Feeling like a failure? ‘Happiness Doctor’ offers tips on bouncing back | Lifestyle

This year’s Olympic games began with two back-to-back mishaps for American Mikaela Shiffrin, widely considered one of the world’s top alpine skiers. The two-time gold medalist did not finish either her giant slalom or slalom runs, and showed her devastation by sitting on the hill, with her head in her lap, for several minutes.

Though the rest of us perhaps can’t relate to such high-profile failure, we all regularly make mistakes, big and small, at work, at home, and in our community.

Dr. Amit Sood, who earned the moniker the “Happiness Doctor” at Mayo Clinic and now leads the Rochester-based Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing,offers advice on how to gracefully take responsibility for our blunders. He suggests how to reflect on mistakes and to incorporate what we’ve learned as we move forward. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: We often feel a sense of failure when we don’t achieve a goal. How can we reframe our definition of success?

A: The key is to not see failure as a failure. You define your success not by the outcome, because outcome is not in your control, but by your effort and intentions.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake people make after committing a mistake?

A: Jumping to validate oneself. You need to own up to it and be ready for the consequence. I knew somebody who philandered and they said, “Oh, it was not my mistake. She pushed me away.” Own up to your blunder and do not shift the blame.

Q: Say you forgot to do a task at work, or hollered at your kids, or backed into someone’s car in a parking lot. How should you respond?

A: The first step is to ask, “How can I help or heal or support the person who has been hurt by me?” Because it’s really not about me. If I have committed a blunder, it is about how the other person has been hurt and how can I compensate.

Q: What makes a meaningful apology?

A: The important thing about an apology is that it’s not an explanation and not a counter-blame. It should be short. And it should be something like: “I did it. I admit it. I’m really sorry. And I’ll make it up to you the best I can.”

Q: How do we make things right with ourselves?

A: I use one or more of the five principles of resilience.

The first one is gratitude: focusing on what went right within what seems wrong.

The second one is compassion. You have to be kind to yourself and look at yourself with the eyes of someone who loves you unconditionally.

The third is acceptance — recognizing your common humanity and that this mistake happens all the time.

Number four is meaning: How can I find something positive to it? Maybe this is helping me to work even harder and focus better. Or recognizing that this would have given me joy, but probably it will give even more joy to, or was more needed by, the other person. And it is also teaching me humility, and bringing me down to earth.

The fifth principle is forgiveness. The purpose of forgiving myself is not to lower my standards, but forgiveness will free up my mind to continue moving forward.

Q: What is the psychological impact of dwelling on our mistakes?

A: I call them emotional piranhas. One piranha doesn’t do anything. But a school of 10,000 piranhas can tear an animal to shreds in, like, 30 seconds. So one or two negative thoughts are part of our everyday experience. But if you keep thinking about everything wrong that you have done, or may have happened, and you keep those things keep ricocheting in your brain all day long, then your quality of life will go down and you will be predisposed to developing depression.

Q: And being around those who won’t let you forget your mistakes certainly isn’t helpful.

A: Some depression is genetically predisposed, but some is because you weren’t loved as a child, or because you are constantly hearing at your workplace or in personal life that you are unworthy, and that’s how you start seeing yourself.

Do not let someone who shouldn’t be in the story of your life write the title of your story. If we start to believe in those who do not believe in us, that’s why we get stuck in that downward spiral.

Q: After making amends, what can we do in the long term to improve our reputation?

A: Honor everybody as a human being, no matter what, independent of where they are on the totem pole. Truly respect people and do not bad mouth them.

People don’t like you for who you are, they like you for how they feel about themselves in your presence. If you help people love themselves in your presence, that is the key to relationships and that is the key to reputation.


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