Stop beating yourself up for past mistakes

It’s easy to believe that we’re taking responsibility for past mistakes by ruminating on what we’ve done and feeling miserable but doing something doesn’t mean you’re learning. Taking responsibility requires intentionally acknowledging what you’ve done, learning from it and then forgiving yourself.

Beating yourself up for past mistakes or mulling over things you’ve said or done and that you now regret stop you from actually learning from your mistakes and moving on. It’s important to recognize when you’ve made a mistake and you should take responsibility for it, but just because you are playing back in your head what you’ve done doesn’t mean that you’re doing that. In fact, it’s more likely causing you more pain and holding you back from taking responsibility.

Breaking the cycle is easier said than done as it’s very likely that this routine - thinking about a past mistake and then feeling bad about it - has become a habit. It might seem strange that the pain you experience when you think about your mistakes is a reward, which is a necessary component for a habit to develop[1], but if you believe that your pain is deserved then it all makes more sense. You believe you’ve done a mistake and that you deserve the pain so you think about it some more and feel worse and then you think some more and on and on it goes. But thinking about what you’ve done and feeling miserable isn’t taking responsibility. It’s simply needless suffering and isn’t helping anyone.

Making mistakes, saying things we don’t mean and behaving thoughtlessly is part of being human. We all make mistakes and that doesn’t mean that you should be condemned forever or suffer in all eternity. You deserve relief which can only come from accepting what you’ve done, taking responsibility, learning from it and ultimately, forgiving yourself. To do this you need to begin by breaking your ingrained automatic response. Don’t let that vicious loop of self-blame and self-flagellation take over. Instead, take time to process what’s going on with intention. Speaking with a friend or a counsellor can help, as does writing your thoughts down. This creates some distance between you and your thoughts which allows you to observe them more objectively. This way you can see how your automatic responses may not be serving you and you can instead begin to rewire your responses and more fully begin taking responsibility. Once you’ve done that, forgiving yourself will feel easier and more deserved.

We all make mistakes - it’s okay. What matters most is what you do afterwards. Do you ignore them? Do you think about what you’ve done constantly and beat yourself up over and over again? Or do you take responsibility for what you’ve done, learn from it, forgive yourself and allow yourself to move forward? It’s easy to believe that you're taking responsibility for past mistakes by ruminating on what you've done and feeling miserable but doing something doesn’t mean you’re learning. Taking responsibility requires intentionally acknowledging what you’ve done, learning from it and then forgiving yourself.

Note:

[1] Read more about how old habits hold us back in Dr. Jud’s excellent book Unwinding Anxiety.

Sign up to the weekly newsletter!

Sign up to get an email with a weekly summary of the latest posts and things i've read.