Breaking news: everyone makes mistakes. What a great thing, since mistakes are a great way to learn and to advance at all levels of our lives, be it materially, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. The tools we need to make the most of our mistakes include the art of reflection, i.e. to analyse deeply what we did, what happened, and what we can do differently when faced with a similar situation again. Mistakes, then, as way to inspire change in our behaviour, can become a powerful contributor to the process of individual transformation.
But what if we get caught in the reflection phase?
I think that’s what dwelling is: reflection without the subsequent, essential movement of acting on what we have learned. The challenge is that when we dwell, the reflection becomes dark, dreary, and depressing. We focus too much on the actual mistake and we forget about its positive aspects. And it’s something that a lot of people around me do.
How can we not get caught dwelling and instead reflect?
One big stumbling block we ourselves place on our road to change is to make massive, sweeping goals that are impossible to achieve. For example, we shouldn’t decide to “become patient.” After all, there is no such thing as someone who is perfectly, 100% patient—everyone has a breaking point. So the goal to become patient is inherently impossible.
However, breaking down that goal into smaller, achievable ones makes them achievable. In this case, one trick seems to be to train yourself to reach your breaking point later and later. So the reachable equivalent goal becomes “I lost my patience after ten minutes. Next time, I will try to last fifteen minutes at least before snapping.”
Now that you have a measurable goal, you can actually achieve it. And because it’s just tough enough to make you uncomfortable but not that difficult, soon you will find that remaining patient for 15 minutes is as easy as it was to stay patient for 10 minutes, so you can then see the progress you made and set a new goal of 20 minutes.
Letting Go Of Guilt
Guilt seems to be the coffee of this generation’s emotions. We seem to love wallowing in it, despite the fact that it makes us suffer so much. But see, it’s vital to let go of it. Once you have made a mistake, reflected on it, and set a goal, the guilt needs to go. I mean come on—the mistake has been made. What’s done is done.
One way of letting go of guilt is to find something else to think about when the guilt moves in. One of my friends thinks about the latest piano piece he is learning to play; another thinks about recipes and dinner parties, which he loves to throws. I think about the next blog post I am going to write.
Mantras are an easier, pre-established way of distracting one’s thoughts of guilt. Purchasing a print copy of one’s mantra can also serve as a powerful and beautiful remind of what we are trying to achieve.
The abovementioned quantitative progress should be tracked, as the numbers can serve as a healthy reminder, on our darker days, that there is hope for us in the future if we keep trying. But the numbers are a reflection of much deeper work that we are doing in our minds and hearts. To keep track of those changes, journaling remains the best tool available to us. Going back and reading my old journals has made me realise how much I have changed over the course of a handful of years, and helps strengthen my determination, even on the toughest of days, to continue forward rather than giving up.