How to Deal with Past Mistakes and Move Forward

Written by: Tess Pajaron

There isn’t a person on earth whose past is completely free from mistakes. We sometimes make a decision, certain it’s the right one, only to regret it in the aftermath. There are times where we’ve all acted out of anger or sadness, knowing that our actions were wrong, but unable to stifle the power of our overwhelming emotions. This isn’t exclusive to you. There are no time machines, and the past has already been written. There’s no sense in beating yourself up over things you would have done differently if provided with a second chance, because as life moves forward, you won’t likely receive one.

View the Past Objectively

When you’re inside of a situation, you’re blind to the external factors. If you’ve ever watched your married friends have an argument over something silly when the answer is right in front of them, you know what it’s like to spectate on those situations. You need to look at your past mistakes through the same lens. Things may not be as bad as you thought they were – your guilt and negative emotions can be clouding your perception of the situation.

Understand Who You Were Then

People change. That’s just the reality of life. Though it may sound painfully cliché to say “I was a different person then”, that may be the truth of the matter. Big things happen in our lives that write chapters in the book of who we are. You may have been in a bad place, and that could have affected how you approached situations. Measure who you were then against who you are now.

Consider What You Can Do Now

If the source of your regret stems from something you inflicted on someone else, do you still have the ability to contact that person? If you haven’t written an apology letter, do so. If you don’t know how to contact this person or otherwise can’t, write the letter anyway. Sometimes getting your apology out there is enough for catharsis. If you let yourself down, write the apology letter to yourself. You may be the person you most need to make peace with.

Learn to Recognize When Things Are Going Wrong

Examine the patterns of your past regrets. What was going on in your life? What happened in the few days leading up to the decision you aren’t proud of? Your mistakes can be a result of your habits. If you identify and work through the emotions you feel right before you find yourself walking down the wrong path, you can prevent yourself from letting things escalate irreversibly. You can’t change what you’ve done in the past, but you can prevent history from repeating itself.

Vow to Do Better in the Future

When you have a full understanding of yourself and why you make the mistakes you make, this mastery of your internal processes can prevent you from looking upon your past with shame, and toward your future with reservations. You may be tired of hearing it, but every mistake is a learning experience. This is only true if you’re really willing to learn. There’s a difference between being upset because you made a mistake, and being upset because you understand all of the implications. It’s okay to be upset, but if you’re truly learning in the wake of that situation, it’s easy to see how to avoid ever finding yourself in that situation again.

If you wrap yourself in pity, nothing is going to change. You have to be willing to address the issues and give yourself some tough love. Don’t emotionally abuse yourself, but don’t be delusional either. Your end goal is to be a better, stronger person who is less prone to making decisions you regret, and this means coming to terms with your shortcomings.

Tess Pajaron is an experienced Community Manager working at Open Colleges, Australia’s leading online educator. She likes to cover stories in career and productivity hacks.