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Awake at 3 AM and Ruminating on the Day’s Mistakes


Mar. 31, 2022 Psychology Today

Next month, I’ll be 64 years old and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

What am I doing wrong?

Short answer: Nothing. 

Long answer: Everything. And also nothing.

I’m not really doing anything wrong. I pack my days with obligations that include work, taking care of my multi-generational family, taking care of myself, and every now and then I dabble in the thing that I feel impassioned about, inspiring others to engage in their art.

Through it all, I remain positive.

How I can turn the lens of self-help on My-self. One way to achieve this goal is through disassociation. Basically, it’s the golden rule in reverse. Do to yourself what you would do unto others. Or more simply, treat yourself with the same love and care that you would a good friend, colleague, family member, or anyone other than yourself.

It’s not easy though. Especially when you wake at 3 AM and begin to run down the laundry list of shortcomings from the day.

“You didn’t finish writing that chapter. You still haven’t called about that appointment. You forgot that credit card bill. Again.”

The more that you think of what you didn’t do, the more disappointed you are in yourself. And that disappointment opens the floodgate for more berating.

Believe me. I’ve wasted many pre-dawn hours admonishing myself not only for the shortcomings of that day, but also for the past week, month, years, and more.

All the while, I tell myself, “You can’t change the past.” Even though I really wish that I could. (Don’t you sometimes?)

But then, another doom dart stabs me in the heart. I recoil. I tense. I am filled with remorse.

Dissociation gives you permission to step out of yourself and see yourself as others see you.

“Via an active process of valuation, self-reflection, and self-dialogue, and by creatively embodying and empowering the other, the self promotes innovative versions of itself to overcome distorted self-narratives” (Barani, 2019, p. 391).

I began to see myself through a kinder gentler lens.

  • When coaching a client, would I ever admonish them for their mistakes of the past?
  • Would I pick at that wound?
  • Would I bring up those shortcomings over and over again?

The answer is simple. No. I would never do that. What good would it do?

Focusing on the errors of the past, no matter how recent or not, does no good except to keep the errant trespasser suffering from their own transgressions. The downward spiral of this self-degradation keeps that person pushed down, continuing to feel bad.

The only time that we can take any action is now. We cannot change that past. The time machine exists only in science fiction.

We can plan for the future. And we can dream of what could be, but without taking action, there is no action, no forward movement.

Avoid the mentality of one strike and you’re out

  • Zero tolerance never allows for growth. It is unforgiving and stagnant.
  • Rehabilitation can work, even for the most horrific of criminals.
  • Forgive yourself of your past. You know better today than you did yesterday.

Scramble your memories

  • Replay that recording over and over and over until the memory becomes warped and even comical.
  • Memories are faulty. They tend to fixate on the negative.
  • Use today’s brushes to paint over the most embarrassing scenes with a vibrant, rosy tone.

See yourself and others as caricatures

  • What positive features can be exaggerated?
  • What negative aspects can be obscured?
  • Make the portrait so comically ridiculous that you cannot help but smile at the artifice of the scene.

Take a baby step forward toward your new, kinder future.

Again, what would you tell your client? Make a small plan. What’s one thing that you can do right now to progress toward that future goal that you envision?

Here’s my pledge: The next time that I wake in the idle of the night and start to list out my shortcomings, I will forgive my mistakes, I will not replay the tape but scramble the video until it breaks. I will see the cartoon of myself and smile. 

Sixty-four is going to be amazing!

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