The Quiet Leader: How Introverts Learn from Our Mistakes

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If you have not already, I recommend that you read my post titled, The Canine Regret Gene as it will help to set the stage for this piece.

I’m not sure if this is just a Canadian thing, but sometimes when other people bump into me, I have apologized. I have even talked to myself immediately after, telling myself how stupid it is to apologize to someone when THEY bumped into me. And then I did again.

Canadians apologize a lot. You may want to watch this Canadian apology by Colin Mochrie.

“For some introverts, we can be eating emotional leftovers well beyond the expiry date

As an introvert, sometimes I live too much in my head. When I make a mistake I can chew it over and over. I guess that for Introverts, regret sticks to the soul. But I have also found that some of my greatest lessons have come from learning from my failures.

If you are an introvert, you may have asked “How can I learn from my mistakes without beating myself up?” If you are not an introvert, I guarantee that you work with and probably are in a relationship with an introvert. You may have asked yourself “How can I get insert name into the blank to stop thinking so much?” These are some questions that I will discuss in this article.

Quiet leaders learn from our mistakes but the process can sometimes be excruciating. Susan Cain (see Reference section for link) has written about how introverts process information deeply and consider the many angles of a situation.

“Introverts have an environment in their heads”

Susan Cain

This way of thinking can have disadvantages when it comes to how we think about our mistakes. Introverts can turn a situation over and over and over in our minds, wringing out every last drop of emotion and every nuance of a mistake. We can be eating emotional leftovers well beyond the expiry date. Our way of thinking may cause us to expend enormous emotional energy over relatively minor mistakes.

 “For Introverts, regret sticks to the soul”

Thinking too much about mistakes is not a territory occupied solely by introverts. Rumination is a habit that anyone can engage in. It is just that for introverts, we may retreat into thinking about a situation and that can make things worse. Patterns of rumination have been linked with increased depression, anxiety and cravings to binge eat or binge drink. Rumination can make a person more vulnerable to the effects of stress, loss, setbacks and trauma.

Learning from mistakes without beating ourselves up

In my back yard, we have a small flower garden. I am not a very good gardener, and I am lucky I have not gotten buried there myself! In the little bit of gardening I have done, I know that turning poor soil over and over does not make for a better flower garden. For fresh growth, you have to have fresh soil.

When realize that I am ruminating, I have a few things that I do that seem to help.

  • I get up and I immediately do something physical like cleaning my office, filing, go for a walk or vacuuming. Keeping my hands active seems to help bring my attention back to the present. For more on this, I recommend “Lifting Depression” by Kelly Lambert (see link in Reference section). She writes extensively about both the research and about practical ways to lift negative emotional states.
  • I write it down. For me, I use a journal and write down everything that is on my mind on one page. This helps to externalize, or to get some kind of clarity about my thoughts. I also write down at least three things I am presently thankful for. Then when I catch myself ruminating, I remind myself about what I am thankful for. If I am going to ruminate, I would rather give my mind something worthwhile to think about. For more on this, see the article I wrote about Listening for the Rest of the Story.
  • I talk to someone. When my negative feedback loop gets going, one of the best ways to stop it is to just say it out loud to someone. I don’t know why, but the inner critic doesn’t like attention.
  • I meditate – 5 minutes of quiet breathing is like a shower for the soul. Meditation helps to bring the attention to the present. I keep my journal nearby because sometimes important things come to mind. Some days we just need to think gently about ourselves.
  • I engage my mind with stories that I can read, watch or write about.

“Stories have long held a central place in human experience. Narratives create culture, change minds, and shape meaning. Some theorists have even claimed that all thought is narrative”

Melody Green

  • I choose when I am ready return to lesson-finding. Immediately after is a bad time. Sometimes I need a few hours, a few days or maybe longer.

How can you help an introvert who is thinking way too much?

That depends. For an introvert, it may not feel like we are thinking too much. We each have a point where we know we have to move on. It can take some of us a little longer.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Listen without trying to fix. This does not mean listen to a sentence and then talk…
  • Ask what they need from you and give them space
  • When they are ready, they will talk to you if you listen.
  • Reminding an Introvert of their strengths and the many things they have overcome can also help to reframe a situation.

Learning to have “multiple sources of gratification” and positive social support can be important. Having several engaging projects that include work, home and hobbies along with friends and family can provide other places to land when one area is a challenge.

IMG_2781 IMG_2785

One more way to learn from your mistakes is by adding more windows to your house. Dr. Brian Little writes about this in his recent book, “Me, myself and us: The science of personality and the art of well-being” (see Reference section for link). Having a variety of windows give us different ways to view our world, our experiences and ourselves. According to Dr. Little, your windows are your self constructs. Having fewer self constructs can lead to increased vulnerability to stress, anxiety and feeling hopeless.

For example, if one self construct that you have is that you value being a “Respected Leader,” depending on the kind of mistake made, that construct may become challenged. Having other constructs that are also important means that you and I can shift our views to other important frames like “a devoted mother,” “being fit,” “being creative,” or “contributing to my community.”

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8

Keep it real.

Quiet Leader links

Check other articles in the series on Quiet Leadership here: the Quiet Leadership Manifesto, The Imposter Syndrome, The Top Ten Reasons Listening is Better than Talking, Seat Work (boring title, but amazing post… so says my Publicist/Daughter), How being a Quiet Leader almost became a DSM diagnosis, The Silent Superpower and Why Superman is a Terrible Leader.


(I am now part of Amazon’s Affiliate program. I receive a referral fee if you purchase a resource through a link below. It is just one more way you can support my blog.)

Cain, S. (2013). Quiet. New York: Broadway Books. Pages 103, 109.

Green,M.C. (2007). Linking self and others through narrative. Psychological Inquiry, Vol.18(2), p.100-102. See also,

Law, B.M. (2005). Probing the depression-rumination cycle: Why chewing on problems just makes them harder to swallow. November 2005, 36(10).

Lambert, K. (2008). Lifting depression. New York: Basic Books.

Little, B. (2014). Me, myself and us: The science of personality and the art of well-being. New York: Harper Collins.

Scott, E. (N.D.). Rumination and how it affects your life.

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