Our brains might be designed to repeat mistakes, creating what are called ‘mistake pathways’. Although it’s actually not a process that is yet completely understood or proven (despite the claims of other articles on the web, ‘decision neuroscience’ is still a very young field). 
It might be that bad decisions happen if we focus on our mistakes. An experiment at McMaster University in Canada published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology  created ‘tip of the tongue (TOT’)’ states in participants, those moments where you are searching for a word but it’s not quite coming.
Once the person couldn’t find the answer they wanted, but was making mistakes, they were asked to keep trying for 10 seconds or 30 seconds. A few days later, they repeated the same tests.
It turns out that the longer participants focused on the problem in the earlier round of tests, the more likely they were to again have a problem, leading the scientists to call the study, ‘Learning to Fail’.
Our tendency to make mistakes could also be connected to the influence of emotions. We can resort to using our ‘toddler brain’, meaning we are driven by our temper or sadness if we are too tired and upset to use our prefrontal cortex (‘adult’ brain).
For example, we overspend or eat junk food more when we are depressed, or are more likely to have ‘one cheeky cigarette’ if we feel angry or stressed.
But on the other hand, emotions can also be useful with decision making and are not thought to be a completely separate phenomenon.
Behaviours are also learned. Ourdecisions are affected by the environments we live through as a child, and the belief systems these experiences see us create.
It might be as simple as a parent who wasimpulsive and self-centred, and we now tend to make decisions the same way. Or, if we were always criticised as a child, we can make poor decisions as we have a hidden belief that ‘whatever I do is the wrong thing’.
Low self-esteem leaves us assuming we’ll make the wrong decision, and lo and behold we do. Or we make ‘safe’ decisions that actually hold us back, because we don’t have the confidence to take any positive risks.
Anxiety hijacks our thinking until it is increasingly illogical and paranoid. We think we are making good decisions, but we are making fear-based decisions that later can leave us feeling embarrassed.
Adult ADHD has a strong proponent of impulsiveness. We make a decision before we think things through, and live in a constant cloud of regret. Which then drives further bad decision making.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Scienceshowed that focussing on your past mistake makes you more likely to repeat them. When participants were asked to focus on spending mistakes, it didn’t stop shopping binges. But focusing on positive future outcomes of better spending, instead elaborating over past impulse buys, was more likely to stop negative financial choices. 
Stopping ourselves from making the same mistake is not instant. It takes work and commitment. So where to start, given the above information?
1. Focus on the future.
Learning from mistakes has its place. But if we are constantly focussing on ‘what we did wrong and why’? We are actually making it more likely we will make the same mistake (as shown by the study above about spending habits mentioned above).
You might want to learn aboutvisualisation, a tool for imagining positive scenarios that is now used by some therapists.
Psychology, as we’ve seen, shows that emotions can both help and hinder decisions. Committing to a mindfulness practise helps us be more and more in the present moment and less and less in the control of our racing minds and our negative emotions.
4. Raise your self compassion.
Remember, bad decisions are more likely if we go into ‘toddler brain’ and act from our temper. And beating ourselves up is one way to trigger the cloud of emotions and helplessness that makes this far more likely.
Still have a question about making the same mistake again and again? Post in the comment box. Note that we read and approve all comments to protect our readership and don’t allow harassment or advertising.
Andrea Blundell is the lead writer and editor of this site. After a career as a screenwriter she did training in coaching and person-centred therapy. She still has a tendency to make decisions on impulse.
2. Amy Beth Warriner & Karin R. Humphreys(2008)Learning to fail: Reoccurring tip-of-the-tongue states,The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,61:4,535-542,DOI: 10.1080/17470210701728867
3. Haws, Kelly & Bearden, William & Nenkov, Gergana. (2011). Consumer spending self-control effectiveness and outcome elaboration prompts. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 40. 1-16. 10.1007/s11747-011-0249-2.