Making a mistake sucks. And making the same mistake twice sucks hard. But making the same mistake repeatedly makes you want to participate in self-punishing actions like grounding yourself or eating bull testicles.
And honestly, many of us have at last some mistakes we didn’t learn the proper lesson yet. For that reason, we repeat it over and over again.
But hold on, that doesn’t make you an awful being, doomed to be controlled by its mistakes. Rather it describes what we all together have in common: Being human. We as humans are fragile and weird creatures that are everything else but perfect.
That’s great news because it always provides room for improvement. We need to understand that nothing is forever and everything is temporary. No matter how often you repeat that dumb mistake it won’t be forever. And luckily we have research that gives us insights into how we and our brains work.
It’s in understanding things about ourselves that help us to address and acknowledge them. For example, musician Daryl Davis said something profound about how self-destruction evolves: “Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hatred. And when hatred is present, destruction occurs.”
The same is true for yourself. And bestselling author Mark Manson came up with a good idea about repeated mistakes. A mistake is something we already learned our lesson from. In contrast, regret is something we didn’t learn a lesson from yet.
When no lesson is learned repetition is inevitable. But you can’t get over the regret of repeated mistakes with ignorance. It’s the work you put in that regret to get over it. Understand why you did what you did even though you did it a million times. Embrace that former self and work on forgiveness.
To understand ourselves a bit better a good way to start is to look at toddlers. We’ve all been toddlers once. Sure they’re sweet but under the surfaces hide little monsters.
The Toddler Brain
Everyone adores toddlers. No matter what they do it’s awesome.
But the reality is they have no control over what they do. Though, it’s not the toddlers’ fault. It’s because of their brain structure, in particular the emotion regulation. And research shows that we as “adults” tend to fall into the trap of habits of emotion regulation, similar to those of a toddler brain if we face a lot of stress. We show similar patterns like impulsiveness, poor judgment, self-obsession, or volatile feelings.
Yes, the world is led by a bunch of selfish and self-pleasing toddlers. There are no secret elites but toddlers that control all major events.
While toddlers are great and awesome their brain is controlled by emotions rather than rational thinking. I mean at least they’re not even three years old. The danger with living of feelings, however, is that when we feel that same way again, these neural pathways grow stronger. And this is particularly true for negative feelings. The result: We are more likely to repeat that same mistake with that stronger sense of it.
Toddlers with their brains aren’t the real bad guy here. But emotions are. Emotions play a big role in why you empty that ice cream bucket every time or compete in your all-private cake binge eating.
It’s all about Emotions
Emotions are important mechanisms that work as a kind of feedback system to guide us through life. Emotions help us in deciding if something is good or bad.
But the problem today is that like toddlers, we give emotions way too much power and attention. And with that, we try to look at things in an emotional context or base our entire life just on emotions.
In reality, emotions go as fast as they come. They change rather quickly. From feeling bad in a moment to feeling good a few minutes later.
As we’ve seen with the toddler brain, when your life is based on emotions you will face an emotional rollercoaster every single day. Up and down all day, every day. We indeed experience more negative emotions than positive ones. And as we build stronger neural pathways with negative emotions we experience them more intensely.
But negative emotions are good for us as a species. We are built for survival rather than being happy all the time.
Therefore, we need to understand something about our emotions: They are just plain neutral. The meaning we give our emotions dictates their power over us. To avoid repeating our mistakes, we need to accept our emotions the way they are but act regardless of them. We need to live with our emotions, instead of living from our emotions. Finding the sweet spot of action and emotions.
For example, being afraid of an important task doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it’s bad. Push through the negative emotions and achieve a positive outcome.
Learn to live with your emotions to be able to learn from mistakes.
Learning from Mistakes
Not before we learned an appropriate lesson we stop doing the same mistakes again. But learning from mistakes is the most important trait we can develop to become a better person.
We all hate mistakes because they feel bad and wrong. If we, however, learn and grow from our failures, failure is a great thing. It helps us get better and improve ourselves. Failure is the base for growth if we know how to use it. And the first steps we need to undertake is to accept our mistakes, though we did them a thousand times already, understand what happened, and transfer that to who we are.
That way you take responsibility for the mistakes you made. Taking real responsibility for yourself will protect you from doing mistakes on repeat.
Stop thinking so short-term about why you did it again, caught up in emotions, and consider all the long-term benefits failing hard delivers. Most people talk about their greatest mistakes as the best thing that ever happened in their life. Debunk yourself from the version you should have been, but never was. Accept that the part that brought you failure on repeat is now gone and take responsibility for who you are right now.
Ultimately forgive yourself.
Embrace the pain. Embrace failure.
The only things that can still teach you something are your failures. It’s the failures that show you where you lied to yourself, where you kept from understanding yourself, where you’re refusing to take responsibility for your life and what happened.
We often repeat those regrets to keep us from our responsibility. Accepting who we are may hurt a lot. And that will take us through a range of emotions. And that is okay. Experience those emotions and move on.
Because the other side of that intense regret is all worth it. On the other side awaits a beautiful and bright fire. A fire that will burn all the mistakes of the past away. And like the body of the phoenix burst into flames, your mistakes will.
Once the fire is gone you rise from the ashes into a new life as the phoenix does. You stop repeating mistakes.
The toddler brain and its emotional roller coaster: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201410/how-we-make-the-same-mistakes-over-and-over
Regrets and self-hatred a downward spiral of setbacks: https://markmanson.net/regret
Learning is correcting something that went wrong in the past: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03075070120099368
We overestimate how much control we had over a past situation: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8721.00044
Peter Pan may have been a childhood idol for some, and the same-named syndrome is all about behaving immature: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Pan_syndrome