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5 Strategies to Forget Past Mistakes (and Move On!)

Everyone makes mistakes. Some mistakes are harder to forget than others. But you don’t have to stay stuck in a cycle of reliving your past.

Actively taking steps to forget your past mistakes frees you from negative emotions and rumination. You become free to focus on creating the future you want instead of staying stuck in a past full of regret.

This article will help you figure out how to finally let go of past mistakes. With a bit of guidance, you won’t have to let the past control you any longer.

Why do we hold onto our mistakes?

Why is it so darn hard to move on from our mistakes in the first place? Obviously, it doesn’t feel good to keep thinking about our mistakes. 

Turns out we may be biologically wired to focus on our mistakes.

Research indicates that stressful situations may trigger our brains to be more likely to ruminate. And because mistakes are usually stressful, it’s not surprising that it’s hard to let them go.

I personally tend to hold onto mistakes because I struggle with forgiving myself. I also feel like if I hold onto the mistake maybe I’m less likely to do it again.

For years as a new clinician, I would go through this cycle almost nightly regarding mistakes I made at work. I could remember everything that I did wrong that day.

I felt like focusing on this was eventually somehow supposed to make me a better clinician. And while there is a healthy way to reflect on your mistakes, I was obsessive.

All this did was drive me into a whirlwind of anxious and depressive thoughts. Eventually, my own burnout forced me to learn how to forget my past mistakes.

We may in part be physiologically driven to pay attention to our mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t override this response.

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What happens when you finally let your mistakes go?

Let’s go back to my example of being a young clinician prone to making mistakes. I felt like if I didn’t constantly scrutinize myself for my mistakes I wasn’t going to succeed.

And I felt like I was constantly failing my patients. You’re probably starting to see why I experienced burnout as a physical therapist.

But when I finally learned to embrace healthy imperfection and let go of mistakes, I felt free. And much to my surprise my clinical care improved.

Patients found it more relatable when I was honest with mistakes and the learning process. And instead of beating myself up about my mistakes, I was able to learn from them and move on.

Research seems to validate my personal experience. A study in 2017 found that individuals who practiced self-forgiveness experienced improved mental health.

So if you find yourself struggling with your mental health, it’s time to let go of the past. I want to tell you that fixating on your mistakes is not serving you.

There is a way out of the repeat loop of reliving your past mistakes. And when you take that road, you will find happiness and freedom.

5 ways to forget past mistakes

Let’s dive into 5 ways you can start to erase your mistakes and make room for a new mental script.

1. Forgive yourself like you would a good friend

Many of us wouldn’t think twice about forgiving our best friends if they made a mistake. So why do you treat yourself differently?

I had this realization for myself not too long ago. A good friend of mine forgot about our scheduled coffee date.

I waited at the coffee shop for about an hour before calling her. She was so apologetic as she had totally forgotten.

I immediately forgave her without thinking twice about it. I didn’t think less of her or felt hesitant want to schedule another coffee date.

And I started to wonder why I don’t show myself this same type of forgiveness when I mess up.

I know forgetting a coffee date is not a major mistake. But it was insightful to see how I didn’t hesitate to forget it and let it go.

Treat yourself like a good friend. And that means letting go of your mistakes without holding a grudge.

2. Ask for forgiveness from others if needed

Sometimes it’s hard for us to forget our past mistakes because we haven’t taken the steps we need to get closure. Often this means asking for forgiveness.

I remember I made a big mistake in relation to a comment I made about my friend’s job. I almost immediately regretted the comment as it came out of my mouth.

Even though I felt terrible about it, my pride kept me from asking for forgiveness immediately.

Would you believe me if I told you it took me a week before I asked for forgiveness? How silly is that?!

I ruminated on that moment for many hours that week. If I had asked for forgiveness, we both could have moved on quickly.

My friend did forgive me thankfully. And I learned it’s better to ask for forgiveness sooner rather than later.

3. Reflect on what you learned from it

There is a healthy amount of reflection when it comes to our mistakes. Because often mistakes are able to teach us a valuable lesson.

I do think it’s worth looking at a mistake and honestly looking at how you could have improved. This doesn’t mean beating yourself up though.

And this also doesn’t mean reflecting on the situation over and over again until it drives your anxiety through the roof.

Forgive yourself and clearly pinpoint what you could improve upon. Write it out if you need to.

But then commit to moving on from the mistake. This healthy form of reflection will save you precious time and emotional energy.

If you want to learn more, here's our article on how to self-reflect with 5 simple tips.

4. Focus on what you can do now

We can’t undo what we did when we made the mistake. But we can change our behavior moving forward.

Once you’ve done your healthy reflection, turn your attention towards what you can control now.

Let’s go back to the situation where I said something offensive about my friend’s job.

After I finally asked for forgiveness, I started to think about what I could change. I realized I needed to stop giving my opinion unless it was solicited.

I also learned that blurting out the first thing that comes to mind is not always the best idea.

So I now try to follow a “count to 5 rule”. Before I’m tempted to say something potentially controversial, I count to 5 in my head. By the time I hit 5, I’ve usually determined whether it’s wise to say it or not.

By focusing on tangible things I could control, I was able to stop the rumination process from going on any longer.

5. Get busy helping others

If you really can’t stop thinking about your mistakes, it might be time to stop thinking about yourself for a bit.

Get outside of yourself by helping others. Volunteer by giving some of your time.

If I find myself down in the dumps regretting a behavior, I usually try to schedule a Saturday date at the food bank. Or I’ll go to the animal shelter and lend a helping hand.

If you don’t want to go to an official organization, offer to help out a neighbor.

Taking a mental break from thinking about your own problems may just give you the clarity you need. Because when you help others, your subconscious is able to go to work processing the mistake.

And odds are high that your mood will be much improved after giving to others.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I've condensed the information of 100's of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Wrapping up

No one is immune from making mistakes in life. But you don’t have to dwell on past mistakes. You can use the tips from this article to free yourself from regret and anxiety related to your mistakes. And by practicing true self-forgiveness, you will expedite your journey to inner peace and happiness.

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Ashley Kaiser Writer

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.

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