The Mistake Elephant

I’m up at 2am because the elephant part of my brain became ashamed of a few mistakes I’ve made, and the rider part of my brain was unable to rein it back in with coaxes of “You’ll be fine but maybe a little tired in the morning. Just go to bed.”

I don’t fully understand why brains create what I perceive as particularly acute pain around mistakes. Sure, some of it is a mental movie not equalling reality. Some of it is guilt over letting others down. But, I have no idea why the volume is turned up to 11 for pieces of data that will ultimately help in the end.

I still find it hard to say, “Ah, a learning opportunity!” and instead often swim to the opposite of a growth mindset by thinking in a wonderfully irrational absolute, “I am fundamentally broken.” Self-flagellation can be an oddly seductive thought in the heat of guilt and frustration in the middle of the night.

And then I sleep, wake up, most of the emotions have washed over, and I’m just left being tired. Often I’m thankful that these elephant rampages last on the order of hours for me as I’ve known others to sit through days or months or years of mad, rampaging elephants on parade. I am incredibly lucky.

Notes to self: 1. It will pass. No really, it will. 2. Write down a little what the mistake was, and with a clear brain, figure out what to try next. 3. Don’t worry about preventing this. All this will happen again. Just work on giving it space and shortening the cycle.

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