Making peace with mistakes

So I made a mistake. Doesn’t everyone? Or course they do. Humans learn through trial and error, amongst other ways, and that means mistakes will be made. So why is it that when I make a mistake, consciously or otherwise, the pain tends to linger long after the lesson was learned?

Mistakes are nuanced and so I don’t want to imply that when I accidentally buy my kid the wrong toothpaste I shame spiral into a pint of ice cream and punish myself for weeks on end. No, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I am referring to the type of mistake I had somehow convinced myself I was too mature to make, or that I had already done in the past and it would never, ever happen again. These mistakes seem to stick around and stir up trouble.

One example is anger in parenting. Oh, to be the peaceful parent. I had never heard of peaceful parenting until I had two toddlers and was raging at them in angry fits I can only describe as disturbing, to respond to their own angry fits. It was around then that I started to hear friends and peers buzz about a parenting method that was sure to produce balanced, calm, enlightened adults, if only you didn’t yell. Oh dear, I sighed. I am not a peaceful parent. I am the antithesis of a peaceful parent and that could mean I’m ruining my kids.

I would promise myself to do better. I had to be better for them. It was my responsibility to raise people who would be good for the world and not end up on the news for criminal activity. Each and every time I slipped up and yelled, I’d punish myself for days and weeks for failing them. I would carry the weight of the mistake with me for weeks at a time, worrying that they would remember and hate me or that my husband was disappointed in me for yelling at the kids. It was enough to push me right out of my intuitive eating and self care exercises and directly into destructive binging and self shaming.

Mistakes are not something I tend to enjoy but I’m trying to evolve the way I experience them. Maybe its age or all the reading I’ve been doing. Maybe I just don’t want to be so psycho about the way I react to mistakes anymore. Whatever the case may be, I’m glad that I’m seeing there might be another way to learn from mistakes. I don’t want to stop making them because mistakes are the secret ingredient to learning and that is what I want to embrace.

If I’m not willing to make mistakes, it is essentially saying that I’m not willing to try anything new in life and that sounds like the opposite of living to me. I don’t want to settle into life. I want to stir it up! I want to test its limits. I want to take risks. This is my only life and its a one shot, kind of deal, so bring on the mistakes!

I wanted to come up with some ways to help get me into that new way of thinking about mistakes. Winging it seemed like what I’d been doing for the last 40 years so I thought a more organized approach might help with the shift to embracing mistakes and seeking the lessons they teach rather than running from them. I put together some steps I’m going to try and think through when I feel like I’m carrying around the burden of a mistake rather than forming new muscle memory and moving on.

Below is what I came up with. I hope to use these thoughts in some way to keep my reaction from becoming my punishment.

  1. Acknowledge the mistake. Just admit whatever it is out loud, even if it’s just to myself.
  2. Gracefully allow yourself to explain the decisions that led to the mistake without judgement.
  3. Try to do some damage control and apologize to anyone involved. If I’ve done something to someone else, I want to own up to it.
  4. Forgive yourself out loud as if you are talking to someone else. Do this even if the other person does not forgive you.
  5. Do a symbolic task like writing down the mistake and then throwing away the paper. This creates closure.

My hope is that I will find peace with mistakes sooner and this will lead to better mental health. I want to learn from the mistakes but I do not want to be a slave to them.

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