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Live Like An Animal: Only Make Mistakes Once

Ease up on yourself.  You're all you've got

Ease up on yourself. You're all you've got

There have been so many things going on lately that I’ve had to slow down to figure out what exactly is draining me, and which things I can cut loose. I have found that, as usual, my thoughts and thinking patterns are responsible for way more stress than I should let them be.

I’ve been trying to ask myself questions that I prefer to ignore. The hard questions are usually uncomfortable to answer with honesty. Looking for solutions to problems can require a level of self-scrutiny that isn’t much fun.

Here’s the question I’ve been hammering away at:

What things drain my energy and make life more difficult?

Our circumstances vary. But we are all susceptible to draining influences and soul-sucking miseries. I’ll be surprised if you don’t recognize some of what I’m about to say in yourself.

I found a couple of things that sap my will and cause me more negative thinking than I’m happy with.

1. The thought: I should have done more

I met recently with a dear friend from the past who is trying to separate from an abusive lunatic. Short years ago, this woman had more confidence and spirit than anyone I’ve ever met (or will ever meet, I suspect). Now she has less spirit and confidence than anyone I can think of. She could barely look me in the eye and spent much of our time wringing her hands and wondering how she could have done more to make this monster happy enough to treat her well.

The sick thing is, I spent much of our time together wondering what more I could have done to keep her away from him. I found a way to feel guilty about it and it has nothing to do with me. How exhausting, to take everything personally, even if it is right at times to do so.

When we were done, my stomach flipped over and over for the remainder of the day. I should have done more, I thought. But this is all wrong. Nobody can be wholly responsible for someone else’s choices–but that didn’t stop me from agonizing about it.

2. The thought: I shouldn’t have done or said that

Ross and Kathryn Petras are two of my favorite people in the world. They are the compilers of the Stupidest Things Ever Said books, not to mention my beloved Very Bad Poetry.

Other than the stupid quotes themselves, the most astonishing thing about these books is that there aren’t more of them. I could fill a volume myself every single week with the dumb things I say. Sometimes I misspeak. Sometimes you could take things I say out of context and put them in the book. Sometimes I just say something stupid because it reflects my limited thinking and understanding.

Who hasn’t said something they wish they could take back? Who has never done something for reasons they never fully understand?

In The Burn Journals, a teenager douses himself in gasoline and lights himself on fire. By the end of the book, he’s still not sure why he did it. If he can’t account with 100% certainty for the reasons behind a suicide attempt, why should we expect ourselves to know the reasons behind our every slip of word and deed?

The kindest people are still cruel to themselves

Whether we wish that we had done more or that we could go back and do less, there’s no way to do either. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to let go of things, I know. But it’s true that dwelling on things doesn’t change them. It just hurts and distracts.

The sweetest people I know–people so kind that raised voices nearly put them in tears–are still capable of great cruelty towards themselves.

I'll just give myself a few

I'll just give myself a few

A difference between humans and animals

I used to spend a lot of time at the zoo. When my life was at its greatest time of upheavals and hopelessness, I relished what I perceived as the black and white nature of those animal’s lives. Once a zookeeper yelled at me while I was having tics. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, please read How To Have Tourette’s.

“You quit yelling at that kangaroo!”

“My mistake,” I said.

If you are an animal and you make a mistake, you only pay for it once. Slip up and maybe you’re killed and eaten. Sucks to be you, but no worries from then on, right?

If you’re a human and you make a mistake, unless it kills you you might relive it every hour for the rest of your lives. Think about that. Potential decades of punishment and self-flagellation and mental horrors over a mistake you make one time.

You invent your own scarlet letter, brand it onto your brain, and torture yourself whenever you let your guard down or can’t sleep.

An endlessly repeating apology is not an apology

Let things go. And once you decide to forgive yourself, do it and then let it be. If you have wronged someone, you apologize, you fix what you can, and then you quit apologizing. Don’t bring it up again. You apologize as much as you need to, and no more and never again.

Negative thoughts and self-hate are like tics. You can get used to anything. Anything can become a habit. Don’t let self-hatred take root. It’s a lot harder to eradicate than to prevent.

Saying you’ve put something behind you is not the same as acting like it’s behind you. Let’s commit to making things right with our peers and ourselves and then shut our big fat mouths and really let things fade. When the pain is gone, let it be gone.

Be an animal. If you survive your mistakes…onward!

I’ve been there. I’m still there

I haven’t mastered any of this. I deserve to forgive myself for many things that still torment me. As I said, knowing that you should do something doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. If it was, my friend would have left that man long ago.

Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel real. Knowing that you should get out and do something today doesn’t mean that you won’t spend the rest of the day sitting on the couch watching Judge Judy.

It’s easier to do nothing. It’s easier to say “I won’t evolve.” It’s easier to be satisfied–even satisfied with our own misery and self-pity! How sick is that!

Reject it. Grit your teeth, put your head down and move on. Make a bonfire and throw that weak, festering, self-pitying garbage on it and let’s all dance on the ashes of our flaws.

You’re only as good to someone else as you are to yourself

This is the only time you’ll hear me advocating for selfishness. Change on behalf of other people is false change. Do it for yourself first. It’s the only way you’ll know it’s real.

I believe that you can only love someone else as much as you love yourself. We learn from ourselves. The chamber of your own mind is your constant classroom, like it or not. It is where you will either learn to love or to hate. You choose what to put on the walls. If your mind is a place of compassion and kindness towards yourself, than that practice and vigilance will seep into everything you do and everyone you interact with.

You owe it to them, but you owe it yourself first.

Here we go

  • Reject misery. Break its back.
  • Be an animal. Evolve.
  • Forgive yourself for anything you need to. Don’t let yourself off the hook–fix what you need to fix
  • Apologize as much as you need to and then knock it off
  • Admit that you are human and quit pretending that all mistakes are failures. That’s what we tell ourselves when we want sympathy: “I’m a failure.”

I’ll be doing the same


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jane Steiinberg July 6, 2009, 8:48 am

    Thanks for your post response. I like and admire your site, and you have helped a lot to clarify my decision. (silkpjs). When my blog is up, we’ll link. I’m just at the starting gate.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 6, 2009, 9:54 am

      No problem. Let me know when you’re rolling and we’ll talk more.

  • Ma kr el July 6, 2009, 9:42 am

    Thanks for some good food for thought. Or, maybe what not to think of… well, interesting post anyhow 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne July 6, 2009, 9:54 am

      You’re welcome, friend. How’s your KB training going?

  • scott July 6, 2009, 10:20 am


    thanks for the post, it really hit home with me. I think its important to remember that you can bounce back from any mistake that doesn’t kill you. =]

    • Josh Hanagarne July 6, 2009, 10:25 am

      Much appreciated, friend. It hits home with me every time I think of it. The problem is, it’s just easier not to think about it.

  • Megan Horton July 7, 2009, 12:14 pm

    Sounds like it was written for me.

  • Megan Horton July 7, 2009, 12:15 pm

    I’m bad at the apologizing too much part. I need to forgive myself more too. Yeah you’re right. Good job!

  • Boris July 7, 2009, 1:18 pm

    I don’t presume to know you, Josh, but we are not animals. These are the truths that resonate, with caveats:

    (1) There is nothing more tragic and fragile and beautiful than a woman in distress. Especially someone with grace and intelligence and creativity. And unrealized or, worse, thwarted potential. I bet you thought long and hard about what you would like to do to her oppressor should your paths just so happen to cross, preferably somewhere dark, with no witnesses. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help, and there is nothing wrong with wishing you could do more. And, from time to time, there is nothing wrong with punching someone in the face. I wouldn’t blame you for always wishing that things would have turned out differently. Longing and loving, even if painful, is what makes us who we are. That might not be in full keeping with the way of the animal, but they don’t have opposable thumbs either. Even good analogies can only be pushed so far.

    (2) We have all done and said stupid things that should never be repeated. Agonizing over those things any more than absolutely necessary to nudge us in the direction of mostly not doing them again is wasted effort.

    (3) Within reason, we should all stop beating ourselves up.

    (4) With very few exceptions, we are all our own respective worst critics. And those who aren’t are largely arrogant pricks that could do with a tad more healthy self-loathing.

    (5) An apology with full, conscious knowledge that you (a) are not sorry, and (b) will almost certainly do it again is wasted breath. Get it fully out of your system and/or experience genuine sorrow. Until then, you are just wasting time.

    Overall, I agree with the idea, but feel that a certain amount of agonizing and doubting and regretting and wondering “what if” is crucial to the human experience. It is not easy. It is not fun. But passion comes from pain and warmth comes from nostalgia. Don’t let it weigh you down, but every once in a while, let it ground you. Because we are ever both who we were and are and will be, all at once. So even though it’s hard, we can never forget, and as long as that allows us to pursue a mostly positive, mostly forward-looking direction, I think that’s okay.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 7, 2009, 1:36 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Boris. Much appreciated.

  • vanessa July 9, 2009, 7:41 pm

    I like the ‘here we go’ final section of this the best.

    Oh how to master quieting the mind.

    I am the queen of circular self arguments. I have literally lost sleep haunted with negative thoughts.

    There is a great book I read a while back called the Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. She contends 1 in every 25 Americans has absolutely no conscience, Sociopaths.

    I must be grateful to be of a certain spiritual stock capable of grace, faith, pain, regret and shame. Must cease underrating ourselves. Lucky little animals.

  • Gordie Rogers August 8, 2009, 9:28 pm

    Hi Josh,
    This is a cool post. I came across you for the first time throught your guest post on Problogger.net. You have been bookmarked and I will add your blog to my resources page section under lifestyle design.


  • Louche April 25, 2010, 11:15 pm

    Perhaps you haven’t noticed that humans *are* animals?

    • Josh Hanagarne April 26, 2010, 9:08 am

      Perhaps. But then we’re a particular species of animal, the only ones that punish themselves.