I made a mistake today. Not the “calculated risk” kind of mistake that we recommend on this blog. I’m talking a plain-old, stupid error. Strangely enough, after a minutes I found myself thinking judgmental thoughts about family, co-workers, and friends about behaviors of theirs that I don’t like. Is that a coincidence? No, it doesn’t take a psychologist to identify that I was project my feels of self-criticism out to others. Great. Now I’m being critical of myself for being critical of others!
So how does a person break out of this blame cycle?
To be honest, when I was in the middle of my recursive, blame tornado… I was completely unable to see a solution. Moreover, I was unable to see the problem of how my work snafu was unrelated to the actions of my family. Well luckily for me, there were some chores outside that would force me to use my body and to disconnect. Miraculous things happen when you exercise even a little bit. While out in the yard, it occurred to me that I was forgetting the most useful solution that Buddhism has to offer: the inner child. There’s no better way to approach self-judgment than with this question:
Would you let your son or daughter judge themself so harshly?
If the answer is “no,” then why are you continuing to judge yourself? Not only is that a simple logical question to ask oneself, but it’s also a great framework for healing. You can use this metaphor by imagining the portion of yourself that is hurting as a real child. This is your inner child. Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, completes the metaphor by describing how the process of caring for ourselves can spark remarkable change:
“Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions and we can begin to feel at ease. When we embrace our strong emotions with mindfulness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations. We’ll know where our suffering has come from. When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen. So mindfulness recognizes, embraces, and relieves.”
And just like that I realized that I shouldn’t be upset at myself for the programming mistake I made at work. As they say, “mistakes happen.” And all it took was a little bit of exercise, a little bit of quiet contemplation, and a lot of forgiveness.
Once I made the breakthrough I was able to recognize that the negative thoughts that had popped up about my family and friends were simply unrelated and unnecessary. After all, if I can forgive myself then it was easy enough to forget the transgressions my brain was coming up with.
Now I’m free to go enjoy my time with my wife and my cat without worrying about my day at work. There’s no time like the present and presently I am mistake free! It’s so strange that I, the author of a self-care blog, would be stuck in mistakes of the past. But we can’t escape our biology. As evolutionary psychologist and author Robert Wright mentioned in an interview with WHYY, “we are condemned to always want things to be a little different, always want a little more. We’re not designed by natural selection to be happy” (1). But as his book “Why Buddhism Is True” described, we have an opportunity to override our programming. So as I described above, take the time to see yourself, acknowledge/accept the pain, and to forgive yourself.
Calculated risk or silly screwup, they’re all opportunities to learn and grow, which requires acceptance. So while you’re at it… give your friends, family, and coworkers the gift of true forgiveness so they can also life with freedom in the present moment.