How to Overcome Fear of Making Mistakes

Even the most perfect of us make mistakes at times but sometimes we become worried that we’re making more mistakes than we’d like.

If that happens too often, it changes from being a background worry to a full on phobia – atychiphobia in this instance if you want to use the technical name for the fear of failure or making mistakes.

If you’re worried that you’re being beset by this fear, what can you do about it?

Figure out where your fear is coming from

There’s a world of difference between small mistakes and big mistakes.

Small errors and small failures are, by definition, relatively short term and most of the time they can be overcome fast.

For instance, if you forget to watch a particular television program then there’s almost always a catch up service that can correct that.

Forgetting things like birthdays and anniversaries has been around a long time – it’s not fun being in the dog house because you’ve forgotten the date (again!) but you can grovel or buy your way out of the problem most of the time.

The trouble is, these small mistakes can mount up.

If they change from happening once every now and then to every day then your mind starts to decide that being error prone is starting to become a way of life.

Most of us know people who seem adept at saying or doing the wrong thing more often than the right thing. And whilst it’s kind-of fun to mock them, most of us secretly dread taking their place and becoming the laughing stock.

You can put some of your errors down to old age – nowadays that definition can extend to anyone with a double digit age depending on the topic – and forgetfulness can certainly be a contributory factor.

Or you can decide that you’ve just got so many things to do that you need more hours in the day. Which is why you’ve taken to using short cuts and why you’ve started to make more mistakes than a few years ago.

There’s a reason that craftsmen say you should measure twice and cut once. That reduces the risk of making a mistake dramatically.

But wherever your fear of making mistakes is coming from, the issue is almost certainly that you’re allowing it to grow bigger.

And, in turn, that probably turns it into a self-fulfilling prophecy: you think you’re more likely to make mistakes so your subconscious mind thinks that’s what you want to accomplish and – hey presto – you start to flounder and mess things up.

It could be the perfectionist in you

Whilst a lot of people strive for perfection, few achieve it.

If you look around you, the things we perceive to be beautiful are often flawed or have tiny imperfections or blemishes.

The trouble is that we’re given models where perfection is normal:

  • Television crime series always get the baddie
  • Television shows and movies don’t fluff their lines or mislay their keys (unless that’s part of the plot)
  • Web pages rarely have glaring typos or other errors, always ignoring the sites where the programmer has rushed and hasn’t bothered to test their site in your browser
  • Judging by their Facebook posts, it seems like almost everyone else is living happily ever after
  • Even the fruit and veg on the supermarket shelves has been chosen to be almost identical and uniform in size, shape and color

You’d be forgiven for thinking that perfection is normal.

If you start to beat yourself up about not being perfect all the time, there’s a good chance that will spill over into making more mistakes as you strive for the 100% record.

Take a leaf out of the book of top athletes – almost none of them have perfect scores because they all have “off” days but that doesn’t stop them from being top in their field.

You just have to get things right enough often enough to be able to get over a perfectionism problem, Which, of course, is often easier said than done but you can always aim to be perfect about getting over your perfectionism if that helps.

Sometimes the best things come from making mistakes

if someone at 3M hadn’t made a mistake, we’d never have Post-It notes.

They were a result of a glue that kind-of stuck but that wasn’t permanently adhesive.

A mistake or failure.

But someone at 3M turned that mistake around and decided that there was a use for a glue that wasn’t forever stuck in its ways.

That turned a mistake into a massive hit.

All it took was looking at the mistake from a different angle.

Which means that you can do the same.

The next time you make a mistake – whether it’s small or large or somewhere inbetween – take a step back and work out how you could turn it into a success. Or at least rescue it from whatever the opposite of a hall of fame is.

Doing this – rather than analyzing where you went wrong – is often the best way to both benefit from the mistake you’ve just made and also stop yourself from repeating the mistake too many times.

ideally, you shouldn’t make the same mistake more than once but that can be easier said than done and a lot of us come close to the definition of insanity because we make the same mistake over and over yet expect a different result.

Slow down a bit

Whether or not you’re afraid of making mistakes, forever rushing at things is an almost certain recipe for making more mistakes more often.

Not double checking things can be an issue as well.

Sometimes mistakes can be due to a change in operations – that happened when the latest planes moved from imperial to metric measurements for their fuel tanks but the ground crew were stuck in their ways. The pilots didn’t spot the error either and were confronted with a plane that ran out of fuel part way through a flight and had to glide back to earth. Fortunately that happened and there were no fatalities.

A rather more expensive mistake ($125 million or so) was made in one of the Mars missions when Lockheed used English measurements rather than metric ones.

Those kind of mistakes are memorable – and not for the right reasons.

They’re also one of the reasons that most of us are at least partially afraid of making mistakes.

And they could both probably have been averted if the people involved had slowed down and taken a bit more time to reflect on what they’re doing.

Hopefully you’re not going to be involved in multi-million dollar mistakes that could potentially affect people’s lives.

So take that chance to put things in perspective.

But also take the opportunity to slow down and give yourself time to check yourself a bit more often.

On a much smaller level, I do that with web pages like this.

My natural instinct is to type away and press the “publish” button as soon as a I’ve finished.

But I know from experience that mistakes and typos can creep in. So most of the time I’ll deliberately slow myself down, press the “save draft” option and then click “preview”.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that doing that has saved me from putting up pages that contain some kind of meaningless gibberish that seemed so sensible when I was typing, even though my thoughts didn’t translate from my mind to the web page.

You can apply that kind of logic to anything you do.

It’s actually the fable of the tortoise and the hare manifesting in our life: the slower approach is often better and often less riddled with errors.

Embrace your mistakes more often

If your natural instinct is to bury your mistakes and forget about them as soon as possible, experiment with embracing them every now and then.

Not too often, otherwise people will come to view you as always making mistakes.

But at the very least own up to your mistakes more often.

That can be beneficial because it means you’re not colluding with your mind to put your mistakes out of sight.

It also means that you’re not dwelling on the idea, worrying that other people will uncover your mistake and then “out” you because of it.

Even something as simple as saying, “yes, I know, I got that wrong” can be better than letting a mistake dwell in the background of your mind and fester.

Another thing to remember about making mistakes is that you’re actually still experimenting.

If you never make a mistake, you’re never doing anything the slightest bit new or different. You’re just going through your life on auto-pilot.

The idea of making a mistake can seem scary – you could be ridiculed by other people for instance. But in practice most other people are concentrating far too much on themselves to worry much about you. That’s why the only person to notice you’re having a bad hair day is usually you unless you’re doing a very good impression of the mad-professor look.

Maybe it’s worth embracing your mistakes because they mean you’re learning.

And it’s definitely worth remembering that early on in our lives, making mistakes is an essential part of learning. If you’d given up the first time you tried to stand up, you’d still be crawling around on all fours. But – with encouragement from those around you – you gradually got steadier on your feet.

Of course, that can go full circle and we can get less steady on our feet as old age starts to take over. But that’s not due to mistakes, it just seems part of the aging process for at least some people.

Set out to conquer your fear of mistakes

You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Stop trying to do everything on your own. Often it’s better to ask for (and get) help – lots of people are more than happy to help you but only if you actually ask them.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” every once in a while. Sometimes our mistakes are as a result of us agreeing to do something that, deep down, we know we’re not capable of. It’s actually a lot better to admit ahead of time that you can’t do something than it is to spend forever bodging the job, making more and more mistakes and getting more and more frustrated. Knowing your own limits can be a good way to avoid making dumb mistakes.
  • The opposite of that approach is to feel the fear and do it anyway. That can work if you want to push your comfort zones and start living (and enjoying your life a bit more. Quite often you’ll surprise yourself and make a pretty good job of the thing that you were previously afraid of. Or you can quickly discover that your first instinct was right – but at least you’ll know from first hand experience.

Another option is to enlist the power of hypnosis to help get over your fear of making mistakes.

Fears are often quite deep seated but with no logical explanation.

It’s partly down to the way that we’ve survived as a species – we learn fast and we usually learn things to be afraid of (and a lot of other things) quite early in our lives when our minds aren’t fully developed.

That works well for a lot of things because it means we don’t have to re-learn how to open a door every time we encounter one. Walking and driving become second nature to us. Lots and lots of things we do, day in, day out, are as a result of things we learned as a youngster.

But that includes fears and phobias.

Hypnosis can take the mental equivalent of a surgical knife to your fears and get them to evaporate fast with almost no effort on your part.

The trick is to either book an appointment with a local hypnotist or to do what most people do which is listen to a professionally recorded hypnosis session. That’s quicker and more convenient than booking an appointment and it’s cheaper. So it’s win-win.