Unfortunately, as a baby, you weren’t presented with a foolproof instruction manual for life. More likely your parents tried to raise you teaching you all they knew. Maybe that was a lot, maybe very little. Your parents may also have encouraged and praised your every victory and scowled whenever you failed a test. Yet, life is filled with failure. It’s impossible to avoid. It’s simply part of learning, because you don’t have all the answers up front.
Luckily, there are ways to deal with the mistakes we make in such a way that benefits us and helps us to move forward as a better person.
1. Stop the Self-Blame
Sometimes it’s only too easy to blame yourself. You knew somewhere what you did wasn’t right, so why didn’t you stop to listen to that little nagging voice inside? Because you didn’t know how important it was, of course! It takes practice to pay attention to this little voice. Trust me: I once swore to do so, which made me realize just how little attention I’d paid in the past simply because that little voice doesn’t always seem logical and it is not always very loud.
Likewise, maybe you knew it wasn’t a good idea to drive when stressed, but it didn’t stop you from getting into the car on that fatal day when, stressed, you didn’t see another car and drove into it. You knew you should have stopped to take a big breath before getting into the car, so why didn’t you? Because you didn’t realize how big the consequences would be.
Most people might have had an inkling that what they were about to do when making a mistake wasn’t the best course of action. Yet, they didn’t know exactly how bad the outcome would be. Nor did they know how to exercise enough self-discipline not to do it. So, if they didn’t know, why should they blame themselves?
And here’s the deal: if you blame yourself, you feel bad. You will then end up doing more things to prove how bad you are, making more mistakes. You will get yourself into a negative feedback loop. This loop will prevent you from going out into the world to create great things.
How Mandela Stopped the Self-Blame and the Blame of Others
Look at Nelson Mandela. He was raised in apartheid and he was a pacifist. He tried to change South Africa peacefully. When that didn’t work, he started using force. He was part of masterminding events that killed people. Then, he was sent to prison.
He came out 27 years later as a pacifist. He united South Africa through love. He left the past behind. He did not want to punish white people for the country’s past. He did not want to punish himself for the past. He wanted to move forward. And he did.
He was given more than 250 honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. How’s that for screwing up and screwing it right, and forgiving others for the same!
2. Own Up to it
Silly excuses, or simply not apologizing, won’t do anyone any good. Face the fact that you made a mistake. Own up to it, yourself and others. Apologize where apologies are due. People appreciate transparency.
3. Learn to Focus
Many people tend to go over something time and time again in their mind’s eye after something has happened. Whilst it’s good to look for the lessons in whatever happened, getting stuck replaying the memory in your head or blaming yourself won’t do anyone any good—nor will reveling in what you might have lost whether that be money, a career opportunity, a friend or a lover.
Look at the story of Nelson Mandela—he was imprisoned for being a terrorist. When he was eventually released, he didn’t sit moaning about his mistakes; instead, he united a nation with love, peace and understanding. He focused on finding a solution as opposed to being caught up in the problem. He also spent 27 years of his life in jail. Many other people might have been consumed by regret or grown bitter due to apartheid. Instead, Mandela continuously focused on finding a solution.
What I’m trying to say is that after you’ve faced up to your mistake and learnt whatever lessons you can from it, focus on moving forward. How can you move on to create great things for yourself and others? Use your mistake as the perfect reason to move forward as a better person.
4. The New You
People love stories where someone screws up only to screw it right. Whilst people might currently look at you funny, those same people will praise you if you get up again and turn your misfortune into a fortune.
Also, remember that the you today is not the you of yesterday. People take immense pride in their past just like they feel ashamed of the not so great moments of their past. The past is gone though. You might have won a game of chess with someone yesterday. That doesn’t mean you will win a game you play with them today.
We constantly have the opportunity to grow and to evolve. All the past is is a lesson. The future is still wide open. So decide to make the kind of choices you want to make today. Yesterday is already gone.