“Well, nobody’s perfect.” That’s what you usually say when you break a dish, run out of gas, or forget to pack your swimsuit on a beach vacation. These mistakes we quickly forget. Bigger decisions, particularly bad ones, can cause pain and grief in our lives that can last a long time, even a lifetime. Indeed there are some lasting consequences. Some can be erased and forgiven over time, others cannot. It might have been a car accident, an angry tirade, or a moral failure, the list is endless. The reason it is endless is because we all make bad decisions–everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent, a pastor, a police officer, or a podcaster you are going to screw up–royally at times. Like grief from any other source in your life you may not ever completely recover from it but you can learn from the mistake and turn it into an asset over time. There are some things you must do to make that transformation.
Change what you can. There are some consequences of our decisions which are irreversible, but undoubtably there are more things that you can change than not. When you grieve you feel out of control and gaining control of the things you can will begin to lift you up. This is vital to your recovery because the antithesis of grief is hope. Maybe this means making amends, asking forgiveness, paying a debt, changing a habit, or changing your environment. Avoidance is your enemy. Face your unpleasant feelings and situation head on and take control of your life. Make a list of the things you can change, improve or at least have a shot of changing and then begin to list ways you can accomplish them. Begin with a one of the easier ones and carve out your first victory. Build on that success and chip away at them all. Some things may not change, some may take time, but you will begin to win. Others may not matter to you anymore as you realize they aren’t the obstacle to happiness you though they were.
Let go of what you can. Often recovering from our bad decisions can be a cleansing experience. Usually bad decisions come from flawed thinking that has had power over our lives. When the result of that fallacious thinking manifests itself in a harmful decision, it brings that flaw to light. This is a great time to recognize and eliminate that fallacy in your life that causes you and others harm. The predisposition to do wrong is in all of us and you are not the first or last to do it, so allow yourself to be imperfect. Above I said to make a list of things you can change. This time make a list of things you cannot change, and let go of them. Don’t only let go of your guilt, but also let go of its power over you. It is done, forgive yourself, don’t do it again. Beside the list of things you can’t change, write down what you can do to keep that from every happening again. You won’t ever forget the things you did, so use them to grow and make you stronger. One more thing–Sometimes that long held belief that has driven you for years will be something you were taught by family, by friends, at home, at school, or at church. It is cleansing to challenge your beliefs and determine whether you need to stand on them or let them go.
Let go of who you can. Your mistakes always involve and affect others around you. Although your bad decision almost always ultimately falls on you, influences from other people around you usually play a part. In most cases you need to disassociate yourself from those people either immediately or for a time. These people will either excuse your part in the decision or lead you to other unwise decisions. Get away and clear your head. It is often said that when things go wrong in your life, you find out who your real friends are. Some people that you would have sworn would stick with you will abandon you. Other people that you hardly knew cared will stand by your side strongly. In many cases you need to let go of the people who abandoned you, at least for a time. If they leave you that easily the rift will be hard to repair in the short term and will just cause you more grief. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does lessen the sting. In time some of these people will be friends again. Others are best let go. Of course many people you thought you could count on will come through immediately, or at least that has been my experience. These anchors in your life are a great gift. Don’t neglect to show gratitude.
Start something new. Bad decisions that come from years of faulty thinking are like addictions in a way—If we do not replace them with something new, they plague us again. Just as an alcoholic must fill potential drinking time with AA meetings, volunteering, or a hobby to avoid drinking, so must you put your new way of thinking into action to change. If you physically put it into action you will believe it more strongly. It is very powerful if the action is the opposite of your mistake. An example would be a person who has anger issues starting a peer group to study and discuss an anger management program or book. The more you face your flaw head on, the more you become free of it.
You don’t have to spend the rest of your life weighed down by your mistakes. We are all going to mess up, blow it, and make bad decisions. It is what we do afterwards that defines us.