Mistakes. What are they? How to know if an action is right or wrong?
Sometimes we cannot tell beforehand whether a decision we make will turn out to be a mistake or a good choice. A “mistake” is a concept we apply to judge our past actions negatively, even though we were not necessarily considering them wrong back then. So what can we do to handle this judgment when it pops up in our minds? If we let it sit there, it will grow larger, weigh us down or even paralyze us when we face new decisions. Looking back makes it difficult to move forward and impossible to enjoy the present.
The following are four pieces of advice to help you use your self-judgment as a catalyst for personal growth.
1. Release the habit of accumulating blame for past actions
Unless you were deliberately being neglectful in a past situation, you acted to the best of your knowing. It is only in retrospect, from a more detached and maybe more informed viewpoint, that you identify past actions as mistakes. However, as long as you were not intentionally doing harm and were not intentionally careless, you were technically not acting wrongly, but to the best of what was then your conscience.
As time went on, you may have received a piece of information you did not have before or you may have developed a different opinion on things. Once that happened, past actions began appearing under a different light, so you started labeling them as mistakes and placed blame on yourself. However, the past cannot be altered. In the present, the best you can do is to try making constructive decisions from now on and to avoid acting out of arrogance, fear, prejudice or anger.
Even actions that felt great in the past can acquire a darker tinge with time passing, and decisions you were unsure of can still lead into a bright future. These shifts are not something you can control or foresee, but something you need to accept as the mechanics of life. Be your good Self in the present. It´s all you can do.
2. Forgive yourself
Even if you acted with bad intentions in the past, you need to free yourself from the emotional load of that realization by processing it adequately. The fact that you recognize your past flaws as such means you are ready and able to move beyond them. You have already begun to redeem yourself by acknowledging you could have done better.
Congratulations, you are learning, which is the one big task life is all about! Reward yourself for your growth by forgiving yourself for past errors. Keep them in your memory to help you make better choices from now on, but do not let them weigh you down so much you can´t move forward in life anymore.
3. Ask forgiveness of others
Although your ego may be kicking and screaming, sometimes you are required to ask others for absolution during your process of growing beyond past mistakes. Whenever you do so, remember that the people you address are free to accept or also to reject your request. Let this not become another source of conflict – with yourself or with them. Ask forgiveness because it is a step forward in your own development, but never because you forcefully expect those who already feel hurt by you to be objects of your ego once again.
4. Never use past mistakes as a “free ticket” for making new ones
The saying “To err is human” should not be understood as an excuse or justification for piggish behavior. What it really says is that human beings are apprentices of life. Humans are able to move through progressive stages of personal development. This is done by learning, and the lessons often come as realizations – positive or negative – about past behaviors.
When someone is conscious of acting wrongly and excuses themselves through misuse of concepts such as “To err is human”, they are, in fact, renouncing an aspect of their humanity, because they are refusing to learn. In the same manner, forgiving yourself for past mistakes does not imply you are good to go for another round of deliberate bad choices. It means you are committing to the next higher level of learning.
And one last thing: always keep in mind that you are an apprentice, and that you are practicing. It is good to attempt doing your best, but do not beat yourself up over reaching a perfection no human being was ever supposed to attain.
You will always be human, you will always err – even in applying the above points. The good news is: if you let your faults be your teachers, you can live your life traveling on a path of growth.