How many times have we looked back at a relatively short period of time (weeks or months) and realized all the things we did wrong and blamed ourselves for not doing better? I’ve done it many times and every time I’ve felt either miserable or angry.
What’s the point in this reflection then? We make mistakes and we should learn from them so as to not make them again. That’s fine if it stops at that. But more often than not it does not stop at that. After mulling over the lessons learnt, we start blaming ourselves for making those mistakes. That just ruins all the effort put in to contemplation.
It’s great to have the ability to rush through all that data from the past and cherry-pick the data which shows us that we were wrong. We have made great progress because of this ability but when we take the next step of blaming ourselves for those mistakes we miss the point of the exercise.
We make mistakes and sometimes the mistakes we make were unavoidable given the circumstances. Looking back, of course, it might not seem so because we have a lot more data to answer the same question. Nevertheless, it is true many more times than we convince ourselves.
The world is complex and me saying it a million times is not going to be enough to convince your heuristic-ridden brains. To be able to deal with all the complexity our brain depends on shortcuts that it has created based on our past experiences. These heuristics, as they are called, are usually very useful but they also lead to the creation of biases. These biases lead us sometimes to underestimate the complexity of the world and blame ourselves for things we might not really be responsible.
Of course, playing the ‘world is complex’ card too many times can not only be futile but also harmful. It’s a card to be played when the exercise of finding our faults isn’t being helpful, when the self-criticism is stopping us from growing.
Related: The importance of differentiating between mistakes and failures.