Missed an important deadline? Said something embarrassing? Made a poor decision years ago?
Fixating, rehashing, obsessing, or dwelling on a mistake is notoriously debilitating. Dwelling on past mistakes keeps us in a perpetual state of acknowledging and experiencing life's negatives, and leads to physical changes in your health, both emotional and physical.
This, of course, keeps us from achieving the goals we have set for ourselves, and becoming the best we can be. Says Erin Olivo, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University,
Ruminating re-triggers all those same emotions--shame, sadness, anger--over and over. From your brain's point of view, there is no difference emotionally between experiencing the negative event and thinking about the negative event. And when those negative emotions are elevated on a chronic basis, that's stress.
So why do we obsess on our past mistakes? There can be a number of underlying factors, like personality type or family history. The mistake or incident in question may be connected to a deeper health issue, as well.
Need help breaking the habit of obsessing on your mistakes? Consider doing the following:
Processing how you feel about a mistake is still important, nonetheless. Instead of letting these feelings consume, try reserving an hour of your day or even week to think. You may use this time to journal, or even talk with a friend. Once the 60 minutes is up, however, make sure you do not continue obsessing.
The opposite of constantly recalling negative situations is being mindful and living in the present moment. If your mind wanders to your mistakes, re-focus. Try mindful breathing, going on a walk outside, or meditation.
Get more involved.
One simple, fun solution to keep an idle mind from dwelling on mistakes is to keep yourself busy with positive and meaningful activities. It may be that the time you spend ruminating on failures can instead be switched out for time spent having fun, learning new things, or becoming stronger. Consider ramping up the amount of physical activity you do, joining a sports team with friends, learning a new language or hobby--the possibilities are endless.
As always, remember that mistakes do not have to be completely negative experiences. They are always learning experiences that give you an opportunity to improve and evolve more as a coworker, friend, and human.
Ultimately, when you dwell on an error or regret, you are indicating that you want to become a more improved version of yourself.