I have made so many mistakes and bad decisions in the past and I just can’t seem to not punish myself for it. How do I stop wasting time thinking of the past mistakes and stop feeling bad and afraid of another mistake in life?
It is no secret that the way we communicate with ourselves plays a big part of the way we see and experience our lives. Negative self-talk can get the best of us. Usually negative self-talk happens so automatically and without conscious awareness. Once you get better at noticing your self-talk, you have more ability to change your thoughts.
These negative self-talk styles, or a combination of them, instinctively happen out of habit and repetition. Do any of these fit?
Personalizing is when you tend to say, “it’s not you, it’s me.” If something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. Example: You text someone or a group text and it takes much longer to reply than normal. You start thinking to yourself, “Everyone is probably mad at me,” or, “They clearly don’t want to be friends with me anymore,” when, in fact, they were busy all day. An alternate self-talk: Breathe deeply and look at the situation from the outside and say to yourself, “Knowing that my friends care about me, what are some realistic reasons I haven’t heard from them?”
Filtering is another way we magnify the negative aspect of a situation and filter out all of the positive no matter how obvious it is whether it is past mistakes or something presently happening. Example: You focus and dwell on overpaying for a purchase you bought on sale that you later found cheaper at a competitor’s store, thus mentally beating yourself up. An alternate self-talk: Appreciate the item that you are fortunate to afford and think to yourself, “There will always be a better deal somewhere else; so happy I got it.” If you find yourself filtering too often, it may be time to start a journal. Jotting down all the things that have gone rightrecently will retrain your thinking. Your brain will be forced to see the glass half full, not half empty.
Catastrophizing is when you automatically anticipate the worst-case scenario. We all know someone like this. You can pick them out if you really listen to their words. Example: You are on your way to work and traffic slows to a stop. You automatically think, “Great. This is horrific. I’ll be stuck here for hours and be late. My whole day is blown to bits and now I’ll never have time for a lunch. Forget about the gym today. This always happens to me.” Try taking a step back to distinguish between uncomfortable and catastrophe! The reality is that being late for work due to traffic is not a catastrophe. You are catastrophizing when you use descriptive words like “atrocious,” “appalling,” “horrendous,” “unbearable,” “always” and “never.” Overexaggerating for sympathy or validation of hardship is a clear sign of catastrophizing. An alternate self-talk: “This will be fine; I can rearrange my lunch and I am not allowing this to ruin my day.”
Polarizing is when you see things only as all or nothing. Good or bad is the only way to look at something; there is no middle ground. This is one that many are stuck in and it perpetuates fear and prevents venturing out or growing and trying something new, fearing it couldturn out badly. Example: You think immediately when plans are interrupted, “Well, if it doesn’t go the way it was planned. I know it will never work, so forget it!” An alternate self-talk: “This wasn’t the original plan, but now it’s plan B or maybe it wasn’t meant to be.”
All of our thinking is from years of practice and the pathways in the brain are instantaneous. The brain is basically lazy and follows the easy path already established. It would be equivalent to taking a long hike through the woods; you can choose to follow the easy trail or tromp through the thick, tall grass and blaze a new trail to get to the end of the hike. If you are lazy or fearful, you will stay on the easy trail. It takes direct awareness and intentional effort to trudge new brain pathways and connect new thinking when circumstances are difficult or wearisome. What you think is entirely up to you and only you.
Forget the past mistakes. Just like a speeding ticket, you can’t eliminate the consequence of speeding, but you can learn from it and not make the same mistake by deliberately driving slower. What you think…..you will become!
Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.