How often do you go through an experience, and afterwards you think “Why did I get myself into this again? I’ve been through similar things so many times before, I’m supposed to know better by now.”
Yet somehow we still disregard the red flags and run into the same issues over and over again. Why does this happen?
Some people say that if you actually knew something, you would be acting accordingly. If you keep doing the same mistakes, it means you haven’t learned your lesson yet.
This may be true to an extent, but my theory is that learning a lesson is a gradual process, not just one where you either get something, or you don’t.
You may be well aware of all the contributing factors in a problem and know how the puzzle pieces fit together, but if you haven’t mastered each and every one of them experientially, you’re still vulnerable to those loopholes.
Falling for the same thing time after time doesn’t mean you’re stupid, or that you lack self-awareness. It happens to the best, and sometimes it takes years to master a lesson so it no longer presents a problem.
Stop beating yourself up about past mistakes that you think you should have known how to prevent.
What happened, happened. The best thing you can do now is take the steps to minimize the chances of this happening in the future.
My favorite way to do this is writing.
We have a saying in Croatia that sounds silly when translated, but it goes like this:
“A smart man writes, a stupid man memorizes”
Ever since I realized that my memory is not as brilliant as I thought it was, and that I keep forgetting information, appointments, birthdays and other important things unless I have them in writing, I started writing down everything.
At first I was only writing down facts and ideas. I used my sketchbook and later a storage system for keeping my creative ideas safe. Then I started putting every commitment into my calendar and setting reminders for every important event I could think of: when my IDs, passports and debit cards expire, deadlines for projects and applications, etc.
The happy side-effect is that I no longer have to think about any of these things because Google Calendar takes care of it.
After a while I realized this wasn’t enough.
I was finding more and more essential things I needed to remember, so I started drafting SOP documents (standard operating procedures) for everything in my business I could think of. Then I found more things that kept sliding through the cracks because I didn’t write them down yet. This process never ends.
I’ll give you an example.
One of my frequent mistakes in business was charging way too low for a client project, because I was only accounting for billable work, ie. the actual time I was drawing and designing. I was disregarding all the other tasks I do within a project: client communication, research, writing proposals, invoicing…
When I started tracking this part as well, I realized this kind of work accounted for about 20% of time in my projects on average. This means that I was selling my services for 20% below the minimum I should have been making all along.
The first time I realized this was happening, I did nothing. I simply figured that now that I know this, I won’t make the same mistake again.
And then I did make the same mistake again. And again.
I don’t even know how many times I did it, fully aware that I had this problem.
Then I had a brilliant idea one day to add this note to my client process SOP checklist (that’s a document where I outline all the steps in the project, from the first contact with a prospect to wrapping up a project, and beyond).
I added a note in my proposal writing checklist to add 20% of time and cost to all my initial quotes, so I no longer forget to account for this.
Result: My prices have gone slightly up, and I haven’t made this mistake since, because it’s on my checklist.
It appears deceptively simple, writing things down. But there’s another step to writing that is often overlooked, and I know this because of course, I do it all the time.
Review your notes regularly, and especially when it matters the most
The reason my nifty trick worked is because I’ve put it in a document I read every time I write a project proposal so I don’t miss a step. Had I just put it in some “lessons learned” document or my journal, I would’ve never looked at it again.
I have a folder full of notes for my business, from new ideas on how to improve my processes, to how to better market my work, to completely new offerings I’d like to try some day.
I don’t read these notes often, but when I do, I’m flabbergasted. “Wow, I’m a genius. I don’t even remember writing this. Why have I neglected this all this time?”
When I read it, I realize what a wealth of information I already possess in my brain, and that if I completely stopped consuming books, courses, blogs, podcasts and videos for the whole year, I would still have more than enough inspiration and knowledge to move my business forward.
I don’t say this just to brag, and I don’t think I’m special.
You have a wealth of knowledge inside of you.
I’m sure this is not the only blog you’re reading. You probably have a stash of free ebooks and audios on your computer. You bookmark articles you love and want to revisit later.
And quite possibly, you might have a folder, or a document, or a little black book with numerous ideas for your business that you thought of out of the blue, and were really excited about as you were writing them down.
And all of that is now gathering dust because you’re on a quest to find even more information, neglecting all the good stuff that you’ve already accumulated.
Why do we do this?
Why are we constantly on the lookout for new things, instead of working with what we already have, which is plenty?
I’ve identified 3 possible reasons why I happen to do it.
Most people think of forgetfulness as a weakness, but forgetting is a very important function of memory. If we didn’t forget things at all, our ability to remember things that are important among all the other fluff would be severely impaired.
Our brains are just doing their job, filing away intense experiences as important, and fleeting thoughts and impressions as irrelevant. The important information is carefully catalogued, and the irrelevant stuff gets hauled to the shredder.
Writing down helps us retain information even if our brain decided that something we thought was important, really isn’t because we only thought of it once, 2 years ago.
2. Shiny object syndrome
New things that come to our attention take our focus from the things that have been around for a while. We’re biologically wired to notice new, unusual things in our environment, and to take the existing things for granted (this can be said for business as well as relationships).
It takes a tremendous amount of self-control to not dump our current project (or husband) and run off with the new, shiny, replacement that is way more attractive simply because it’s new.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make the call whether something is just a distraction or a worthwhile pursuit, and I’ll leave this particular topic for another day. But keep in mind how many projects you’ve abandoned that were so close to getting you the results you wanted, just because you needed a fix of excitement. (No judgement, that’s how I roll most of the time.)
3. Mood swings
No matter what highly intellectual people would like you to think, our emotional state affects the decision making process for all of us. For some people it’s more pronounced, while others may not have such intense emotional outbursts that mess with them completely.
I am a “hypersensitive” person and my mood swings can get really intense. I have occasional depressive episodes that can last for weeks or months when nothing seems to make sense.
I used to get anxious when this happened, because it seemed like everything I thought of while in my “good phase” had been wrong, and it was like a veil of illusion was broken and I was left with a bleak vision of the world. Thankfully, once this passed, I’d realize that the reality has remained the same all the time, but my subjective perception made it seem one way or another.
Now I know to expect this thought process and how to deal with it when it happens.
Whenever I feel cranky, tired, burnt out and wanting to quit, I remind myself that this is just the exhaustion talking. I remain aware that I simply cannot see the mountain tops from the bottom of the swamp where I’ve found myself, and that this is a temporary situation.
You can’t force yourself to see your world as wonderful and exciting when you feel like crap. The best thing you can do is to remind yourself that this is a temporary state you find yourself in occasionally, and that you should refrain from doing any important decisions at the moment.
This is crucial. While you’re feeling miserable, you’re not in the best state of mind to make decisions that can affect your life and business long-term. You’re vulnerable, and bound to make mistakes because you’re not able to see the big picture.
Instead of rushing to “fix” things that your happy, ambitious self cooked up, lay low and make it a priority to get better physically and emotionally. Everything will seem easier once you’re in a better mental space.
Remind yourself of what you know
If you keep bumping up the same issue over and over again, think of possible ways to prevent this from happening in the future. If there’s some critical information you need to remind yourself of, put it in writing, and then place it somewhere where you’ll find it when the occasion calls for it.
Here are some ideas how you can do that
Post-it notes in strategic places
If you keep overscheduling your commitments, write a big fat “include buffer time” note on a post-it, and put it in your weekly planner.
Have a list of things to do when you feel stressed out or when something unpleasant happens. Write down everything that usually helps you to calm down and feel better about your life, and put it in a visible place in your office and in your purse.
You can also use a phone app that has a widget you can put on your home screen, so it’s in your face whenever you check your phone.
Send messages into the future
If you know that a period is coming up when you’ll need some helpful reminders, or you have certain dates that always cause you grief (holidays, anniversaries, tax day…), you can write an e-mail to self to read at a time when you most need it. Use services such as FutureMe or Boomerang to do this.
You can also put reminders in your calendar app to remind yourself of things that usually help in those situations.
Make a dedicated book for “notes to self”
Havi Brooks talks about the concept of Book of You. A Book of You is essentially a collection of useful information about what works well for you, and what doesn’t.
The important thing about a Book of You is that you need to make it a habit of reviewing it. We easily forget this, and then all those notes won’t do you any good.
My depression healing journal – tips and advice to the future me on how to get through the hard times
Schedule review dates
If you keep stuffing your creative and business ideas into a folder and never look at it, schedule a meeting with yourself once or twice a month dedicated to reviewing and categorizing the contents of the folder.
It’s intimidating the first time around, because the pile has probably gotten huge from years of neglect, but the sooner you start, the sooner this process will become enjoyable.
Reviewing can trigger some guilt issues because it reminds us of things we haven’t done yet, and that’s why people tend to avoid it – but the reviewing process itself isn’t about doing anything. It’s about reminding yourself of all the possibilities, and maybe choosing just one of them that calls to you at the moment.
Step one: put a date in your calendar right now.
Step two: when your date comes up, take out the folder and scan through it in search of jewels your past self has planted in it.
Any other ideas?
Do you have some tips & tricks how to remind yourself of important things you keep forgetting?
Please share in the comments!
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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