Past mistakes can diminish our self-control

We all make mistakes. In our life we ​​make many mistakes, some small and irrelevant, some huge and we suffer the consequences for a long time. The good news is that we can learn from past mistakes. We have the ability to realize where we have gone wrong in order to act more cautiously in the future and not repeat the same mistakes. The bad news is that we don’t always get it right, so it’s easy to trip over the same stone again.

Past mistakes can diminish our self-control

Conventional wisdom suggests that remembering our successes or failures can help us make better decisions in the present. But if not? Or at least not always?

A group of Boston College psychologists asked themselves these questions and, to answer them, they conducted a very interesting experiment. They gathered a group of people and divided them into four subgroups:

  1. They had to remember two situations in their life where they maintained self-control and achieved their goals.
  2. They had to remember ten situations in which they maintained self-control.
  3. They had to think of two situations in their life where they made a wrong decision.
  4. They had to remember ten mistakes they made in their life.

Participants were then given a sum of money and asked how much they would be willing to spend to buy a product they wanted.

Interestingly, the only group that stayed within budget were the ones who remembered the successful moments. The rest of the people showed more impulsiveness and chose products they couldn’t afford.

This research shows that taking a leap into the past can have a huge influence on our current decisions and behaviors. Old memories can become a ” self-control technique ” that helps us make good decisions or, conversely, they can lead us to make mistakes. Remembering mistakes has different cognitive and affective consequences than remembering successes.

How to learn from past mistakes?

Remembering the past isn’t always good, sometimes it can negatively affect our level of self-control and push us to make rash decisions, which could explain why we tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

These psychologists concluded that “remembering failures induces self-indulgence regardless of the difficulty of the task.” They believe that remembering past mistakes ends up being painful and sad, which can affect our ability to control ourselves leading us to be overly self-indulgent.

Of course, it all depends on how we conceive of mistakes. Having a negative view of mistakes, associating them with failure or not ceasing to punish yourself for a mistake will cause its memory to end up affecting the image we have of ourselves, demoralizing us and making us more inclined to act impulsively.

Instead, taking mistakes as learning opportunities could mitigate their negative emotional impact.

Therefore, if we want to learn from past mistakes, the first step is to change our conception of them, assuming them as necessary and inevitable learning steps in life that allow us to gain experience and wisdom. A mistake doesn’t necessarily have to define us as a person nor is it an indicator of our worth. What really matters is what we do next to correct that mistake or avoid repeating it.

The second step is to focus on the lesson learned, rather than the mistake made. The change of perspective strengthens us, instead of affecting our self-esteem. For example, if we’ve hurt someone in the past with our words in the middle of a heated argument, rather than focusing on the details of the event, it’s helpful to dwell on the lesson we’ve learned, such as: don’t argue when we’re angry. It’s a more constructive perspective that will allow us to remain calm and respond more assertively.

In short, to learn from the mistakes of the past it is first of all necessary to process them, assume them and extract the lesson from them, without formulating value judgments that lead us to apply limiting labels to ourselves which will then be activated when we remember the situation and, far from helping us they’ll make the same mistake again.

Therefore, if we have to make an important decision, we can look at the mistakes of the past, but we must make sure we do it constructively. The key is to note the lessons learned to chart the way forward and then focus on the future. Ruminating over our bad decisions will get us nowhere. It is better to look ahead and move forward.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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