“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana Thanks for the tip, George. Does that mean if we remember our mistakes, we won’t repeat them? That would be a relief for us all, right? We'd simply keep in mind what we have done wrong in the past, then we can avoid doing those things in the future. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
The M.I.S.T.A.K.E. Method
While Mr. Santayana makes a good point, we must take a few more steps to keep ourselves from repeating mistakes. Whether our foul-ups were concerned with addiction, binging and purging, dating choices, overspending or gambling, we can use the following M.I.S.T.A.K.E. method to avoid revisiting the blunders of our past.
Make a List
Identify what behaviors you want to change. If there are things you did in 2015 you don’t want to do again in 2016, write them down. To move forward with a plan that will avoid repeating mistakes, you must know what it is you are wanting to avoid. Don’t sugar coat it or shun the embarrassing moments. This list is for your eyes only, so be honest with yourself.
This step helps you heed Santayana’s warning. Look at what led you to your mistakes. Learn from your past. Was it the company you kept that encouraged poor decisions? Do you see a pattern to your purchases that lead to overspending? Are there habits you could change to sidestep these triggers?
Once you have identified some triggers, make changes. Often, we simply need to change our routines to avoid repeating mistakes. For example, if we identify overeating and weight gain as mistakes of 2015, we may also identify binge-watching our favorite show as a trigger. In this case, we can limit our viewing or its frequency. We can change our routine of binge-watching to three times per month instead of three times per week.
Trade Old Behavior For New
If we want to switch our routine, we must truly switch it, meaning remove the old and insert the new. It’s not enough to simply resolve to stop a behavior. We must replace it with something else. Replace snacking with crocheting. Hang out at the health club instead of the bar. Call a different friend when you need support. Take up a new hobby that replaces TV. If we don’t fill the void, we’ll circle back to the behavior that leads to mistakes.
Go for improvement, not perfection. Yes, are you trying to set new standards. No, this does not mean you have to hit your mark 100 percent of the time. It’s not realistic to expect perfection. Know as you begin to make changes that you will still make the occasional mistake. That’s ok. You may be working on being a better person, but you’re still human.
As you work on behavior change (and its imperfect process,) focus on your strengths. Hone in on these instead of your weaknesses. When our concentration is on our faults, we are less likely to succeed. We see more mistakes we could make, drift toward fear of failure, or doubt that we can accomplish what we set out to do. Instead, direct your attention and efforts toward your talents, skills and positive attributes. Use these to make the changes you desire.
This goes hand in hand with focusing on your strengths. Often, when faced with a challenging task, our fear of failure or rejection causes us to sabotage the task. We procrastinate because we fear we won’t be able to do it once we start. We run away from a difficult situation in fear of damaging a relationship. We end up failing before we start because we fail to start. Or, we give up before finishing, telling ourselves we are better off wallowing in our old behavior because it’s familiar. This cycle must end.
These steps aren’t always easy. In fact, they are often quite difficult. But, if we want this year to look different than the last, we have to make some serious adjustments. As we get further into 2016, following the M.I.S.T.A.K.E. method will help us change our patterns and avoid old mistakes.
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