Ruminating.

It's a fancy word that means pondering past experiences -- often, our mistakes -- over and over. It could be something you said. Something you did. Something you didn't do.

Whatever the reason, we as human beings spend a lot of time dwelling on our past. And science says 70 percent of the time we only relive the negative aspects of our lives.

Why do we have such a hard time letting go? Perhaps it's because, deep down, we're wired to be problem solvers. We need to make meaning out of negative experiences.

But obsessing over a mistake won't change the past. It won't solve the problem. It will make it worse (according to psychologists at Yale and the University of California).

These psychologists say that living a mistake over and over impairs our problem solving abilities. It leads to increased negative thoughts and depression. It even erodes our support network -- no one wants to hear from the person who can't let things go.

In short: Dwelling on past mistakes puts us in, and keeps us in, a bad state. The very thing we're trying to get out of.

So what, then, does science say about learning from our past mistakes?

  1. Take a step back.
  2. Get out of your own head and emotions.
  3. Look at the mistake as an observer, not as a participant.

Instead of reliving the experience, recount the experience as an observer. Instead of saying, "Why did I feel bad?" Try looking at it from the angle of, "Why did Chad feel bad?"

Looking at past mistakes in this manner will lessen the stress of the situation. It will show things in a greater context. It will put you in problem solving mode.

As strange as it may sound at first, it works (according to studies by psychologists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the University of California, Berkeley).

Luckily, for most of us, the mistakes we make are not life threatening. Sure, we may end up with a bruised ego or broken confidence, but nothing is ever beyond repair. Just be careful how you reflect on them.

Mistakes don't define you. Unless you let them.

Published on: Dec 15, 2016
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