How To Finally Stop Being So Hard On Yourself (and get some more sleep at night, too)

I had one of those nights last week. Perhaps you know the kind. When you repeat a conversation over and over in your mind, trying to find the exact moment it went wrong, and wishing desperately that you had responded differently.

Or maybe you said too much and regret a few unnecessary words. Maybe you feel that there was a much better way to handle a situation than the way you handled it.

Usually, when I can’t sleep, I can suddenly craft the perfect response in my head as I’m tossing and turning. Too late, of course. Why didn’t I think of that earlier today? The agonizing is only made worse by the crystal clear quality of what I SHOULD HAVE DONE.

This is the heavy feeling of making a wrong move and not being able to move forward. This is what it feels like when you are too hard on yourself. It’s exhausting. I decided that I wasn’t going to let my mistakes haunt me at night. Here are the strategies that have helped me deal with post-flop regret.

Create a simple statement that you can grow from. I am much more likely to accept my mistake when I reflect on it and clearly state one specific and actionable thing I will do to move forward. Here’s one I am trying now: Listen two minutes longer before I speak. If you repeat a bold, simple statement like this often, it can put you on the path of making peace with your blunder. Think of it as a mantra that guides you through your day.

Fix it- and then let go of the details. I once delivered a presentation and failed to anticipate the questions my audience might ask. As a result, I was unprepared for the Q and A session and unable to speak knowledgeably to a few questions at the end. For a long time, I couldn’t let go of these last few minutes, even though the majority of the presentation was successful. I belabored the awkward moments in my head, wondering what the participants were thinking about such an unprepared presenter.

Finally, I wrote a revision of the presentation that included detailed, thoughtful answers to common questions. Then I filed it in my “next time” file and released the details from my mind altogether.

Reframe the Situation As a parent, one of the most useful books I’ve read is The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Alexander and Iben Sandahl. I found it so helpful that I applied the principles to all areas of my life.

The author spends an entire chapter on the power of reframing, or the ability to see the truth in a new way. Danes find this shift in perception so important that they cite is a cornerstone of resilience.

The authors described people that are able to do this as “realistic optimists.” These optimists are aware that things go wrong, but habitually filter out the unnecessary negative information.

I thought back to some uncomfortable situations I had experienced. Sure, there were a few awkward exchanges and missed opportunities. However, when I reframe them, I see them as potent lessons in leadership. And when I start to think like a realistic optimist, I feel relief that I now have the tools to avoid that approach again when the new situation might have more at stake.

Be aware of imposter syndrome. Just the research alone helps me sleep at night. Yes, you are too hard on yourself. Yes, you are so much more capable than you think. In the past few months that I have been writing about leadership, I have discovered that our audience ranges anywhere from educators, coaches, and administrators, to bar managers, athletic directors, and entrepreneurs. Such a diverse skill set, but the recurring theme that surfaces most in conversations is the feeling of self-doubt. Yet, they are viewed as leaders and masters of their field by their peers. Other people can easily recognize their strengths, but they can’t.

It’s easy to see how a few simple mistakes can make you feel like a fraud, or worried that people will finally see that you are not as experienced or talented as they thought you were. The first step in overcoming this is being aware that this exists in the first place. Then, flip the scene. For every scenario that you feel exposes your weaknesses, think about how the same scenario reveals your strengths. Chances are, that is what people are seeing anyway.

Others feel the same way you do—about themselves.  A good friend and I struggle with these feelings often, and we pass this same piece of advice back and forth to each other when it’s needed: Nobody goes home thinking about the mistakes you made. They are too busy losing sleep over their own.

We all mess up from time to time. We are human, and we are imperfect. In fact, we will experience missteps time and again. That’s what happens when you put pen to paper, or share an innovative idea, or take the lead when others need a guide. And while we can’t avoid minor setbacks, we don’t have to lose sleep over every single one of them. I think I am finally ready to believe that.

After all, who’s keeping count anyway?