We all make mistakes: it’s a natural and unavoidable part of life. However, when we make mistakes it can often be really hard to forgive ourselves and move forward.
This can be really tough to deal with and can impact your mental health. It might affect your day-to-day life and feel as though you’re carrying a burden.
These feelings are natural, but very unpleasant. Holding onto past mistakes is not productive or beneficial.
So what can we do about it? Let’s look at how to let go of mistakes.
1. Understand That Everyone Makes Mistakes
You’ve likely heard the phrase: “everyone makes mistakes” before, but that’s because it’s completely true. Making mistakes is part of being human.
It helps me to remind myself that the mistakes you make don’t define who you are as a person: they don’t make you ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
We all make mistakes regularly, sometimes tiny missteps and other times, bigger mistakes that affect us deeply.
Really taking the time to accept and understand that it happens to everyone can be comforting and help you to feel less alone.
2. Make Apologies
If you’ve hurt someone in the past and you feel you haven’t apologized, it’s never too late to do so if you feel you need to. Apologizing for the mistakes you made can help to ease your burden.
It’s important to remember that while you can apologize to someone, you can’t control how they will react. No matter how they respond, ensure it’s the act of you genuinely apologizing that you focus on.
Once you’ve apologized, focus on letting go of that guilt and moving forward.
If the person you need to apologize to is no longer around, it can be really tough. In this case, you could write out your apology or voice it out loud to get it off your chest. It might feel ‘silly’ at first, but in my experience, it can be very cathartic.
3. Talk About It
Often bottling things up can amplify your feelings: it can make you feel more negative, worried, guilty, and alone. Reaching out to someone you trust to talk things through can be extremely helpful.
Voicing the mistake that’s on your mind can feel therapeutic. You can talk about how it’s affecting you and why you feel you’re holding on to the past mentally and emotionally.
Sometimes talking can be a relief in itself and help you to stop focusing on your mistakes. It can help you to see things more clearly and figure out what your next steps should be.
4. Learn From Your Mistakes
Accepting the mistakes you’ve made rather than trying to deny them or ignore them is a pivotal part of moving forward.
It can be helpful to understand that mistakes are necessary for personal growth. When we make a mistake, we learn about ourselves and the world around us.
Mistakes help us to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We adjust and adapt so that we’re less likely to make the same mistake in the future.
Mistakes can also help you to shape who you want to be as a person, as you realize how you want to act and who you want to be at your core.
5. Accept What You Can’t Change
You can’t change what you’ve done in the past. That’s a hard truth but accepting it can help you to move forward.
Overthinking about negative events in your past isn’t helpful and can significantly affect your mental health. This overthinking is sometimes called rumination and can cause a cycle of negative thoughts.
So instead of dwelling on what you can’t change, why not focus on what you can change?
You can change your actions in your present and future. You can be productive by working on being the best version of yourself in the present, and by planning for your future.
6. Look For Positives
Instead of thinking of your past mistakes and focusing on the negative outcomes, try to look for the positives that came out of the mistake. That might be hard at first, but take your time to really think about it and you’re bound to find at least one positive.
Your positives might be that you learned from what happened, as we just mentioned. It may be that you changed for the better as a result. It might even be that your mistakes took you down a path that you didn’t expect, but that ended up being the best path for you in the long run.
Research shows that focusing on positives from the past improves confidence, as well as allowing you to learn from your past and make productive changes.
When I look back at the mistakes I’ve made (and there have been plenty), I can see how they’ve shaped my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be as strong, kind, and positive as I am today. If I had acted differently, I might never have become a writer, learned to manage my mental illness, or met my partner!
Some truly life-changing discoveries and inventions were created by mistake. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true! Let’s look at a few:
- Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician-scientist accidentally discovered penicillin. He’s quoted as saying: “I did not invent penicillin. Nature did that. I only discovered it by accident.”
- Wilson Greatbatch, an electrical engineer, accidentally discovered a way to make an implantable pacemaker while working on a device to record heart rate.
- Percy Spencer, an engineer, was working on vacuum tubes used in radar systems, and accidentally discovered that the radiation could cook food, giving us the microwave (thank goodness for that mistake).
Don’t forget to focus on your successes in life too! Sometimes we get so bogged down focusing on mistakes, that we forget to praise ourselves for how far we’ve come and the things we’ve achieved.
7. Be Kind To Yourself
Try to understand that your mistakes weren’t intentional. Be kind to both your past and present self and treat yourself with compassion.
I find it helps to think about how you would treat a friend or a family member who had made a mistake. Treat yourself with the same kindness, empathy, and understanding. Be gentle with yourself and encourage yourself to move forward.
This quote from a handbook on mindfulness is very apt:
When confronting personal mistakes, failures, and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
8. Forgive Your Past Self
Part of being kind to yourself is forgiving your past self. This is often an active choice we need to make so that we can have emotional peace. Know that you are worthy of forgiveness.
Sometimes it can be helpful to use visualization or physical action to help you forgive yourself.
For example, you might choose to write down your mistake, focus on it, choose to actively forgive yourself and as you do, destroy the paper. The visual aspect might help to emphasize this forgiveness in your mind.
If you prefer to use a visualization exercise, you could imagine the mistake rising up and floating away from your body as you say goodbye to it, leaving you free from its hold. A guided visualization or meditation may be helpful.
Why not try this five-minute ‘forgiving yourself’ meditation?
9. Plan For The Future
As you work on letting go of your mistakes, it can be helpful to plan for the future. Think about what you want from your life and set clear goals to work towards. These goals can revolve around what you want to achieve, as well as who you want to be as a person.
Planning for the future can foster a sense of positivity, hope, and motivation. Don’t allow the mistakes you’ve made to create fear within you and prevent you from taking risks. You deserve to live your life to the fullest.
Let Go of Your Mistakes
Although mistakes can be hard to cope with, in essence, they aren’t a bad thing. As long as we learn from them and don’t hold onto them, they can help us to shape our lives in a productive and healthy way.