Mistakes can haunt us. Long after the dust has settled, we replay the incident over and over, ruminating on what we could have done differently, analyzing each detail as a reflection of our shortcomings. This pattern of thought is not only counterproductive, it’s bad for our mental health. Excessive self-criticism can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.
The good news is there are many methods of moving on and forgiving ourselves. It is difficult to let go of the past, but not impossible.
Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment, taking in every sensation of where you are and what you are doing right now. It is the antithesis of recalling painful memories. Every time your mind wanders to that mistake, focus on your current situation.
To aid the process, try therapeutic meditation techniques:
- Mindful Breathing
- Listening to Music
- Calm Distractions
- Using the Five Senses (Tea Meditation, Nature Walk, etc.)
If you need more time to practice keeping your mind off mistakes during idle periods, in the meantime try filling up your schedule with productive, fun, or meaningful activities. You will be too busy to spend hours ruminating on perceived failures.
Here are some suggestions that might keep your calendar booked:
- Join a sports league
- Regularly volunteer
- Learn a new skill, such as a musical instrument
- If you are single, go on lots of fun dates
- Spend more time with friends and family
- Book networking and professional development events to further your career
Think About Whether Other People Have Moved On
Sometimes we ruminate on mistakes because they affect people we care about or those we are trying to impress. The collateral damage makes the blunder seem bigger than it actually is.
To more objectively evaluate the impact of your error, think about whether those involved have moved on or forgotten about the issue. Chances are they have. If they can let it go, so can you.
Remember That Mistakes Are Opportunities to Learn
Without your mistakes, you might not be nearly as wise as you are today. Failure is inevitable, and it is a valuable way to learn more about yourself and the world. Rather than ruminating on the mistake itself, set aside time to recap the knowledge you gained.
Make a Date to Dwell
If you still want to process your feelings regarding the mistake, do so in a structured way. Talkspace therapist Melissa Moreno recommended occasionally reserving an hour to think over the details. A therapy session, for example, is a great place to vent. You can also take an hour to write in a journal. Once that time is up, be vigilant about remaining in the present.
Work With a Therapist to Dig Past the Mistake
When we ruminate on a particular mistake, it usually means the incident is connected to deeper mental health issues. There can be several underlying factors, said Talkspace therapist Kendra Simpson, including family history, personality type and automatic thoughts. A counselor can help you understand why you are having trouble letting go. Mental health professionals can also teach you techniques for coping with guilt.
Mistakes do not define who you are. The fact that you dwelled on them, however, shows you want to become a better version of yourself. Embrace that spirit, and remember that learning to let go is also part of self-improvement.
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
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