Do you ever stay up at night, replaying awkward or embarrassing moments in your head? Maybe you hear a certain person who laughed at you in high school or your own voice from a day, week, or even years earlier telling that story that nobody thought was funny.
Many of us beat ourselves up over insignificant events that truly went unnoticed by others or happened so long ago that nobody else even remembers. Still, these memories manage to stick around, stay alive in our heads, and torment us.
These pesky negative memories have a tendency of coming up over and over again and affecting the way we feel in the present. They are like a looped film or audio reel that plays over and over in our heads. They try to stop us from taking similar risks (or any risks at all). In a sense, embarrassing memories from the past are our body’s protection mechanism, trying to help us avoid similar unpleasant situations in the present.
But our mind has a hard time distinguishing between true mistakes that we can (and should) learn from, and little blunders or awkward moments that are really just a part of every day life.
Mistaking the awkward moments for serious mistakes can leave us worrying irrationally or feeling paralyzed and unable to embark on new opportunities in the present.
This paralysis can be a real issue for people who change directions often and pursue the paths that are right for them but may not conform to society’s expectations. It’s therefore hugely important that we learn to banish these pesky unproductive voices from our past so that we can freely pursue the things we care about now.
How to let go of past mistakes for good: forgive yourself
The reason these memories keep coming up again and again is that you said or did something that didn’t go over so well. Reliving the memories is really a way of punishing yourself for doing something embarrassing or making a mistake you feel you shouldn’t have made. In order to let the past go, you must forgive yourself officially.
Feel the embarrassment or shame one final time. Really feel it throughout your body. Next, tell yourself that everyone makes mistakes and you know you that that outcome was not your intention. It was an accident. Finally, make the decision to forgive yourself and do it. It helps to even say it out loud.
From now on, it’s okay. You are forgiven.
Every time the thought comes back, simply remind yourself that you have already been forgiven, so there’s no reason to feel bad anymore. Then move on to thinking about something else.
Applying this to my life
This technique has worked wonders for me. As I go through my life now, I even try to forgive myself sooner. I try to do it almost immediately after something awkward or embarrassing happens, or at least within a few hours.
For example, one day last semester one of my law professors rescheduled a class and I got the time wrong. I ended up walking in just as the small seminar was ending. Everyone looked at me. I laughed nervously and one of my classmates informed me that I was about 3 hours late. I turned and walked out.
I could have reacted to this by going home and curling up in the fetal position. It could have haunted me for years to come. But instead I allowed myself to feel embarrassed for a few minutes and then I forgave myself and let it go. I knew nothing would be gained by dwelling on it. It was over.
Once I had chosen to forgive myself, I was able to make light of the situation by telling friends about it and allowing them to laugh and sympathize with me.
In the end, I was pretty proud of myself for the way I handled it. Nothing horrible happened. Nobody thought I was an idiot. It was just a silly mistake- the kind of thing that happens to us all at one time or another. People understood.
It even, dare-I-say, made people feel closer to me because they saw that I was someone who made mistakes just like them, and didn’t take herself too seriously. Honestly, I think these things can work in your favour if you handle them properly. The worst thing I could have done was obsess over that moment.
See, the more we focus on something, the more significance it begins to have. When we relive small moments over and over, we give it power over our lives- power to impede our growth and paralyze us with fear. But the faster we can learn to forgive ourselves, the less those things end up mattering and the faster we can move on to more important things… like our goals.