “Hey, do you carry this implant? And do you have it in stock?” She did. So, I drove to her, picked it up, drove back, got back to the hospital, and they fortunately they hadn’t even started doing the actual procedure where they needed me yet.

What’s the point? When the pressure’s on and you need to recover from a mistake: be present, calm down. Ask yourself a quality question, launch into action, and then be curious if it doesn’t work. Apply the four steps and you will find your way through a tough mistake.

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