How to Move on From Mistakes

I am really good at wallowing in past mistakes. With certainty, at least once a day I think to myself, “Oh no why the heck did I do that!” The other day I was sitting in my backyard playing with my neighbor's cat when suddenly, I had a flashback to this time in high school. 

My friend helped me gather the courage to give my crush a valentine card with chocolates. I was extremely shy back then, and when he accepted my token with a hint of discomfort in his manner, I instantly turned around, internally combusted and ran away to go cry in the bathroom. To make things even worse, I then decided the best way to handle the situation was to avoid him at all costs for the rest of high school.

As the scene vividly replayed itself in my head, I cringed and felt a wave of embarrassment run through my body as if this event hadn’t taken place over five years ago. There's a saying that you regret the things you didn't do more than those you did. However, if this were true I would not be spending a shamefully large amount of time every day thinking about every stupid thing I did that I wish I’d never done. 

A photo of scrabble words assembled to spell uploaded to Pixabay by Wokandapix, but credit/attribution not required.

I could be doing so many productive things with my life in the amount of time I spend analyzing my mistakes. It turns out there is a term for this disturbance of mine — involuntary memory. Apparently, it happens to everybody, some more than others.

Involuntary memories occur when something triggers your brain and inadvertently provokes autobiographical memories without any deliberate attempt at retrieval. Unfortunately, I couldn't find an easy way to stop this from occurring because it is a natural human condition we all have. However, we can work on rewiring our thought patterns to catch ourselves when we’re overthinking past memories and begin thinking of something else. 


A couple of days after the incident I was talking to the same friend that encouraged me to give the valentine and saw the ungraceful moment unfold. I asked her if she remembered it happening and to my surprise, she said she has zero recollection of that moment at all. After I refreshed her memory she said that she possibly remembers me giving my crush chocolate but had no idea I cried in the bathroom, which she thought was funny.

Her response not only comforted me but I also finally realized that this whole time no one was going to dredge up that memory except for me. Frankly, no one else cares, and I shouldn't either. I suddenly had an epiphany — the only way to move on from past mistakes is by reminding yourself that self-loathing will do you absolutely no good. 

I would rather approach my mistakes with confidence and be comfortable with the possibility of my decisions going awry. There’s no need to analyze every action you’ve ever taken and being perpetually stuck in your head. At the end of the day, no one will remember the small details, and if you are the one that reminds them, they'll probably just think you're being silly.