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What To Do If You Screwed Up Big Time – 5 Steps To Recover And Move Forward

Jen Dyer specializes in helping parents and teens manage and become resilient to anxiety and overwhelm. Jen is founder of Bright By Your Side, and host of the podcast, Bright By Your Side with Jen, Upleveling in the Age of Anxiety.

Executive Contributor Jen Dyer

You screwed up, and you know it. You think you may have committed career suicide or lost your scholarship. Your mind is spiraling with horrible outcomes, landing on you all at once. You feel an anxiety attack coming on. You want to hide, but you don’t want to go home and face your family. You think your life is over. What should you do? Here are five steps to calm down and recover.

Man in the kitchen thinking

The 5 “S”s: Stop, sift, sort, solve, and sorry

Stop – Halt the spiral: Breathe, soothe, disassociate

Take a nice deep breath, exhale slowly for 8 counts, and keep your lungs empty for a few seconds. The long exhale and empty lungs mimic deep sleep and trick your brain into calming down. The counting distracts you from your negative thoughts. Press between your eyebrows or under your nose. These pressure points are known to relax the body and mind and relieve anxiety.


Close your eyes and imagine floating up above your body and looking down at the back of your head. Pretend you are a camera on a drone or a bird. Notice your hair and the back of your shirt. Once you’ve done that, flip that image up onto a movie screen and imagine you are sitting in a dark theater watching it. You are an observer. This is called disassociation. It removes the emotion from the situation, and the active visualization stops the spiraling.

Sift – Separate the real from the unreal

Imagine laying out all of your thoughts and fears in front of you. See them as photos or post-it notes, whatever works for you. Sift through them and separate the real from the unreal. The event that just happened—a poor presentation to the CEO or a failed final exam—is real. Most others will start with “if.” “If I lose my job, I’ll lose my house.” “If my GPA drops, I won’t attend grad school.” These are not real because they require a chain of events to come true.


Sort – Prioritize by most compelling

Take your real issues and sort them by the most impactful. The top item usually affects all others. If you undo the one big mistake you made, everything else goes away. If your professor allows you to retake your final or if you can quickly redeem yourself to the CEO, you’ll be fine. Start there.


Solve – See your options

Once you’ve prioritized your list of issues, start with item 1. How can I affect this? You can ask your professor to retake the final or quickly send your CEO a beautiful report with all of the data you missed in the meeting. If your professor doesn’t let you retake that final, maybe another class grade can be elevated with extra credit to balance your GPA. If you aren’t able to repair with the CEO directly, think of new ways to add value to your team or something you can take off your director’s plate to elevate your reputation. As you start generating ideas, your mind will be in a creative, positive state. You will feel empowered. You will quickly realize that you will be okay because you have options.


Sorry – Apologize

Your behavior was probably a disappointment to someone, whether your manager or your family. You should apologize for not being prepared or showing poor judgment. An apology is extremely beneficial to your outward EQ, as it demonstrably maturity and accountability. And, apologies are not as horrible as you think. Know that their response is largely related to your approach. You control 90% of how others respond to you.


Armed with ideas and solutions, approach with humility and promise to do better. Because you’ve already done the footwork of finding solutions, your apology will be more sincere. It will be clear that you understand the gravity of the situation and are willing to work on repairing the damage. Remember that people are generally kind and sympathetic as we have all made mistakes. Gifting a humble person a second chance feels good. You might be surprised how rewarding the apology experience can be.


A moment like this can be life-changing for the positive. Every successful person has a few of these in their memoirs. When you come out on the other side, you will have a great war story and a few scars. But most importantly, you’ll be wielding the sword of confidence in your ability to solve problems and survive anything. You are smarter and stronger than you can imagine.

Having this process in your toolkit will empower and carry you forward.

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Read more from Jen Dyer


Jen Dyer, Life Coach, Health Coach, and Hypnotherapist

Jen Dyer specializes in helping parents and teens manage anxiety and overwhelm. Jen is founder of Bright By Your Side, and host of the podcast, Bright By Your Side with Jen, Upleveling in the Age of Anxiety. Using her skills as certified life coach, nutrition coach, and hypnotherapist, Jen has a multi-level approach to becoming resilient to stress, all backed by scientific research. Bright By Your Side is on a mission to reduce the use of mental health medication across all ages.



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