I work with many clients who make mistakes who then ruminate over the mistake session after session. My job as their clinical therapist is to help the client understand reasons why they made the mistake, understand why they are still ruminating over the mistake, and understand possible coping skills to move on from the mistake. I also gently remind them that everyone makes mistakes, myself included.
I recently read an article from The New York Times that touched on this very topic, “So You’ve Made a Huge Mistake. What Now?” by author Tim Herrera. Herrera discusses how mistakes may feel like the end of the world, but in reality, they likely are not as bad as we may think.
Below are some key points from Herrera’s article.
- Commitment bias and mistakes. Commitment bias is the tendency to let our past actions and beliefs dictate how we live our lives in the present. The unfortunate thing with commitment bias is that it gets us pigeon holed, especially when it is relevant to an unhappy job or unhappy relationship. Individuals who fall in the commitment bias pattern, like to be seen as consistent people. These people are unwilling to recognize that their unhappy job or unhappy relationship is a mistake and continue to remain in it because they would rather not shatter their image. Essentially, deciding to remove themselves from the unhappy job or unhappy relationship is too embarrassing for themselves because it shows they are indirectly identifying it was a mistake to remain in that relationship or job.
- Be honest with yourself. The first step in learning from a mistake is to be truly honest with yourself and acknowledge you have made a mistake, whether it is related to your personal or professional life. Of course, that is easier said than done, but without acknowledging your mistake, you will continue to live stuck in this mistake.
- Acceptance. Once you have allowed yourself to be honest and acknowledge your mistake, lean into accepting the mistake. Be sure to use some self compassion skills, as in be nice to yourself that you made a mistake, just like everyone does. Be gentle with yourself as this mistake does not identify who you are as a person. Continuing to ruminate over the mistake will likely cause anxiety, which then can damage your motivation, problem solving skills, and likely lead into depression. Thus, ruminating over the mistake will do more harm than good.
- Take action. Now that you have accepted this mistake, find ways to move forward. If the mistake was regarding being in an unhappy career, find small steps to move toward a career that will bring you more fulfillment. Reflect on your values and interests as that can help you identify the next type of career you are interested in. After that reflection, work backwards by identifying the small steps it will take you to get you closer to a more fulfilling career. For example, if you decide you would like to enter the mental health profession, start by looking at different graduate programs that could give you opportunities to enter the field successfully. Perhaps even talk with people in the field of your interests and see if it is suited for you or not. There is no need to make urgent decisions as you do not want to make another mistake by taking the next job opportunity and end up right where you started.
Moving on from mistakes is not always easy. Reminding yourself that you are not alone and that everyone makes mistakes can be helpful. Also reminding yourself that there could be potential barriers in overcoming the mistake as that may be helpful because you could then find possible strategies to overcome those obstacles.
If you are currently struggling with a recent mistake, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.