How to Overcome The Pain of Bad Decisions

During my monthly session with my spiritual mentor, I shared with her the excitement and fun I’ve been having from working...

During my monthly session with my spiritual mentor, I shared with her the excitement and fun I’ve been having from working on an upcoming talk I’m preparing for, but also the emotions this work has brought up by forcing me to dig deep into my childhood memories.

As a speaker I know how important it is to connect with your audience through personal stories. So when I first sat down to write the draft of this talk, I ventured into my memory vault in search of fitting memories for the subject I’ll be talking about. It’s incredible what we can remember when we sit down and intentionally try to. Very soon a number of fun and happy memories surfaced, some of which were so perfect for my talk that I immediately decided to include them. But when it comes to the thoughts that pop into our minds, as you’ll probably know, we’re not always in control. So with the fun memories that surfaced, a plethora of not-so-fun memories made their way back into my mind as well.

Painful experiences, moments of despair, accidents. And bad decisions. Aching, heart wrenching, stomach twisting bad decisions.

Before I would have ignored them, buried them back deeper than where I’d found them. But that’s not me anymore. I love myself to much to do that now. I’m too curious about who I am, and too eager to learn more. So, instead of pretending I wasn’t feeling anything, I decided to open myself up to what those bad decisions desperately seemed to be want to tell me…

The first thing I came across was regret. A universal feeling when it comes to bad decisions: the regret of a missed opportunity, of a chance we didn’t take. Or worse of a chance at something great that we turned into a failure, something that we’re ashamed of even to think about.

So with regret for bad decisions often comes shame. Because a bad decision reminds us that we’re not perfect, that we’re flawed. Most of us don’t like this part of who we are. And would can blame us? Everywhere we’re bombarded with messages about our flaws, and how to fix them. No wonder we feel shame. Or a heap of other negative emotions.

Which brings me to guilt. Another emotion that quickly made it’s way into my heart when I remembered the bad decisions from my past. I felt guilty for the people that I hurt in my life, but also for allowing others to hurt me. Like when I stayed in toxic relationships for too long, knowing they weren’t good for me, but unable to make myself stand up and leave. There’s no such thing as not making a choice. Doing nothing is always doing something. So in my book that counts as a bad decision too.

Once I’d gone through this whirlwind of emotions, and thanks to the beautiful conversation I had with my mentor, I started to look at those bad decisions in a different light.

Bad decisions are part of life. Just like we’re not perfect, our decisions can’t be of service to us all the time. We’re bound to make mistakes, and in fact it’s what makes life so worth living. But what interested me most was to find ways to make the pain go away. I wanted to get rid of the heavy weight that I felt pressing on my heart.

First I met the obvious: you can’t change the past, so why feel bad about it. An absolute truth, if truth there ever was. But in my opinion useless knowledge when you’re trying to relief your heart from sorrows from the past.

So what if I cannot change what happened? That doesn’t change how I feel about it now.

I believe that only transformation can do that.

In order to change an emotion, or to accept the parts of ourselves that challenge us, a transformation needs to take place. We cannot simply convince ourselves that there is nothing more we can do so that we might as well forget about it.

I used to be really good at doing that. But last week those memories resurfaced. I guess I wasn’t all that good at it after all.

So how do we overcome the pain of bad decisions?

First we forgive ourselves. We face the guilt, the shame, the regret and we accept what we’ve done. This is a true act of self-love in which we’re not only accepting that part of us that is “flawed” but also accepting ourselves for all that we are. We do that by saying to ourselves: “Yes this is me. I’ve done that. But I love myself just the same. And I forgive myself.”

Then we allow ourselves to expand. A turning point in my life has been when I decided I wasn’t going to ignore the hurtful parts of me anymore, but that instead I was going to incorporate them into who I was. Which is precisely what I’m talking about today. Growing means expanding. It’s not just about nurturing the good parts of you, it’s also about allowing you to experience the human condition in all of its aspects, including it’s more painful parts. We do that by saying: “Yes this is me. I’ve done that. But that’s how I grow. And expand as a person.”

And finally we make up for it. Once we’ve forgiven ourselves, and expanded by integrating our bad decisions into who we are, we can finally give back. We’ve learned something, Been through something. Felt something. We looked deep into the eyes of our human condition. We can help others because we understand. We’ve felt their pain, we know their shame. What a gift this is.

That’s all I wanted to share today. If you have a heavy heart right now, or know someone who does, I hope this post will help you move through it. And in the comments below, feel free to leave me a note, and let me know how you’re doing. I’d love that.

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