Don’t Let Mistakes Get You Down

Posted on January 24th, 2012
Posted in Articles

“A mistake is simply another way of doing things.” – Katherine Graham, American publisher of the Washington Post (1917-2001)

If we’re troubled by some mistake that we believe we’ve made, we have the choice to allow it to gnaw at our thoughts or view it in a more positive light. This is similar to the axiom that there are two sides to every situation, but when we’re in recovery, it may have even more profound application.

One thing we all know for a certainty is that we make mistakes. Some of us seem to make the same mistake over and over again, while others among us have learned how to take that mistake and turn it around, learning from it so that we don’t repeat the mistake in the future.

Why do some of us get stuck lingering on our past and current mistakes while others among us take a more proactive view and get past it? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? But the truth is that learning how to learn from our mistakes is something that we all can do. It does take practice and it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Let’s look at a few examples to see how this could work.

  • Trapped in the past – This one is so common that there should be a better name for it. Many of us are so caught up in the mistakes we’ve made in the past that we can’t get our minds around any different behavior. We incorrectly believe that we’re always going to make the same or similar mistakes and thus subconsciously set ourselves up for continuing failure. The way out of this is a little reprogramming of our brains to allow the possibility that we can learn from our mistakes. We can choose to alter our behavior and make wiser choices going forward.
  • Mixed-up emotions causing us to make bad choices – It is tough overcoming addiction of any kind, although some alcohol and drug addictions may mean that our emotions and thought processes are so tangled up that we consistently seem to make all the wrong decisions. Then, we beat ourselves up about what we’ve done and repeat the pattern. We may need additional counseling to see a clear way around this self-defeating way of thinking and behaving. Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help.
  • Others won’t cut us a break – Maybe what’s keeping us stuck in our mistakes is that others around us, particularly our loved ones and family members, may constantly harp on what we’ve done or do wrong. There’s an accumulation of ill-informed decisions that we’ve made that they seem to hold against us. Family counseling could help them to see the error of their ways, but independent of that, we can also look for ways to reinforce our positive attributes, strategize how to make different choices from what we’ve done before, and move on.
  • Progress doesn’t come fast enough – When we first entered recovery, it was probably all-new, quite a bit confusing, maybe even frightening. We heard all the recommendations to take it slow, one day at a time, but still we eventually got around to the idea that we should be making more progress faster. Consequently, we often were too hard on ourselves whenever we did have a little slip-up or make a mistake of minor or major proportion. The only solution to this is time and being willing to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make that hurt others and make a commitment to learn from that mistake and alter our behavior going forward. In this way, when we stop trying to measure how fast we’ve made progress, we’ll be making progress.
  • Measuring ourselves against others – We may find ourselves feeling that our mistakes are causing us to fall behind the progress of others in the 12-step rooms whom we admire and are trying to emulate. We’re each unique individuals and not one of our paths of recovery is going to be the same. Therefore, while we can definitely choose to follow some of the strategies and practices that others have found effective, if they don’t work for us, we shouldn’t feel that we’re any less than the next person. Stop trying to measure ourselves against others. Analyze what worked well in the past and perhaps incorporate some element of that in a new strategy going forward. Make it a tailored action plan that suits our situation.

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