I’m always making mistakes. Messing up and getting things wrong. I can make mistakes all day: on the road, at work, in documents, with punctuation, spelling, in life, when I argue, when I cancel plans with people, when I make insensitive comments.
Mistakes stress me out. I am a natural stress-head and I come from a family of stress junkies. My family will stress over things that need not be stressed about, and if we can’t find anything to stress about, we simply start stressing about anything.
So can stressing out cause you to make more mistakes?
When I am stressed, I often make mistakes, and apparently I am not alone. Heidi Grant Halvorson recently wrote a book called Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. She believes that when the pressure to not make mistakes is removed, we make fewer of them, naturally. She says,’ Anxiety and frustration disrupt the many cognitive processes we rely on for creative and analytical thinking.”
What about perfectionism?
There is a book which gave birth to a now-famous quote: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.”
I think that perfectionism can be a very negative trait, and I see this trait in many high-achievers around me, and it can be damaging. Initially, these people can put so much pressure on themselves, they can actually crash and burn before the task is completed to their satisfaction. It is effectively self-sabotage.
The fear of making mistakes
There is a great post I found about overcoming the fear of making mistakes. Margarita Tartakovsky interviews Martin Antony, co-author of When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough. He says, “The constant pressure to improve performance can have the effect of triggering fears of underperforming and of making mistakes,” Antony said. He added that constant criticism has a similar impact.
There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, in fact, this is inevitable. The issue comes when your fear of making mistakes (perfectionism) causses you stress and anxiety. We all experience this to a certain degree, but some people have such a fear of mistakes, and feel such a drive to be perfect, that it ruins their jobs, relationships and ultimately lives.
So how to you learn not to fear making mistakes?
Antony says that you need to give yourself an alternative reality to the voices in your head. (I am totally paraphrasing him here, but if you’d like to read his original post, here it is.) He gives an example of a man who makes a bad joke at a party and worries that all his friends think of him as awkward and boring.
The exercise he is given is to provide himself with an alternate picture of what the reality of the situation is. Maybe he could tell himself that everyone makes bad jokes sometimes, or that maybe his friends like him anyway. Maybe he could remind himself that he does get invited out to functions, so that indicates that his friends find him interesting.
With two options of a reality, he picks this more helpful perspective: “Perhaps I need to give myself permission to make mistakes when I am talking to other people. I don’t judge other people when they say something unusual or awkward. Perhaps they are not judging me when I make mistakes.”
I am too afraid to commit to making mistakes!
So I am not taking my own advice here, but I need to do something to loosen up this fear I have of doing the wrong thing. Purpose Fairy has written a post on this topic and I love this idea: “Believe it or not, if you play it safe you will have more and more regrets about the things you did not do rather than the things you did do, you will regret not making more mistakes.”
I’ll end with a lovely little quote from the Fairy: Mistakes are the stepping stones to happiness.