My personal mantra is “no mistakes, only lessons.” I repeat this phrase to myself frequently as I tend to make a lot of lessons.
It’s easy for me to get down on myself when I make mistakes. My mind wants to endlessly review the event, which results in dark feelings enveloping me. There’s no escape from the torment because I can’t change what’s happened in the past.
Lessons, however, are a thing of the future.
If I learn my lesson from a situation that’s gone badly, I can change it going forward. I can refocus my mind on how to make things right. When I picture what a positive outcome would look like down the road, my mood dramatically improves.
The trick to this approach, I’ve discovered, is to get far enough into the future that I can believe it’s possible for me to have implemented the solution. If I look at the near-term, all I can see are the obstacles standing in my way. I have to go out far enough in time that my mind is forced to leapfrog over the short-term challenges I’m facing.
I remember once hearing that the first rule for someone to follow when they find themselves in a hole is to stop digging. It’s hard for me to do because I’m mad and I want someone else to take responsibility for getting me out of this dark place. But no one does. I start to remember how nice life is when I’m in the sunshine rather than the hole. Begrudgingly I slowly start to crawl toward the light, driven by a desire to feel the warmth and lightness again.
When I’m finally in the light of day, I can see more clearly how I tripped myself up and contributed to having fallen in the hole. Yes, I still think something else was also to blame. But in retrospect I see how I could have sidestepped the hole had I taken a different route in response to the provocation.
I resolve to refrain from going down there in the future. I learn to connect to a positive person instead — someone who can help me feel better rather than staying tied to something or someone who’s invariably going to take me down into that horrible hole.
Even though I resolve to do things differently in the future, I’m not always 100 percent successful. I hate it when I’ve made the same mistake that I’ve made before, and I’ll beat myself up about being so stupid. Then I remind myself that the evidence would indicate that I’m not a stupid person. I remind myself of the degrees I’ve earned, which helps me to know that I can persevere for long periods of time pursuing a goal that’s important to me. I think of all the ways I’ve learned about how to live a happy life, which heartens me to believe that I can do it again on this occasion. I start to think about how I’ve managed to get out of holes in the past. It makes the job of getting back to a good place quicker and easier.
I like living my life in the sunshine. I know now that I can be here most of the time. I’ve learned the lessons about getting out of holes.
It’s incredibly soothing to my soul to see how my life will eventually work out well.
Dr. Tom Muha is a psychologist practicing in Annapolis. Previous articles can be found at www.achievinghappiness.com. To contact him, call 443-454-7274 or email [email protected]