We are not our mistakes, and we are not defined by our past.
Mistakes are simply that, mistakes. They’re times we’ve tried and it just hasn’t worked out so well. Too often we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection that, in reality, is only possible on the silver screen.
In making movies, each scene is shot time and time again, and the mistakes simply become another opportunity to do it better, to do things differently. The mistakes aren’t part of the final product, and are left on the cutting room floor.
There have been many times throughout my life when I’ve wished for a do-over. Many unskilled or mean comments, foolish actions and blunders have been left in the wake of my living. While I’m grateful Facebook and Twitter weren’t around in my youth, my internal critics did a fine job of keeping a vivid record for many years.
In the past, my Committee of Internal Critics would hold high-court in my mind when I blundered. No one could’ve been as hard on me as I was on myself. The hamster-wheel of horrible thoughts only made the situation worse, as my body, mind, and emotions turned into an internal battlefield.
My internal committee had the cruelest panel of judges you could imagine. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I’d screwed up because my shame kept its own score. I endured days and nights of self-torture, self-chastising, worrying, wishing for another chance to do better.
Sometimes shame immobilized me, causing me to withdraw in pain, build walls around myself, or blame the world.
I’d never have been as unkind and mean to others as I was to myself. I certainly didn’t cut myself any slack. I had yet to learn I’m not my mistakes. I’m a person becoming, learning and growing along the way. Each and every moment is a new moment, a chance to begin again.
I’ve worked with people who’ve carried self-judgment and shame from youthful blunders into their senior years—beautiful, good, kind people mortified and still paying an internal price for mis-steps, mistakes and failures from the past.
When we know better, we do better. But, how do we start to move past the memory of mistakes when the mind is so tenacious?
It helps to begin with compassion and self-forgiveness. Letting ourselves off the hook for past mistakes and holding our humanity with compassion are often the most challenging practices a person can undertake. We can demonstrate kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to others, but this same charity has to begin at home.
As we turn toward ourselves with an attitude of self-forgiveness and compassion, we can make amends where we need to, freeing ourselves from the tethers of the past. We can learn what needs to be learned and move on knowing our mistakes can be our best teachers. When we know better, we do better.
Holding our bruised egos, our regret and pain as tenderly as we would cradle a precious infant, leads us to healing and change more powerfully than engaging in brutal, disabling self-judgment. We’re able to make desired changes more easily when we are gentle, patient, and kind with ourselves, treat ourselves with compassion, and practice self-forgiveness.
In shedding the burden of our mistakes, we have more life energy and joy to share with the world. Self-forgiveness and self-compassion are unheard of for many but these practices benefit our mental, emotional, and physical health. They open us to living life more freely and less defensively.
Compassion is a powerful practice. It is being studied at Stanford University and the findings are anything but soft. Research reveals people who practice compassion, experience lower levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness and body pain. They have improved immunity, greater resilience, and overall improved mental health. Compassion reduces burnout.
Life is happier when we leave the mistakes on the cutting room floor and move on. We are not our mistakes. We are always at a new moment to choose again.
As we hold ourselves in compassion and forgiveness, we release the tethers of the past and we open to the new possibility of today.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.