You made a mistake. Now you feel bad.
It’s to the point you can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe it was days ago. Or years ago. But the heaviness of it feels suffocating.
And this isn’t a one-time thing. It keeps happening. Mistake. You overthink it. Another mistake. You overthink about it. And so on.
I get it. We all get it. Because we’ve all f#cked up, multiple times, in multiple ways.
I’m going to share how to stop focusing on it. Because there’s too much else worth focusing on in life other than mistakes.
Let’s first look at the benefits of you holding on to your mistakes and beating yourself up over them
That’s right. There are none. No benefits at all.
Fear around making decisions
Fear around taking risks
Not trying new things or reaching for goals
Self-sabotaging behavior that props up as soon as a project/task/relationship gains momentum
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.
None of those are benefits.
Holding on to the mistake is not serving you or anyone else.
So, why does this ultra-focusing-thing happen to you?
Our minds naturally gravitate toward focusing on the negative. As I explained in How to Stop Obsessing Over Rejection, we’re wired to hone in on negatives. It’s a survival mechanism. In case you missed it, here’s that explanation (briefly) again:
At one point in time, negative stimuli were potentially dangerous (ie. I hear a tiger rustling in the bushes or the last time we ate berries that looked like this, we were sick for days).
This survival tendency proved essential. It helped prevent errors in judgment and stopped our ancestors from making the same mistakes over again.
The trouble is it’s no longer needed. We’re not in extreme survival mode.
There’s no tiger in the bushes.
And the grocery store doesn’t even sell poisonous berries (we hope).
But our brains don’t know that and so we hyper-focus on negative events, stimuli, possibilities.
Of course, there are other reasons we focus on mistakes. Everything from childhood traumas to our educational system (think of the big red x all over your homework assignments) to insecurity issues that make us overly self-conscious.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to put a stop to the hyper-focusing on mistakes.
Here are 6 steps to stop focusing on your f*ck ups
Step 1: Become ridiculously self-aware
Become aware when the thoughts and feelings of regret and self-criticism are poping-up. Observe your thoughts. See yourself going down this jagged road.
Noticing the moments is the first – and most important – step to shifting this habit. Because this is a habit. Not a good one, but definitely one.
Don’t judge yourself when you realize you’re having these feelings and thoughts. Just notice. Make a mental note that that you acknowledge them, you see what’s happening and how you’re feeling.
Step 2: Use that self-awareness (from Step 1)
So you recognize when the thoughts and feelings creep up. Now what?
Do two things:
Thing #1: Stop the thoughts before they spiral.
You know the spiraling I’m referring to.
It starts as just a thought and before you know it your mind is running wild remembering the details of the situation, what happened, how it’s affected you, how you shouldn’t have done it…on and on…
Thing #2: Do not take action on these thoughts. I’m referring to actions that are triggered by feeling poorly about yourself.
If I’m feeling bummed about a mistake, and don’t nix the thoughts, I can quickly find myself overeating, binging on gummy candy (my favorite), wasting hours scrolling through Social Media, when I know I’ve got a deadline coming up or something, anything more important to spend my time on etc.
Those actions are directly a result of me feeling bad about myself.
And then comes the state of feeling bad about the actions.
And around I go.
It’s a destructive cycle.
Make the decision not to act on the thoughts of regret and guilt.
Step 3: Self-forgiveness
This isn’t actually one step; it’s a thousand steps. And they’re not linear and finite. Self-forgiveness is an ongoing process.
Here’s one of my meditations on self-forgiveness (if you’ve tried meditation before but your mind keeps bouncing all over the place, check out my Meditation Primer)
Description: Meditation Primer
Self-forgiveness is a process. In addition to the meditation above, here’s a simple self-forgiveness tip that helps slowly let go of self-criticism over mistakes:
*Watch your self-talk. Remember in step one, we went over becoming self-aware? Part of that awareness is to realize when you are in a pattern of saying destructive things to yourself, particularly around the mistake. Things like “I’m such a f*ck up. I always make mistakes. Why did I do something so stupid?” etc.
Become aware of that self-talk and stop it immediately. Use a word or phrase if that helps turn your thoughts around (for example, I’m perfectly imperfect or time to re-focus or I love myself)
Step 4: Forgiving others
Was someone else involved? The bigger the mistake was, the higher the chance that someone else was involved. You’ve started the work to forgive yourself. Have you forgiven them, too?
You need to.
Here’s why: that heaviness around the mistake is made up of guilt, shame, probably some anger, too. All these feelings need to be integrated and then released, not just your personal guilt.
And remember, forgiveness does not mean you weren’t affected or hurt by whatever happened. Forgiveness simply means you are choosing to release charged feelings around that person and that event so that you can feel lighter and less burdened in life.
Step 5: Accept yourself and own your sense of self-worth
Self-acceptance is about acknowledging yourself as a whole being, not selectively choosing parts to focus on while shunning others.
A lot of this distorted way of thinking comes from school and other places where we learn to focus on our strengths and hide our weaknesses.
Truth is, everything is we are whole. We are not only our strengths and all the good stuff.
Every action, skill, ability, inability, body part, mistake, thing you did, thing you didn’t do…
…..it’s all you. And there’s nothing wrong with owning it.
We are so accustomed to putting on our hats, our masks, our roles in life, which tend to represent the ‘best’ side of us and showing only that side to the world.
But there are other sides to us.
The sides which seem unpresentable, awkward, anti-social, even. The ‘dark sides’, some people call them.
But it’s all you. Every bit.
Self-acceptance issues also often stem from tying feelings of worthiness to things we’ve done (and haven’t done). We somehow think our value hinges on the task list of life.
You can do absolutely nothing more in your life, and you’ll still be worthy.
I’m a former nurse. I’ve taken care of babies all the way up to Centenerians. Some of which suffered from accidents and ailments that left them completely bedridden and barely alert.
Some of them will never ride a bike, write a book, have a job, or even make a mistake.
Are they not worthy? Should they not accept themselves completely?
None of your actions, money, status, background, mistakes, or even accomplishments determine your worthiness.
Write that down and repeat it to yourself if you need to during vulnerable moments.
Step 6: Question it. Was it even a mistake?
Take one of your ‘big’ mistakes and really look at it. Let’s drop the blame game for a second and see from another side.
As corny as it is to think that everything is a lesson….really…in everything, there’s a lesson. You can always learn something from your f*ck ups. Something.
And oftentimes what you learn has a big impact on the decisions you make in your life going forward.
This helps me feel better when I think of a mistake.
If you practice these steps over and over, you’ll notice more control over your thoughts and actions around your f*ck ups.
You’ll stop focusing on them and learn to be more present in the now and drop the useless overthinking around mistakes.
You do this thought by thought, action by action, day by day. For most of us, self-forgiveness and letting go is not an instant thing, especially for big mistakes.
Finally, here’s my bonus tip for when I feel you’re slipping into regret-mode
Ask yourself this question: are you engaged with your present life or engaged with your old mistakes and regrets? You cannot be doing both at the same time. It can only be one or the other.
Make your choice.
Come back, and let me know how it goes.