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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you overcome your fear of making mistakes. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.
No one wants to look like a fool.
No one enjoys being teased.
It’s only natural that you’d avoid certain situations out of fear of making a mistake and being laughed at. After all, you are not a clown or comedian.
However, lately, this insidious fear of making mistakes has really started to impact your life and hold you back from new opportunities and experiences.
Before, this fear was a minor inconvenience. One that you usually agreed with. Now though, it’s keeping you frozen in indecision or pushing you to procrastinate or shrink away from added responsibilities.
You’re beginning to realize how tiny and boring your world/life is when you stick to things that you’re good at. The world is a big place, full of exciting adventures and immense possibilities. But you’re not experiencing any of it because you’re terrified of being wrong or doing something wrong.
Have you ever considered how much this fear has robbed you of? How many experiences, relationships, or opportunities have you turned down because of the fear of making the wrong decision?
Sure, it is possible you made the right choice declining the promotion at work that would have caused you to move from your small town. And you may have made the correct decision when you stayed with your high school boyfriend/girlfriend instead of attending your dream college two states away.
But… what if you’re wrong? What if the fear of making mistakes is keeping you trapped in your safe and familiar, but entirely too small, box of comfort?
To a reasonable extent, everyone is afraid of making mistakes. When we were learning to ride a bike, we didn’t like falling. Aside from the scrapes and bumps we got from falling repeatedly, it also felt like a swift kick to our young, developing egos. But we kept at it until we learned the new skill.
For some of us, the fear of messing up keeps us from even trying something new. We shirk away from stepping out of our tried and true routine. The thought of making a mistake or wrong decision is so firmly ingrained in our minds that it traps us in a state of micromanagement and hypervigilance.
Not only does this fear hold us to impossible standards, it also makes us intolerant of other people’s fallibility. We are hypercritical of our partner and our children.
If your comfort zone is getting a little too snug, but you’re terrified of casting off your safety net or stepping out into the unfamiliar, continue reading the 15 tips that can help you overcome the fear of making mistakes.
1. Acknowledge that the fear of making mistakes (or looking foolish) is real.
Ignoring a problem never makes it go away. Burying your head in the sand doesn’t make danger disappear. In fact, the longer you ignore a problem, the worse it gets.
Pretending you don’t have a problem with being perfect and ignoring the fact that you are terrified of making mistakes won’t help you get better.
Rather, turning a blind eye to your perfectionist tendencies and your fear of making mistakes will keep you locked away in your safety net, at best. At worst, it will drive away your partner and your children because as much as you hate imperfection in your life, you despise it in them as well.
Everyone’s got something they’re working through. You’re no different. There’s no reason to be ashamed of being a mere mortal and imperfect.
No one expects you to be perfect. All anyone really wants is for the people in their lives to try their best and continuously work on improving themselves.
We all make mistakes. It’s part of the learning and growing process of life. Mistakes make you more relatable, and more human.
Acknowledge your fear and accept that you are fallible just like the rest of us. Then you can learn new coping skills to deal with it.
You can’t fix what you don’t address.
Address your fears.
2. Don’t fear your fear (or be ashamed of it).
As stated above, everyone has something they’re dealing with. For some people, their demons or challenges are obvious for everyone to see. Other people are battling private issues, ones not easily seen by others.
All we can do is strive to be better and do better, whatever challenge comes our way.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you have a problem or are ashamed to ask for help.
Shame will only push you to hide your problems. It will force you to deny your issues. Shame will never encourage you to confront it or seek help.
It might surprise you how understanding people can be when you open up and give them a glimpse of the real you to them.
3. Identify the thing that underpins your fear.
Why do you fear making mistakes? What are you afraid might happen if you get something wrong or make a bad decision?
By seeking to answer those questions, you can develop a greater understanding of your fear which will put you in a better position to tackle it.
Is it that making a mess of something leads you to feel that you’re “not good enough” in a wider sense?
Do you not want to disappoint or upset others by getting something wrong because their opinion of you matters a lot to you?
Do you seek to avoid mistakes at all costs because a mistake is proof that you are far from perfect when you want to see yourself as perfect?
Are you worried that making a mistake will get you in trouble? Or that a bad decision or wrong choice will have negative consequences in the long term?
Or does criticism feel so hurtful to you (even if it’s delivered constructively) that you seek to avoid making mistakes so that no criticism is ever forthcoming?
4. Identify your triggers.
What sends you down the spiral of perfection? What situations cause you to check, recheck, and triple-check your work, certain there is a mistake you’re overlooking? Is it a particular person’s backhanded comments or comparisons?
Are you in an environment that treats mistakes harshly? Have you surrounded yourself with a hypercritical “support” group? Were you raised in a household where your parents or caregivers punished anything less than perfect?
Identify what triggers your fear. When you’re able to do that, then figure out how to deal with the triggers when they show up.
For example, perhaps in your childhood no one celebrated effort and anything less than an “A” was not good enough. If you can’t see the impact of your upbringing and how it has triggered your ongoing fear of messing up, you are likely going to pass on such lessons to your children.
However, if you can view your upbringing (and possibly your ongoing relationship with your parents) as your trigger, you will be able to start working on learning how to override the negative lessons you picked up so your children don’t suffer as you did.
5. Develop emotional agility skills.
Emotional agility refers to your ability to be aware and in tune with your emotions. According to Psychologist Susan David, PhD, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, during her interview with Knowledge at Wharton, emotional agility is the ability to be with your thoughts, emotions, and stories. You are not trying to suppress or control them.
Rather, you’re working with your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. You don’t see your emotions as either good (happiness, love, joy, peace) or bad (angry, sad, ashamed). With emotional agility, you embrace all your emotions and view them as important sources of information to learn about your internal processes and patterns without being overpowered by them.
Regarding the fear of making mistakes, when you employ emotional agility with the challenge you’re afraid of, instead of being paralyzed or overcome by the fear, you are evaluating and learning from your internal processes and patterns to understand what you’re afraid of and why. You’re not trying to change it or control it.
Emotional agility helps you to be more decisive. Instead of being stuck in your fear, and unable to move forward, you apply the skills of emotional agility. You note your emotions, label your thoughts and feelings, and learn about yourself from them.
For example, let’s say you’re in a situation where you are feeling agitated and not acting like your usual self. You note and label your feelings, perhaps it’s anxiety. Next, you accept your feelings and say what you’re feeling out loud.
This will help you to diffuse your tumultuous emotions. Remember, you’re not trying to ignore or control or stop your emotions. You’re not trying to make yourself feel better. You are accepting the way you feel without judgment and feeling those emotions.
Then you look at your internal processes and patterns to figure out why you’re feeling that way and how to respond in a way that is consistent with your long-term values and intentions.
6. Work on your processes.
In any given situation, the only thing you can control is your systems and processes. The outcome is out of your control. You can ensure that you study for your exam, but you can’t guarantee that you’ll pass the test.
You can follow all the steps to make the right decision, but you can’t be certain the decision you make will succeed. Some things are just outside of your control. The result of a decision is one of those things that we cannot guarantee, no matter how hard we try.
So, focus on the areas that are within your power to manipulate, change, or control. Focus on your processes.
For example, you can make sure you have all the knowledge and information necessary to be the best parent you can be. You can spend time with your kids and teach them right from wrong. You may do everything right when it comes to being a parent.
Ultimately, whether your children turn out okay, is up to them. It’s outside of your control. Focus on being a great parent.
7. Reduce the focus of your thoughts.
When we worry about a challenge, our thoughts get hyper-focused on the issue. Our thinking becomes narrow, as we ruminate on all the ways things can go wrong. In a frenzy, we get wrapped up in dreaming up worse-case scenarios, which are most likely blown completely out of proportion. Never stopping to consider possible solutions.
On the other hand, we could be thinking of possible solutions, but because we’re so afraid of making a mistake, we miss glaring ones.
When faced with a situation where you are afraid you are going to make a mistake, you need to separate your emotions from the problem at hand. You need to put your fear aside because it will not help you think clearly or see properly.
Emotionally distance yourself from the challenge so you can broaden your thinking. Like a camera lens that is zoomed in to focus on a tiny object somewhere in the distance, zoom out so you can see what else is happening around the object and even in the background.
You could ask for other people’s input on the situation or read articles or books that address the challenge you are facing. Broadening your thinking might require you to take a step back from the situation for a better view.
8. Pursue leisure and rest.
When we’re worried about making a mistake in a particular situation that we cannot avoid, we are more than likely to obsess over it. We brood over all the possible things that could go wrong, dream about possible catastrophic outcomes, and work ourselves to the bone to mitigate any potential negative outcome.
This can only lead to exhaustion and burnout. Not to mention that by being hyper-focused on the problem, we are more inclined to miss obvious solutions or make glaring mistakes.
This is when leisure and rest are especially important.
Leisure is a valuable tool for helping people create distance when they are too emotionally vested in a situation. With leisure and proper rest, we can calm down and see things through a clearer lens. Our brains can take a break and better process information when we spend time in recreation and sleeping. This helps us subconsciously organize our thoughts, see blind spots, and think more clearly and creatively.
Have you ever been out on a run (or doing some sort of exercise) not even thinking about a problem at work, only to come up with the solution out of the blue? Or maybe while you’re brushing your teeth, after a good night’s rest, you finally come up with a great idea for the challenge you’re facing?
The problem or issue most likely was not on your mind at all. But in your subconscious, your brain kept working on it. Seemingly out of thin air, boom! A solution falls into your lap. One so simple that you wonder why you didn’t think about it before.
That’s the benefit of leisure and adequate rest.
Leisure helps you to take a step back from the problem. This, in turn, helps you to broaden your thinking and allows you to see your blind spots or consider aspects you weren’t thinking about before.
If you have been obsessing about a potential problem, take time off for leisure and rest. Then look at the challenge again with fresh and well-rested eyes.
9. Talk to a therapist.
As with all mental health illnesses or challenges, the path to proper treatment and diagnosis is through a licensed mental health professional, psychiatrist, or psychologist, for example.
Not only are they equipped with the education and experience to diagnose and treat, some are even licensed to prescribe medication if required. The best part is that they must maintain confidentiality with their patients.
In short, your secret is safe with them.
Talk to a therapist if you think that your fear of making mistakes is impacting your life negatively.
There are several treatments that a therapist could recommend depending on your diagnosis, but with common phobias the following are quite common:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT helps you to change the way you view making mistakes and imperfections. With CBT, your therapist will help you identify specific triggers and negative thought patterns that cause your fear and anxiety. They will then teach you to challenge or replace those thoughts with more objective and realistic ones.
- Exposure therapy – The basis of this method is that through gradual and repeated exposure to the source of your fear (phobia), the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you have will help you better manage your anxiety. Essentially, you work on desensitizing yourself to your fears by identifying triggers and increasing your exposure to them in a safe environment.
- Lifestyle modifications – This method focuses on improving your overall physical health because it has a strong impact on your mental health. So you work on eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise to help improve your mood and put you in a positive frame of mind.
- Medication – A therapist may prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, sedatives, or beta-blockers to help reduce any symptoms of depression or anxiety you may have, as they often accompany atelophobia (the fear of making mistakes or imperfection).
There are many more treatments that a licensed therapist may employ to help treat the phobia. Discuss your options with them.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
10. Stop overanalyzing the situation.
Extreme emotions make us act in ways we normally wouldn’t. When we’re furious, we may lash out and say things we don’t mean or wouldn’t normally say. If we’re head over heels in love with someone, we might behave in romantic ways we wouldn’t have thought we could.
When we’re afraid of making a mistake, we panic, become agitated, and start behaving in frenetic or even offensive ways.
A particular behavior we may exhibit when afraid of making mistakes is getting stuck in information overload. We read all the available books and blog posts regarding what we are concerned about. We might check and double-check our work, scouring it for mistakes, picking apart anything that doesn’t meet our high standard of perfection. There’s a chance we’d comb obsessively through social media looking for information on what we’re fixated on.
All of these activities only serve to cloud our judgment and fill us with even more fear. When there is too much information or input from different sources, our minds become clouded. This keeps us from being able to make the right decision or even any decision at all. The enormous amount of information keeps us trapped in analysis paralysis.
Our flawed methods of coping with the fear of making mistakes make us more prone to making the mistakes that we fear.
What you really need to do is stop.
Detach from the noise (or information) that you’re filling your mind up with concerning the challenge before you. You have enough information to decide or take a step out of your comfort zone. That book will not teach anything you don’t already know.
Stop over-monitoring, micromanaging, and over-checking. Let your brain rest from the information overload.
11. Change your mindset about making a mistake.
The only way you can truly learn is by making a mistake (or a bunch of them). Our educational system is supposed to be about providing a safe and conducive environment for people to make mistakes while they are learning new concepts.
For example, after learning how to do long division in class, the student shows his/her understanding of the lesson by completing the homework assignment. When the student submits the assignment, the teacher reviews it to confirm that the student truly grasped the concepts that were taught.
If not, perhaps the teacher gives additional assignments or spends more time teaching the topic. If the student immediately grasps the concept and does not make any mistakes, the material may be too easy for him/her. Maybe the teacher will consider giving the student more challenging work.
But if the student makes some mistakes, when he goes over the assignment, he can see where he went wrong and learn a better way of resolving the problem. Learning from your mistake is a life skill that everyone should try to develop.
Unfortunately, many children were punished for making mistakes and were taught to fear the possibility of being wrong.
If you want to learn something, embrace making mistakes. That’s how you’ll learn better ways of doing things.
An added benefit of embracing a positive mindset toward making mistakes is that it makes you a more compassionate person. If you struggle with reading, for example, but have been able to learn from your mistakes and overcome this challenge, when you see someone struggling with it, you are more patient and understanding, and perhaps even willing to teach them how to overcome it as well.
12. Find a better support system.
Making friends as adults is pretty challenging for most people. Don’t worry, the problem isn’t with you. The issue is that as we grow older and gain more responsibilities, scheduling time to socialize gets put on the back burner. So we keep the friends we’ve had for years.
Often, these relationships do not support our current mindset, lifestyle, or general well-being. But we keep these people around because…making friends is really hard.
Your family could even be the reason you continue to wallow in fear. Do they constantly bring up your past mistakes? Or perhaps if you discuss a decision you are considering with them, they tell you all the ways it could go wrong?
Find a support group that stretches you or encourages you to step out of your comfort zone. Look for people who are striving to make a difference in an area you are interested in. If you’re considering starting your own business, find a group of other business owners. Being around them and interacting with them will give you the motivation and encouragement you need to do what you fear.
Everyone needs a support system. Find one that supports you where you’re at and encourages you to be better.
13. Give yourself an “A” for effort.
Even if you made a mistake and everything got screwed up, you still learned something. You took a chance. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out the way you would have liked. But you tried.
Give yourself an “A” for effort.
Celebrate the fact that you did something instead of shirking away or being stuck in uncertainty. Pat yourself on the back for learning a new way of not doing something. At least now, you know what you should avoid. If you’re going to do this again, you know what not to do.
You’ve become experienced. That’s more than what others who haven’t done it before know.
If you try running for the first time and feel self-conscious because you’re moving so slowly, remember that you’re still moving faster than the person who hasn’t gotten off their couch.
Give yourself an “A” for improving.
14. Practice mindfulness.
According to a Harvard study titled “Strengthened Hippocampal Circuits Underlie Enhanced Retrieval of Extinguished Fear Memories Following Mindfulness Training,“ mindfulness can help to change the way you experience fear by altering the memories that trigger it.
When practicing mindfulness, your goal is to focus on what you can hear, see, or feel right now. Your attention is on the present moment.
Mindfulness interrupts your frantic thoughts and stops your frenzied activities by focusing your mind on your senses of touch, sight, and hearing.
Once you notice yourself slipping into fear or feel your anxiety rising, take your mind off of what you are obsessing about and shift it to your breath, the sounds around you, and what you can see.
Below is a one-minute mindfulness exercise that you can start practicing today:
- Sit up straight with your feet planted on the floor
- Start a timer for one minute
- Place your hands in your lap, in a relaxed and comfortable position
- Close your eyes
- Focus on your breath as it goes in and out
- Should a thought come to your mind (which it inevitably will), push it away and refocus on the way your breath is coming in and going out of your body
- When the timer goes off, slowly open your eyes
By regularly practicing mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts, increase your ability to focus, and are less likely to react impulsively to a situation, amongst other benefits.
15. Remember: you’ve done it before and you can do it again.
When you start to spiral into the vortex of fear, remind yourself of your past accomplishments. Remind yourself of past challenges you’ve faced and overcome. Remember the times when you made a decision, and you weren’t wrong.
If the “best predictor of future performance is past behavior,” then you are likely to repeat a past victory.
You can even start a file that has all your past achievements in it for the times when you’re paralyzed with fear and unable to move forward. Put in that file every positive email you’ve ever received, including the glowing feedback your boss gave you when you completed a project or even a note your high school teacher gave you when you worked really hard on an assignment and got an A.
Anything that makes you feel proud and good about yourself goes into the file to serve as a reminder that you have what it takes to repeat that success.
16. Face fear head on.
Sometimes, when all else fails, you’ve just got to face your fears head on. You’ve got to do it while scared and unsure of yourself. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
If your goal is more important than your fear, then you have to grit your teeth and take the leap even though you are terrified and trust that everything will turn out all right. There’s just no way around it.
Even though your knees are knocking, you’re sweating buckets, and your heart is racing, resolve to not let fear win out.
The battle is ongoing…
One thing we need to keep in the back of our minds is that overcoming the fear of making mistakes is an ongoing battle. It’s not a fight that you win once and for all. It’s one that you will continue to fight every day. However, your capacity will grow and expand as you strive to win and progress against that fear.
We really do recommend that you seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to challenge and push through your fear of doing something wrong.
You may also like:
- The Real Reason You Have A Fear Of Failure (And What To Do About It)
- How To Stop Making The Same Mistakes Over And Over
- 5 Reasons You Need To Be Right All The Time + 6 Steps To Let Go
- What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way: 10 No Nonsense Tips
- 10 Ways To Strive For Excellence, Not Perfection
- How To Learn From Your Mistakes: 8 Very Practical Tips!
- 8 Highly Effective Ways Of Dealing With Failure
- How To Overcome Perfectionism: 8 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- Wabi-Sabi: How The Japanese Embrace Imperfection