Whenever something upsetting happened to me, I would spend hours afterward replaying it in my mind. Each time I re-enacted the moment, I would get more angry. I did this all the time. It was like I was torturing myself over and over again. Does this sound familiar to you? A lot of us do this. Someone does something we don’t like, we get angry. Then, we’re angry at ourselves for not dealing with it properly, and the moment becomes a recurring nightmare cycling around in our minds.
Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, visualize the solution. See yourself reacting the way you would have liked had you been prepared. This is much more productive than beating yourself up. There’s no point in feeling bad about something that’s already happened – you can’t change it. And by replaying mistakes over and over, you’re almost ensuring that it happens again because the more you run through a behaviour in your mind, the more it becomes ingrained and habitual. A double whammy. However, you can change how you act in the future.
Something recently happened to me that illuminated this insight for me. Someone I always had difficulty getting along with came back into my life. And instantly, all the angry, frustrated feelings flared up. Afterward, on the way home and well into that night, I was filled with anger. My thoughts were focused on what went wrong, how much I disliked this person and all the reasons why. When the anger subsided, I asked myself what I would do differently if I could go back in time. I reimagined the scene with me remaining calm and not reacting to her behaviour. I felt much better. I ran through the entire interaction with me doing and saying all the right things. I saw myself being poised and mature. This was a way of preparing myself to react positively in our future interactions. It was a way of turning a bad experience into a learning opportunity.
This moment led to the realization that I can do this with all of my interactions. Why not? Instead of feeling frustrated over past mistakes, all I have to do is ask myself how I could have done it better, then rehearse it in my mind. This way, I’m programming myself to react the way I want in the future. It’s okay to not know how to handle any given moment, as long as you learn from it and be better next time.