Are you stuck in a hole of could, should and would? Beating up on yourself over past mistakes won’t help anybody.
In difficult conversations, everybody messes up on occasion. It’s inevitable. Because we’re human. What’s equally human is our tendency to beat up on ourselves afterwards.
We get caught up in what we could have done better, what we should have approached differently, and what we wish we would have said instead. It all seems so easy and obvious – after the difficult conversation is over, after we’ve heard about the other person’s perspective, and after we’ve calmed down. But hindsight is always 20/20. In the moment, we did the best we could.
While analyzing our mistakes is a valuable learning experience for the future, it becomes counterproductive when we’re stuck on the downward spiral into the beat-yourself-up-over-the-past hole. So when we mess up, we need to cut ourselves some slack and practice more self-compassion.
If that sounds too “soft” for you, think of it as self-preservation: Excessive self-beating only keeps us trapped in the past, prevents us from doing what’s needed in the present, and doesn’t improve our future.
In sparring, everybody gets hit occasionally. Sometimes, I get hit a lot. But if I allow myself to get caught up in that downward spiral – I could have taken advantage of that opening, and I should have stepped at a different angle, and if I would have just kept my guard up for crying out loud, and … – you know what happens? I mess up and get hit even more. Because I’m distracted thinking about the past, I’m not present in the moment, and as a result my future is looking bleak. Or more accurately: bruised.
Analysis and reflection are important. In my martial arts training, we do that as part of every sparring exercise. But the focus is not on what we did wrong in the past. What’s the point of beating up on yourself, especially when you already got beaten up by the other guy? The focus of analysis and reflection is on what to do in the future. Stay light on your feet. Watch your opponent’s body language. Put variety into your movements. Keep that guard up high. Now go and fight another round. And guess what? Everybody does better in the next round.
So if you had a difficult conversation that didn’t turn out so well, go ahead and reflect on what you could have done, the approach you should have taken, and the things you wish you would have said. But don’t get caught in the downward spiral and end up stuck in a hole. Determine what you will do better, approach differently, and say instead next time. Then go and do that. No beating up on yourself allowed.
I’m curious what you think about the last point.
I bet your hero makes mistakes, too …