Do you ever make the same mistakes over and over again?
Does that ever turn into beating yourself up, because, hey you know better than to make this mistake again?
There’s a famous quote by Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better”. I adamantly believe in this quote because, to me, this is the very foundation of why we can forgive ourselves and others for our past mistakes.
Ignorance doesn’t excuse mistakes, but it makes them understandable. It makes them forgivable. It’s hard to find someone at fault when they didn’t know better.
How is it then, can we repeat the same mistakes when we have professedly learned our lessons? What if we know better and we don’t do better?
The default answers to these questions, at least for me, involves going down a shame spiral of sorts, where I start to myself those little lies to explain the repeated mistake:
See, I told you, you’re not good enough.
Or, how could you be so stupid?!?
Or, you should just give up now because you’ll never be able to do this right.
Or, the classic, you’re a failure – you know better and still couldn’t get this right.
I know from experience that from here, without intervention, it can be a slippery slope into a habitual cycle of self-defeating talk. Before you know it, these little lies are being used to explain all the other areas of your life that aren’t going right. Left unchecked, the brain collects enough real-life evidence about these statements that they can become what you believe about yourself. Pretty dangerous.
So how do we change our default thought process when we make repeated mistakes?
These last couple of weeks have not been all rainbows and unicorns for me. I have been responding to a lot of situations, in ways that I know are not productive, or helpful and loving.
I really strive to walk the walk of what I write about. And when I slip up, I have a tendency to go to back to my own negative default answer when I ask myself “you know better, why don’t you do better”?
In thinking about my situation and how to replace our default responses, I couldn’t help but see how this happens all the time to almost everyone. People repeating mistakes in an effort to make healthy choices or quit addictions. People repeating mistakes in how they perform at work or repeating mistakes in how they communicate with others, and so on.
After all this thinking, I was left questioning the very validity of that Maya Angelou quote. People often know better and don’t do better, including myself. So does this have any truth to it at all?
Then I remembered:
The lesson will be repeated until it is learned.
Whether it’s how you communicate to diffuse an argument with a spouse or a coworker. Or gaining weight after working hard to shed some pounds. The lesson (ahem, the mistake) will be repeated until it is learned.
And then I remembered something else, equally as important:
I don’t know everything. I won’t ever know everything. Ever.
Even though, as I’m sure many people would attest to, I pretend *a lot* to know everything. It’s one of my go-to shields that my brain thinks will protect me from judgment and the unknown. It really likes to be pals with my old friend perfectionism.
But, even with topics that I know a lot about, I will still never know ALL the answers.
And I think to myself, shit, this life thing really is a never ending process of learning and growing. Just when I think I’ve got something all figured out, I am humbled by what I still don’t know. I guess this is what I signed up for.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Maya Angelou really did know what she was talking about, when you know better you do better. And the part I would like to add is if you aren’t doing better, then there’s something you don’t know yet. And guess what, it’s ok!
So the next time you find yourself repeating your mistakes, instead of going to your default, self-defeating answer, get curious. Ask yourself, “what don’t I know about this situation or myself that is causing me to repeat this mistake”? The answer might not be what you want to hear, or an easy fix, but the answer is there.
And give yourself a break and relax, because you’ll never know everything. This is what it means to be just like everyone else, human.
Much love and gratitude.