Mistakes are a normal, important and necessary part of life.
Say this to yourself out loud. Write it down. Sing it. Yell it. Whisper it. Paint it. Do whatever must be done to help solidify this statement as a reality in your mind.
The most challenging part of a mistake is what I call the relationship ripple effect. Surprisingly, the effects of a seemingly independent, isolated decision ripple out and hurt other people.
Once remorse sets in, your brain seeks out, clings to and stretches the truth to find any relevant information for review. You make “wish lists” of what you should or should not have done. Justification grows with desperation. Bitterness leads you to accuse others for what is only your fault. One mistake spawns into many more.
How do you unclench your mental fists from these unproductive thoughts?
1. Accept that time travel is not possible and focus on the future
Unfortunately, there are still a few kinks to be worked out before we can travel back in time.
Once you accept going back is not an option, you are well on your way to putting grievances where they belong: in the past.
Obsessing burns negatively skewed memories into our minds that are likely exaggerated versions of what actually happened. Respect yourself enough to appreciate where you are in this course-correction. Take humble pride in the fact that you are trying to make changes at all.
Shift focus to what can be done going forward.
2. Objectively recall what happened
Write the question “What happened?” and answer it objectively. Objectivity is the act of stating the facts of a situation without judgment.
Check to make sure you are not answering the question “What should have or could have happened?”
Once you’ve written out what you think actually occurred, share your answer with a person who can correct your line of thinking if necessary.
3. Remember your goodness
Take time (maybe tonight before bed) to remember the correct choices you have made. Think of people you have helped or accomplishments you are proud of.
Write down all the positive things you come up with to solidify them in your mind.
4. Deal with the ripple effect
Reflect on the positive aspects of the damaged relationship. Brainstorm what steps you can take to repair any harm done. Write down or talk with someone about your ideas.
5. Talk when you’re ready
When you feel relaxed and hopeful about the outcome of the conversation, talk to the person who has been hurt by your actions. Keep in mind that it is normal to feel slightly embarrassed going into the conversation or even during it.
However, shifting blame and overwhelming emotions of anger, sorrow and defensiveness are symptoms of being more than just a little embarrassed about your mistake. This is pride. Give yourself space from the situation for a while. Repeat steps 1-4 until you feel clarity. Then, when you are humble and ready, talk to the other person.
6. Listen with respect
When you see the other person, remain cordial and kind. If they bring up the situation with you, listen. Even if you’re not yet ready to talk, this situation can be as much about them as it is about you.
Express appreciation for their desire to come talk with you. Explain where you’re at in the process. Express your hope for resolution in the future. If you feel up to it, ask what you can do to make things right. Their answer might surprise you in a good way.
7. Move on
Some mistakes happened so long ago that the only person who is thinking about them is you. However, if you suspect that the other person is still hurting, reaching out could be appropriate. But, if you know they have forgotten your mistake or moved on, then you should try to do the same.
In other instances, when you’ve recently made the mistake or when the person still holds your mistake against you, sometimes the relationship is not going to progress past the damage done. If this is the case, it is best to accept it and move on.
Either way, follow the suggestions below to help you move on.
A. Write the person a letter.
Write about everything you wish you could say and do. Write about what they meant to you and your hopes for them. Then, shred or burn the letter. Do not dispose of it in a way that makes it retrievable.
B. Remove them from your life entirely.
Block them on social media and delete their information from your phone. In a situation where the person constantly circulates rumors about you and refuses to join you in repairing the relationship, I highly recommend this. Sometimes a little distance and time can lead to a positive relationship in the future.
C. Focus your efforts on building and enjoying the relationships you have.
D. Make new friends.
8. Accept your efforts
After all has been said and done, reflect. What will you do better next time? Then, liberate your mind and heart from this burden. Accept this experience as an opportunity to be better now and in the future. My beautiful aunt, Gay Pedersen, shared her experience about coming to terms with her mistakes. She wrote:
“I am imperfect. I have met with failure. I’ve anguished over my shortcomings.
And wept over my inadequacy.
I can’t go back and repair the mistakes I made
… God, forgive me …
When I approach Him, He sends a sunrise kind of calm.
His words emerge, a balm of peace
‘You have given your all. It is enough. It is enough.'”