The Art of the Mistake

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Let's face it, we've all made mistakes.

It's part of the human condition. Whether the mistake was due to a lack of education, being distracted, or just plain stubbornness, we make them. As athletes, a mistake can be something as little as using the wrong angle with the dumbbell during accessory training or it can be as big as forgetting our belt during a powerlifting competition. The important thing to take away is making mistakes is inevitable and it doesn't matter how experienced you become, you will continue to make them.

Wow, so that was a big dose of wake the fuck up. Here's some good stuff for you to use that may or may not help you prepare for a deal with mistakes as they occur.

Self-trust is considered an essential skill for athletes. A lack of self-trust has been linked to a decrease in automatic motor functions. Basically, the athlete pays more attention to the actual execution of a skill, rather than going into the “zone” and having a more natural movement. This then leads to the likelihood of making mistakes or poor performance.

Mistakes made early on in training or competition have the ability to make you more distracted, which leads to more mistakes. The cycle goes on and on.

Competition is a test of an athlete’s physical and mental skills. The ability to move past mistakes during competition is one aspect of a skill called “self-regulation”, which has three phases:

  • Forethought: Planning and goals prior to competing; used in training in order to become proficient.

  • How will I react if I make a mistake?

  • What cue words/images will I use if something happens?

  • Performance: Behavior during competition when a mistake occurs.

  • Using the cues/images as needed to redirect thoughts back towards the next event.

  • Keeping a log of the mistake (written or cognitive), what tools you used to redirect, and the outcome

  • Self-reflection: Self-evaluation

  • How did I react mentally?

  • Looks at the positive and negative self-talk that arouse during the situation and after


  • Build self-confidence: Begin with weights you know you can get. Focus on your routine set-up and use positive imagery associated with a successful event.

  • Create a Mistake Ritual: Use some type of cue word and/or imagery in order to “let go of the mistake” until a later time. The best rituals are short and have a physical component that matches the mental goal. These work best if used immediately after the mistake occurs.

  • Flush: Physically, make the same hand motion you would while actually flushing a toilet. Visualize a toilet flushing after you pull the handle.

  • Cancel: Say cancel to yourself or out loud while swiping your hand through the air.

  • Erase: Take chalk and make a mark, then erase it, visualizing the mistake being erased as you do so.

  • Consider the Mistake: Set aside a specific time to go over your mistakes later. In powerlifting, you have time between each attempt to quickly identify the mistake and determine how to improve the next lift.

  • Use this time to consider the implications of the mistake & how you can learn from it.

  • What went wrong?

  • How can I fix it?

  • Is that something I can change now or does it need to wait until later?

  • Stay away from negative self-talk; it’s not going to help you and will most likely bring you down more. Instead, focus on the behaviors you can fix.

  • Change “I can’t believe I fell forward like that” to “It felt like I didn’t keep my core tight during that squat. I’ll double-check during set-up on my next attempt.”

If you struggle with moving past mistakes during training or competition, please feel free to contact me for more information.


Collins, J., & Durand-Bush, N. (2014). Strategies Used by an Elite Curling Coach to Nurture Athletes’ Self-Regulation: A Single Case Study. Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology, 26(2), 211-224.

Goldberg, A. (2009). Letting mistakes go - A technique. Retrieved 2016, from Competitive Advantage,

Moore, W. E., & Stevenson, J. R. (1994). Training for Trust in Sport Skills. Sport Psychologist, 8(1), 1-12.

payasUgym. (2015, April 8). 10 hardcore bodybuilding quotes to motivate you in the gym [photo]. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

Positive Coaching Alliance. (2016). Flush & park mistakes with a mistake ritual. Retrieved from

Tedesqui, R. B., & Orlick, T. (2015). Brazilian Elite Soccer Players: Exploring Attentional Focus in Performance Tasks and Soccer Positions. Sport Psychologist, 29(1), 41-50. doi:10.1123/tsp.2014-0007

#powerlifting #strongman #mistakes #lettinggo #techniques #mentalskills #selfregulation

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Rhino's Gym is a hardcore, old-school gym in Fayetteville for powerlifters, strongmen, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. We offer strength training exercises for men and women of all ages as well as personal training programs. Trainers are welcome to train their clients here!



906 Cedar Creek Rd

Fayetteville, NC 28312

Tel: 910-635-3903