Category Archives: Mental Toughness

Letting Go of Mistakes & Poor Performances

Letting Go of Mistakes & Poor Performances

Bad days. Bad plays. Bad games. They’re a fact of life as an athlete. We can’t escape them no matter how hard we train. But we can learn how to handle them so one bad day doesn’t lead to more.


I recently came across a quote that I thought was perfect for athletes who beat themselves up over mistakes and struggle to let go of bad performances:

“Don’t place your mistakes on your head, their weight may crush you….Instead, place them under your feet and use them as a platform to view your horizons.”  —Unknown

When we mess up or have an off day, it’s easy to ruminate on what went wrong and put all our focus on the error. Those negative voices in our heads get going, and we really can get crushed under the weight of negativity, self-criticism, and worry. And performance plummets as our focus shifts from what we’re doing in the moment to concerns about past mistakes.

Make mistakes a platform for growth

making mistakes a platform for growthI love the idea of moving those mistakes from our heads to under our feet, almost like tree roots from which we can grow and reach our potential. When we view mistakes this way, as something to learn from, they become our teachers and coaches intent on making us better, not breaking us down.

We can let go of past mistakes and poor performances by learning from them and viewing them as the foundation of our growth.

Michael Jordan had this philosophy down. He famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

So how can you learn to think like Michael Jordan?

  1. After a mistake or poor performance, give yourself a set amount of worry time. Make sure you set a specific amount of time or give yourself a cue for when you will stop (e.g., 10 minutes, or until I get in my car) and stick to that.
  2. Next, name the top three lessons you learned from your performance. Perhaps you discovered an error in your form? Maybe you didn’t have a gameplan for handling your opponent’s offensive strategy? Write down what you’re taking away and how you will address it next time.
  3. Now run through a full visualization of the performance in your head—but this time do it exactly how you wanted it to go. Avoid mentally rehearsing the error.

Learn from the bad days. Let them become your platform for growth. Then let them go.

Please post a comment to share tricks you’ve discovered for letting go of mistakes and things you’ve learned from analyzing your performance!