If you are prone to obsession regarding past mistakes, the following exercise may be helpful:
Imagine your life is a video game, or if you do not have enough experience with them for that frame of reference, a play in which you are the actor. If this still does not help, play a video game or act in a play and then come back and read this.
Imagine your life up until this moment is a cut scene, or backstory. All of those events have happened. They inform the character of you, the person you are in the story of your life. However, they are also irreversible, unchangeable. Your goal now is to move forward.
This is not to say the experiences aren’t useful. Human life has a habit of repeating events in certain variations. Do you wish you had done something differently? You don’t get to change any past events, but you are at this very moment living the past of your future self. Treat your future self with the respect you wish your past self had shown.
In my own life, I feel I make mistakes in two areas:
1) I fail to act on opportunities that present themselves, fearing failure.
2) I make decisions without considering every consequence, and therefore fail.
By examining these two areas, it is easy to see a glaring issue. In order to succeed, I must carefully consider opportunities before they pass me by, to ensure I am making the right decision. Only then can I pass my future self opportunities without mistakes. Within a short amount of time, I will realize the following:
There is not enough time to consider all of the the consequences of an action before the time for that action has past.
Or, more concisely:
Any decision may end in failure.
So what am I to do?
The first part is to realize that often I rarely have to do anything.
Take, for example, an online discussion.
All to often, when people with strong opinions are arguing, I feel the need to state something. In the early days of the Internet, I would respond rashly, only to see that the exact argument I made had already been stated by someone further down the thread. As one should, I eventually evolved to read the thread before commenting. Often I found myself searching for an angle, one that would let people know that I too was smart and had an opinion. I eventually learned that if I waited even longer, eventually someone would come up with THAT opinion as well. The discussion was a system that would continue without my participation.
So too with daily life. The small impacts I make on the whole of humanity would not be missed were they gone tomorrow. It is much too big.
My impact on strangers can be life-changing. Holding the door open for someone on the elevator could be the difference between them being five minutes late or right on time for an important meeting.
My impact on my family is enormous. One cross word when a kind one would do can ruin my wife’s mood, perhaps her day.
My impact on my own life can be monumental. If I decide to move to Canada or finish a degree, I may live the rest of my life regretting the decision.
What if the five minutes I cost the person who misses their elevator prevents them from getting stuck in a job they would have hated?
What if the cross word to my wife puts her in a bad enough mood to finally confront me about my attitude, changing it for the better?
If moving to Canada proved fruitless, perhaps it was simply a stop to the place I am now.
How am I to tell what impact my actions have on the world?
I cannot. That is the nature of chaos.
The nice part about being human is that we assign meaning to events that have none. I’m not being sarcastic. A tragic event being “All for the best,” is precisely that because we have named it so. Events happen. It is up to us to assign meaning to them.
Therefore, I need only have patience enough to make a decision that feels right to me.
All the decisions I’ve regretted, from crimes to addictions to being the victim of swindles, they’ve all been decisions that I regretted at the moment I was making them. I am making a case for listening to one’s conscience not because of some higher authority, but to make the most comfortable present for ourselves. I believe I can make a present for myself where I feel I’ve done my best.
I’ve set myself the following goals:
1) Accept past failures as part of the backdrop that have lead me to this moment.
2) Have patience to act only when I must, with the best intentions.
3) Acknowledge that what may happen is not what will happen.
5) Acknowledge that my action is now part of the past.
I’ll let you know how it goes.