The other day, I was booking a trip for me and my partner, along with a friend of ours. After hours of fruitless searching for a good place to stay, I had somehow come across a gem we’d missed. I got out my partner’s credit card and paid, noting that only 40% of the value was refundable.
Once I’d paid and shared the itinerary, our friend noticed that I had booked for the wrong weekend. I immediately found the option to cancel, but even though it had only been a few minutes, I would only get that small refund.
Everybody makes mistakes. I know that. But even though I almost never make this kind of mistake, it seemed like an affirmation of everything wrong with me. I wanted to kick myself, and my thoughts started scrolling through other financial mishaps I’ve made over the past decade.
This is a very common experience. For most people, mistakes have a much longer lasting impact on our psyches than do our successes. However, knowing that and internalizing it are two very different things.
So, what do you do when you’ve made a mistake and can’t seem to let it go? How do you get over the feeling that no one in the world is as stupid or careless or irresponsible as you are?
No, you can’t just think your way out of this one. You feel bad and that’s not just going to go away. But sometimes, a problem can be solved pretty easily and you can get the consequences off your chest before you try to manage the feeling.
In my case, I immediately contacted the host and told them about my mistake. Most people are pretty decent and aren’t going to take advantage of someone’s mixup for a bit of extra money, and this person was no different. The next day, they agreed to refund the whole value and were very nice about it.
When you start thinking about all the mistakes you’ve made and all your shortcomings, pause, take a breath, and turn your mind to problem solving. Is there an easy solution? Take the steps you can to remedy your mistake.
Of course, problem solving does not absolve you of the feelings of shame and guilt, and nor should it. Feelings cannot simply be banished by thinking. If it could, we would avoid ever feeling anything negative, stripping ourselves of the ability to grow, love, grieve – to be human.
After contacting the host, I still had to wait a day before getting confirmation that they would refund me. While I felt better about my mistake, I still felt incredibly stupid. My mind was searching for ways to make it better.
At this point, it is important to pause yet again and recognize what your thoughts are doing. You are trying to not feel by making the mistake go away, either by rationalizing it, by blaming it on others, or by finding more solutions.
It might seem like you have no option but to engage in this thought process, but you do. You can choose to feel the emotions, by letting your thoughts go. It will be difficult, as shame and guilt are generally uncomfortable. However, you will see that they are not unmanageable, and that they are not at 100% strength all the time.
Feelings come and go in waves. Choosing to ride the wave is far more effective than trying to hold it back with nothing but your thoughts.
This is often the best way to manage your emotions. Your instinct is to try outthink them and solution for them. But while that may help in bringing the feelings down to a more manageable level, they will remain to some extent.
Ride that wave, and you will grow from the experience, learning to appreciate your ability to feel emotions like every human being.