This is a surprisingly easy way to both banish guilt and get back your sense of personal empowerment. Too many people put a ton of energy into justifying their mistakes, when admitting them would probably be better for their mental health and future success.
It's tempting to re-write history, telling yourself that this situation wasn't really your fault, but sometimes, "it's my fault" can be three of the most empowering words in the English language. Admitting your mistakes allows you to accept the part you played in the event, and empowers you to do something about it.
If you've just failed a test, it's hard to admit you didn't study, but admitting it means all you have to do is study harder next time. If you blame the test paper for being too hard, you stay powerless. You can't control what's on the next test. You can only control your own study habits.
Sorry is a word that comes easy to some people and very hard to others. We tend to assume that people who struggle with saying sorry are stubborn or selfish, but the truth may be more complicated.
Often, a fear of saying sorry is linked to a fear that our apology won't be accepted. Maybe it won't, but a simple, sincere, heart-felt apology is hard to reject. And even if your apology is rejected, you still did the right thing.
Make amends if you can
Not everything that's broken can be fixed. Not every mess you make can be cleaned up perfectly. But you will always feel better if you try to make amends. Only a few things in life are permanent and irreversible.
Even if you can't make amends right now, sometimes you can plan to do so in the future. If someone lost money over your mistake, make a plan to pay them back. If someone is hurt or angry, be aware you can't always fix that straight away, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out to them in the future.
Many of us beat ourselves up over our mistakes, wallowing in guilt and playing the scenario through again and again in our heads, wishing we'd done things differently.
Sometimes forgiving yourself is even harder than forgiving someone else, but it's just as important, if not more so. When you're unable to find forgiveness in your heart for someone else, you can at least put that person out of your mind for a while. But you have to live with yourself, every day.
In his book Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success, author Matthew Syed points out that the only way the airline industry got as safe as it is, was by putting a system in place to learn from every mistake. A team of investigators goes over the fine details of every crash, incident and mechanical failure, analyzing exactly what went wrong. This has allowed the industry to effectively avoid making the same mistake twice.
We can all benefit from a little 'black box thinking'. It doesn't mean beating yourself up or over analyzing every stupid thing you said and did to contribute to your mistake or failure. Instead, it should be a calm and logical look back at what you did wrong and how you can proactively change your behaviour to avoid something similar happening in the future.
This is why taking responsibility is so empowering. As soon as you acknowledge that you made a bad decision, you can resolve to decide, or react, differently next time around. We all make mistakes, but it's our attitude about these mistakes that determines how often we make the same one.