One of the benefits of watching the years go past in your life is the ability to look back and see where you screwed up.
If you look back often enough, with a discerning eye and an open heart, you can often self-correct along the way. Or at the very least, you can learn from your screw-ups and become a bit wiser and stronger in other areas of your life.
You probably know from your own life experiences that mistakes are painful but very useful ways of learning. However, there are some life mistakes, that if avoided in the first place, will save you a whole load of heartache and misdirection.
These are the mistakes that stem from a lack of knowledge, infrequent self-reflection, or little solid emotional guidance as you grow and enter adulthood. These are the mistakes that can stick with you for a lifetime if someone or something doesn't gently (or often abruptly) help you self-correct.
Although I'm sharing these mistakes with you, and some ideas on how to fix them, I haven't been immune from them. In fact, I've made every single one of these mistakes, and I can proudly claim that now in mid-life I am beginning to make a dent in a few of them!
So here they are — 15 mistakes in life you don't want to make:
Mistake #1: Losing Sight of What Makes You Happy
Remember when you were a kid, and pure, unadulterated joy was part of most every day? We didn't have to ask ourselves, “What makes me happy?” We just knew and made it our mission to do those happy things. But adulthood and responsibilities take us farther and farther away from the pure happiness of our youth. We get so caught up in the work of life that we lose touch with the joy of living.
Go shut yourself in a clutter-free, distraction-free room with a pen and paper. Think about all of the things you did as a child, a teenager, and a young adult (before you had major responsibilities) that brought you happiness. Write them down. Now think about some things you've done in recent years (whether in work or life in general) where you have felt really happy or content. Write those down as well.
How can you make space for more of those things that make you happy back into your life?
Mistake #2: Giving Power to Fear
Fear, which was once an appropriate reaction to real and present danger, is now the reaction to any imagined negative outcome. Fear is mostly a product of our imaginations, almost always without any true basis in reality. We fear failure. We fear success. We fear the future. We fear the past. We fear possible scenarios with only a shred of evidence to lead us there. The more we think about what we fear, the more we feed the fear. Then fear begins to control us, limit us, and ultimately overtake us.
Examine your fears under a magnifying glass. Break them down and study all of the parts. How much truth is there really in each fearful thing? What are the odds that the fearful thing will come to pass? Leave no fear un-probed, until you become bored with fear. Become practiced at seeing fear as a weak and capricious companion, only useful when you are dealing with reality.
Mistake #3: Believing You Are Right
We put a lot of stock in our beliefs. We've spent a long time cultivating them, supporting them, proving to others that we have the last word on the subject. We do this with our beliefs about religion, politics, sexuality, child rearing, money, lifestyle, and any number of lesser areas of life (where we still feel compelled to take a stand). But once we are firmly lock in to a point of view, we lose. We lose perspective, kindness, and a learner's mind.
You don't have to give up your beliefs — just your attitude about them. Open yourself to other points of view. In fact, seek out other points of view. Look at the topic from every angle and be discerning. You will be a more interesting and understanding person.
Mistake #4: Pleasing Others at the Expense of Yourself
Helping other people, being there for friends and family, finding ways to serve your community — these are all positive things. Until you find that you have lost yourself in the process. Do you please others out of obligation? To feel better about yourself? To avoid abandonment or loss of love?
Examine your motives for giving of yourself. Does giving fill you up or drain you? Are you pleasing to find love? If so, shift your pleasing efforts to yourself for a change. Find ways to love and please yourself. Then you will create authentic love to give others.
Mistake #5: Complicating Your Life
Life is full of opportunities and choices, and for some reason we must grasp at all of them. With every success comes more . . . more tasks, more stuff, more paperwork, more events, more distractions. With each passing year, our lives become exponentially complicated and full. We are stretched to the limit and drained of energy.
Begin simplifying your life. Start with clutter. Then material things that you no longer use. Then start chopping unnecessary tasks and events. Pare down. Trim back. Craft your life into the purest essence of exactly what you love the most so that your precious time is spent in the best way possible.
Mistake #6: Staying Stagnant
You've grown up, secured your job, created a steady income, have a nice place to live, have a pretty decent lifestyle. Now that your life is in good shape, what's the point of shaking it up? You may feel restless or bored, but things could be a whole lot worse.
And they could be a whole lot better. Life is change. Staying stagnant stunts our potential for happiness. We are born with an enormous capacity for continued learning, personal growth, and new ways of living in the world. With every “life stretch” comes thrilling new opportunities and experiences. Where can you stretch yourself through change?
Mistake #7: Not Facing Realities
Life experience has taught us to put our head in the sand when we don't like what we see. If things look unpleasant, if people let us down, if we fail to meet expectations — we spend precious energy finding ways to obfuscate, hide, deny, and pretend. The painful truth seems too scary to face, so we wear ourselves down trying to avoid it.
Denying unpleasant truths in life causes tension and internal pain for as long as we deny. Facing the truth may cause brief pain, but the relief and freedom of living honestly is liberating and allows us to move on in life with renewed hope and energy. Where are you denying reality? Pull the band-aid off quickly. It will sting, but not forever.
Mistake #8: Giving Away Your Power
When life is overwhelming, tedious, or frightening, it seems easier to let someone else take over. Sometimes it's better to let someone else make the decisions or call the shots. But when we do that too often, or when someone intimidates or manipulates us into acquiescing, we give away our personal power. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and despair.
Examine your life and look at ways you may be giving away your personal power. Being empowered means taking responsibility for all of your actions and choices. This can sometimes be hard or painful, but the reward is your freedom and self-respect. Reclaim your personal power, even if there is some fallout.
Mistake #9: Neglecting Relationships
We all claim that our relationships are the most important parts of our lives. But quite often our most valued relationships get neglected as we allow less important for more demanding activities fill our time and attention. An untended relationship will eventually wither and die, leaving us unwittingly holding the bag.
Be honest with yourself. How might you be neglecting your most prized relationships? Are you truly offering the love and attention these people deserve? Begin to re-prioritize your actions and agenda so you can cultivate and care for the relationships you value.
Mistake #10: Feeling Guilty
We make a mistake and feel guilty. We hurt someone and feel guilty. We lie or deceive and feel guilty. We don't do what someone wants us to do and feel guilty. Even after we apologize, we often still feel guilty. For some reason we believe that ongoing guilt will absolve us — that we deserve to feel bad to make amends for our sins, regardless of how large or small.
Guilt is our psyche's way of letting us know when we've acted against our integrity. It can also signal that we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by someone. If you have done something wrong, apologize and do what needs to be done to make it right. If someone tries to make you feel guilty, state your truth with confidence. Then consciously work to disengage from guilt. Once a situation is properly addressed, guilt does absolutely nothing for you except cause pain.
Mistake # 11: Spending Mindlessly
We often spend money on impulse, buying to satisfy a brief whim, to fill a void, or to impress. So much of what we spend money on doesn't offer any long term happiness or fulfillment. Overspending often ties in with complicating our lives, creating more stuff, more tasks, and more responsibilities that we don't really want.
Question yourself every time you make a purchase. Why am I buying this? Does it meet a need? Does it offer long-term satisfaction? Can I truly afford this? Focus your spending primarily on real needs, experiences, and soul-enhancing material things.
Mistake #12: Over-Thinking
Many of us who are analytical or who dwell in ideas and possibilities, spend a lot of time in our heads, pondering problems and solutions. We ruminate and pontificate, believing we can think ourselves to a result or resolution. But over-thinkers can get stuck in thought, living on a mental treadmill that leads nowhere.
If you are an over-thinker, you must hop off the treadmill and begin taking action. Sound thinking followed by regular action is the most powerful combination in the world. And action doesn't need to wait for thinking to be “complete.” In fact, action can lead to some of the best ideas you will ever have.
Mistake #13: Neglecting Your Body
A body that is poorly nourished, overweight, and out-of-shape will make you feel bad in every way. Routinely neglecting your body is one of the worst life mistakes you can make.
Fortunately, it is always a correctable mistake. You know what to do. Move your body and eat healthily.
Mistake #14: Not Managing Your Anger
Like all emotions, anger comes and goes. But too often we attach truth and meaning to our angry feelings that aren't necessary. So we feed the anger because we feel justified, unheard, or disrespected. Then the anger feeds ill-health in mind, body, and spirit.
If you are able to look at your anger, see the senselessness of it, and simply disengage, then by all means do that. If you are unable to disengage, seek help from a counselor so your anger doesn't destroy you and those around you.
Mistake #15: Never Giving Yourself Time
So many people never take the time examine themselves to see where they are making these life mistakes. Without awareness, change is impossible.
Give yourself the gift of time to reflect on these mistakes in your own life. If you haven't made them, how can you prevent them? If you are living one or more of these mistakes right now, are you willing to take action to turn yourself and your life around?
What is your experience with these life mistakes? What other life mistakes have you encountered and self-corrected along your own personal journey?