Past Mistakes that Haunt You
Posted On October 28, 2022
I spend a lot of time playing mildly challenging games (think Candy Crush and Tetris). It's a great way for me to relax. It calms and focuses my ever-busy brain.
Sometimes my mind wanders into replaying the past. It's usually focuses on an event that didn't work out well. I analyze one of my mistakes, trying to find a way I could have avoided it. Or I justify my choices. It leaves me feeling exhausted, because it always ends up the same.
Repetitive games might trigger your own ruminating, or maybe it's something else. You might get stuck on a past mistake when you're:
- trying to fall asleep.
- on a lengthy drive.
- quieting your mind with prayer or meditation.
- watching a boring video.
It is painful to comb over the same past situation, looking for a different outcome.
Even with the best intentions, everyone makes mistakes. We say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and fail to act. We make big mistakes that hurt others and small blunders that others wouldn't even notice. If we let them, those mistakes can haunt us for a long time. We lose sleep as we replay the event, wishing we had handled it differently. We hold onto them, trying to rewrite the script.
The past can't be changed. The mistakes we make are part of our life story.
Holding onto past mistakes takes a toll. It can ruin our confidence, tank our relationships, and waste a lot of time. When these situations continue to taunt us, they breed anxiety and depression.
When we make mistakes, we should:
- review the experience,
- learn what we need to from the situation, and
- move forward.
That isn't always easy. You might struggle to move forward. Your partner might want to hold on to an injustice. For your own well-being, you need to bring closure to mistakes so they don't hurt you.
1) Don't be a hostage to your younger self.
You are a human being. Over time, you WILL grow as a person. You will learn and change your behavior. Reflecting on the past helps you learn from it. Dwelling there gets you stuck.
Move forward by reminding yourself that your younger, immature self made that mistake (even if it was yesterday). It doesn't mean that your present and future, wiser self will make the same choice.
So many people think, "I screwed up in school. I just can't learn." Or "Once a liar, always a liar." This is only true if you let it be true. Instead, recognize how much you have grown and changed. You are not the same person anymore.
Accountability for past choices can be daunting. Your heart pounds when you imagine apologizing. Talking to the person you hurt fills you with dread. Once you do it, you feel a wave of relief. Making up for a mistake strengthens your integrity and releases the guilt so you can move on. It also helps other people move on.
3) Apply the Golden Rule to yourself.
Treat yourself the way you would treat another person in the same situation. When thinking about a mistake, listen to the way you talk to yourself. Would you say those same things to a child or a best friend? If you wouldn't, then you shouldn't say those things to yourself, either.
The way you think about an event shapes how you feel about it. So, talk to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one.
4) Interrupt the pattern.
Most people dwell on past mistakes under specific circumstances. Usually it is when they are doing a mindless task or under the influence. Identify what triggers those thoughts and make a plan to interrupt it. If your thoughts turn dark when you are doing something specific, then change how you do it.
A powerful way to get over past mistakes is to change your behavior. You don't need to repeat the same actions.
Identify what would need to be different to avoid making that mistake again in the future. Then, put in the effort to make the change. You may need to learn a new skill or to set up accountability. You will feel more confident knowing that you have the tools to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Most people dwell on their mistakes. Their thoughts get stuck in a loop like a broken record. You can resolve them so you can leave them in the past. If you find yourself struggling to get over a mistake on your own, try talking with a trusted friend, coach or therapist. Saying it aloud can change how you think of things.