Getting Over It

Do It

July 14, 2019

This is a Part Two. Part One can be found here.

So how do we actually get over our mistakes? Here’s a four step plan:

Step #1: Understand why

The first step in this process is understanding why mistakes can hurt so much. If you’ve read Part One, you can skip this mini section if you want. If you haven’t…then do that, and come back.

To summarize for those of you who have decided to not read the first post but continue reading this one anyways, one significant reason as to why it’s hard for us to move on from mistakes is because we think everyone else:

  • Knows what we’re feeling
  • Knows what we’re thinking
  • Cares about what we’re doing
  • Is paying really close attention to everything that we’re doing

When in reality, everyone else is just thinking those exact same four thoughts, and as a result, no one really cares too much about anyone else except themselves.

The more in depth reason, however, lies in our core values. Things we believe in. Things we’re good at. Things we think we’re good at. Things we care about. Things we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into. Interests. Hobbies. Professions. Personality traits. You get the idea.

When our core values are attacked, it hurts. We bite back and get defensive, or we lash out verbally or physically. We deny that we are wrong by deflecting the blame off ourselves and instead push it towards the circumstances or other people, or we flat out lie.

The stronger we feel about a core value, the more emotionally inclined we feel to defend it, and refuse to concede defeat. And thus, the harder it becomes to get over a mistake that’s close to one of the core values we’ve prided ourselves on for so long.

Combined with our genetic makeup, our core values are very unique and important. Those two things make up who we literally and figuratively.

Step #2: Identify your core values

Remember that formula from last post? Here it is again:

How much you care + How significant you perceive your mistake to be = How hard it is for you to get over it.

And the four corresponding possibilities we established:

A Lot + A Lot = Very Hard A Lot + A Little = Hard A Little + A Lot = Hard A Little + A Little = Very Easily Ok, so what’s the actual point of this formula?

There are two purposes here:

  • To help you identify your core values
  • To learn to be okay with being wrong about yourself

Both of these are met through self-reflection. Self-reflection is a very broad term that can have multiple meanings to different people, and it’s also something that’s really hard to get started with.

So you start simple. Ask yourself how much you care about the mistake as well as how impactful you think the mistake was. Naturally the question that follows is: why?

From there, your thoughts will develop; you might reestablish old core values, argue with yourself, or learn new things about yourself. Self-reflection is such an important process to go through, and the more you do it, the more self aware you will become and the better you will start to understand who you are coming from different perspectives.

And throughout this entire process, you will also be wrong about yourself.

I used to think that I was a pretty hardworking student. But then I started noticing a pattern where I would overindulge myself and spend too much time playing video games or being on my phone, and then it hit me: I’m not as great as I thought I was.

But being wrong about yourself is most definitely not a bad thing. Rather, admitting that I was wrong granted me the freedom to work towards fixing my productivity issues and rebrand myself. Had I maintained the mindset that I was already a really diligent student, I would have kept my same routines and habits and things would have probably gotten worse.

Self reflection, self reflection, self reflection. Do it.

Step #3: Predict the future

As it turns out, we’re pretty bad at predicting our future emotions, for two main reasons:

  • We allow our current emotions to affect how we think we’ll feel later on. (Projection bias)
  • We tend to overestimate how long an emotional reaction will last and it’s intensity. (Impact bias)

But in reality, we slowly shift back to our emotional status quo, and life resumes as usual. This is the basic idea of the hedonic treadmill, which states that there is a base level of happiness that we all have, and we generally return to that base level pretty quickly despite any majorly positive or negative events that may occur in our lives.

hedonic treadmill

And if you look really closely, you’ll notice that the distance from the base level of happiness to the maximum and minimum heights is the amplitude of your sine graph…wait…no…that’s not what we’re talking about here.

At first, it might be hard to believe that the hedonic treadmill exists, because it seems too convenient.

It sounds too good to be true because when you’re upset, angry, annoyed, or whatever, being told that ‘you’ll be fine’ usually doesn’t resonate too well with you because it sounds like something you should already know.

And also because it’s usually someone else telling you that, and internally you might think, ‘Well they don’t what I’m feeling. There’s no way that anyone could possibly understand how complex my feelings are.” And you’re right about that, but more on that later.

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to keep calm and collected, to say the least. In stressful situations filled with emotion, you don’t want to be thinking evaluating your core values or anything like that.

In those times, it’s a lot better to simplify things. Personally, I came up with a phrase that I like to repeat whenever feel myself getting upset, angry, out of control, or whatever. And it’s this:

I’m upset right now, but I’ll be fine later.

This phrase is the hedonic treadmill, stripped down to its very essence. How does repeating this phrase work, though?

It’s works like how Leonard Shelby in Memento leaves notes and Polaroid photos for himself while he is still conscious of what’s happened, so that in the future, when he forgets his memories, he will know what to do and where to go from there.

Similar idea here. I’m trusting that it was a calm and reasonable Justin that came up with the phrase and I’m trusting his mental note saying that I truly will be fine in the future.

Even though it’s only an assumption that I’ll recover in the future, my trust in that assumption gives me hope, and it stops me from trying to do something regrettable and in a sense, keeps me grounded. And the more conscious I am about the presence of the hedonic treadmill and the more that I start to see it truly work begins turning that assumption into a given.

Also, the simplicity of the phrase adds to its effectiveness. When one is feeling down, it’s really easy to get sucked into the trap of thinking that their pain is special and that no one will ever understand their feelings.

By intentionally keeping the phrase concise and ambiguous, there is no room for explanation or elaboration on the situation.

“I’m upset because I failed a high school math test” and “I’m upset because I accidentally burned my house to the ground” are two entirely different situations, but if we remove everything except the first two words they might as well be the same.

Pain will hurt, but yours is not special.

So if you can understand all of that, then congratulations, because you just learned how to predict the future. Probably not what you were thinking when you read the subhead, but hey, clickbait headlines catch people’s attention.

It might not be a phrase for you. Maybe it’s a quote, or a song lyric. It might not even be a conscious thought at all. It might just be the subconscious understanding that you’ll eventually be fine that keeps you in check. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it works for you.

Step #3.5: Everybody else

You may have noticed that so far, none of the steps I’ve outlined have focused on including other people in them, and that’s for a good reason. In this subsection, I want to address is how others, whether that be friends, family, or bystanders, play into helping us get over a certain mistake.

For example, if some spectators saw me turn the ball over in a basketball game and then get visibly upset about doing that, they might ask me why I get so fired up over such a small mistake, and encourage me to move on from it.

Here’s the thing about other people, though: they may know what my core values are, have a fairly good idea regarding my emotions surrounding them, and maybe even share some of them, but will never be able to understand those deeply personal feelings of anguish, anger, love, or joy I feel surrounding those values.

They might know that I really like basketball, and that I devote a lot of my time and energy into the sport, but they can’t even come close to comprehending all the nostalgic and equally scarring memories I’ve had throughout all my years playing basketball, or the overwhelming feelings of mediocrity, ecstasy, stress, success, and failure I’ve endured.

I want to emphasize the idea that only you are able to know what emotions you feel, in its purest, most inexplicable form. Those feelings are entirely exclusive to ourselves, and their full extent is impossible to put into words.

Of course, no one will ever be able to fully know someone else’s whole backstory and every single emotion they’ve ever felt in their lives at a given moment in time, but that’s the point. Each one of our lives is so unique that there’s only so much that others can really do to help us get over our mistakes; we ourselves must bear the brunt of that burden. Let’s also not forget that by human nature, everyone’s primary concern is themselves.

There is a saying that goes, “The map is not the territory”. Basically, what it means is that you don’t look at a map of an island and say, “Ah, yes, now I know what the island is,” because in reality, that island is really hot, humid, and full of cool bugs that your stupid map didn’t and couldn’t show. The map is just a representation of what that territory is supposed to be, not what it actually is.

When we go to others looking for consolation or advice, we’re handing them that proverbial map, and asking them what we should do and where we should go on the island. So they look at that map, see our core values, hear about our past experiences, and try their best to help us.

The thing is, everyone’s core values are different, and there’s no way that anyone can ever truly understand how someone else is feeling at a given moment in time. We don’t have the technology to transfer memories to one another or rewind time and switch perspectives, so when we try to help others or when others are trying to help us, understand that general advice is what you’re most likely going to be offering and receiving.

This doesn’t mean that friends aren’t helpful at all when it comes to getting over a mistake. It’s just that the emphasis and pressure to move on is on you and only you. Others’ input is useful and important, but they don’t know the situation as well as you do. And regardless, in the end, you are the one making the final decision regarding how you react and what you’ll end up doing.

Don’t let others be the ones to always calm you down and do everything for you, simply because those people won’t always be there in your future endeavors. Furthermore, you don’t want to be so emotionally reliant on a few people because it can get to a point where you are no longer in control of your own life.

Which leaves us with the final step…

Step #4: Get over it.

Do it.

There’s no secret here.

I hope that the things I’ve said help alleviate the emotions you may feel surrounding your mistake(s) and make the process of getting over one easier, but there’s no avoiding them.

You have to face that pain, agony, anger, what have you, straight on, accept it, and move on. You can’t change the past.

That’s really all there is to it, and it’s frankly quite simple.

But it can also be pretty fucking difficult at the same time, can’t it?

Throughout the course of these last two posts, I’ve said a lot for you readers to think about, but the funny thing is that overthinking mistakes is easily the single worst way to get over one. There is a very delicate line between understanding one’s mistakes and over analyzing them.

That’s a line that varies based on the circumstances as well as the person, and one that I am not trying to draw for anybody. That is a line that takes time, patience, and trial and error for one to figure out what works for them.

In the end, it’s what you do with this knowledge that matters. All I can do is tell you these things and hope that you figure things out on your own, because that’s how you get over your mistakes.

You do it by yourself.