Do you spend hours of your day obsessing over every little thing that goes wrong?
– You’re always screwing things up!
– This is going to be a disaster for you at work!
– Good job—now everyone’s going to think you’re an idiot.
– You jerk! She’s never going to speak to you again!
If I came a little too close to your internal monologue on a typical day, that’s only because I still go through the same thing, myself. Hence, what we’re going to be discussing today is how to free yourself from this constant cycle of woe and rid yourself of the anxiety, discomfort, insecurity and misery that comes with questioning yourself non-stop.
If you want to learn to shift your mindset away from mistakes and how they will negatively impact your life, then you need to learn to live in the moment and embrace your authentic self.
But how do we do that? Step one is to stop what you’re doing and label the obsession.
When you’re spinning out of control, it’s important to call yourself on it—stop what you’re doing, take stock, and name the behavior.
More often than not, we get caught in this loop of thought that makes it impossible for us to move forward. We get so stuck in the mire of our mistakes and let that dictate how we see the future, which makes us even more anxious.
It’s almost as though our minds are trying to rub our noses in it and bully us into reliving that mistake over and over again. For some reason, we believe that maybe this will help us—we believe that it will keep us from making that same mistake twice.
Sadly, all this self-torture is for nothing.
As it turns out, punishing yourself now will not protect you from future mistakes, because life simply doesn’t work that way.
Any solution that comes from a mental state of chaos, anxiety, and fear is going to be a low-quality solution. That’s why the first thing we must always do when we start presenting signs of mistake obsession is to recognize it and call it what it is!
Once we’ve realized the issue and labeled it, the next step is to slow down and breathe.
Take a moment for yourself in which you can remove yourself from the problem and calm your mind:
– Look outside a window;
– Take a short walk;
– Sit or lie down in a relaxing position.
Get to a space that allows for comfort and peace; take several deep breaths; slow your mind. Take a moment to look around you and take in the fact that the world is still spinning and that your life is not over.
Once you’ve begun to settle your mind, ask yourself what you’re really so afraid of.
Is there some outcome you’re dreading? Are you worried about embarrassing yourself? Are you concerned that someone will judge you?
When we negatively obsess over something, it’s usually because of our fear . . . and if we take a moment to honestly ask ourselves what we’re so afraid of, the answer will always come.
Maybe you’re worried that you’ll get fired, and that has you obsessing—but what you’re really afraid of is being out of work and never finding another job. Maybe you’re worried that your girlfriend is upset with you—but what you’re really afraid of is being alone forever.
Whatever deep-seated fear is keeping you from finding happiness, you need to confront it. As long as you live in the illusion that you can build a fulfilling future for yourself by beating yourself up for each and every mistake, you will continue to go through life cloaked in fear and self-doubt.
Instead, you must learn to look your fear in the face and show it who’s the boss.
Most of the time, the tendency with fear is to run away from it as quickly as possible—to try to pretend it doesn’t exist. The only problem with that tactic is that it does nothing to ease your fear in the future.
When you come up against a major personal fear, what you really need to do is sit with it for a while and let it burn.
What do I mean by that? Well, more simply put, I mean that the best way to get free from your fear is to work through it.
Instead of running away from your fear every time it arises, try just letting it simmer. Yes, this will be uncomfortable at first, but what you will quickly come to realize is that it is not going to take you down.
Let’s face it: discomfort sucks. But if you accept that fear and let it burn, you will begin to reprogram your subconscious mind and inform it that your fears are not in control of you. You will notice that your mind starts to see the problem differently—you’ll be open to new possibilities, instead of seeing only a hopeless dead end.
In my own life, I like to think of this as not only accepting the fear, but also surrendering to it and even expressing gratitude for it.
Now, I already know what you’re going to say: “What?! Surrender to my fear?! THANK my fear?! Are you insane?!”
No! I’m not insane—I’m simply a fan of confronting obstacles, rather than turning tail and fleeing.
When we let that fear burn, what we’re really doing is turning toward that fear courageously and saying, “Okay—what is this fear all about? What would it be like to experience the worst possible outcome?”
If you can take that bold action, you’ll almost always come to one of two conclusions: 1) the worst possible outcome you’d imagined isn’t as life-threatening as you’d imagined; or 2) the worst possible outcome you’d imagined is patently absurd and unlikely to come to pass.
Think about it! Do you really think that someone who makes one mistake in a serious relationship is going to get dumped? And even if he is dumped, do you really think that he’ll NEVER find love again? Do you really think that someone who makes one mistake at work is going to be fired? And even if she is fired, do you really think that she’ll NEVER find satisfactory and meaningful employment again?
There is a reason for the prominence of the phrase, “When a door closes, a window opens.”
The best thing about learning to let your fear burn is that it teaches you to open yourself to change and consider new paths. This is why my first reaction to any experience in life is gratitude.
Even when you think that the situation you’ve gone through cannot possibly have a positive side, you should try to start a new habit of expressing gratitude for everything that happens to you. None of us have a crystal ball hiding in the junk drawer at home, so we have no possible way of knowing how any single experience will shape us or change our lives.
Fact: even those life challenges that feel as though they’re going to break you are also learning experiences that will make you stronger and more resilient.
Whenever I come across pain in my life, I say, “thank you,” and do my best to surrender to it. In truth, these are my two key responses to life because I have come to learn that they are the fastest paths to total realignment with your life.
Once you learn to see each moment as a learning or growth opportunity, you will be able to calm your mind more rapidly in moments of despair; you will uncover more beneficial bold actions to take in the face of defeat; you will be able to see new paths forward in times of seeming disaster; you will learn to see possibility where you once saw only loss:
– Oh, that was a really stupid thing to do—it’s okay, I will go acknowledge the mistake and take ownership to find a solution.
– She’s not going to want to speak to me again—I’ll go apologize right now and try to start a constructive conversation.
– I’m definitely going to be fired—okay, that will suck, but would it really be so bad? I hate that job anyway, and it would be fun to try something new (or more challenging, or less challenging, or more active). Maybe I could even get something part-time while I pivot and get some new training!
There are so many opportunities out there for you to learn and grow! If you ever feel stuck, start with my website, SocialConfidenceCenter.com, and check out some of the amazing personal confidence development programs that we offer! If you like something a little more low-key, check out my book, On My Own Side, which is all about retraining your mindset and making room for growth toward more positive, self-affirming thought.
The next time you start to beat yourself up over a mistake, stop what you’re doing, label the obsessing for what it is, breathe through the pain, let it burn for a while, and find at least some small reason to express your gratitude.
You don’t always have the power to control what happens to you (or even the mistakes you make) . . . but you DO have the power to control how you react to it!
As always, I invite you to share your thoughts and questions below! What mistakes do you usually beat yourself up over? How has learning to surrender to your fear and work through it changed your life? What are you goals for this practice moving forward? Please share your experiences with the community so that we can learn from each other and grow as peers!
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.