Go Ahead! Make A Mistake!

January 17th, 2013
By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Did you grow up hearing that if you do things slowly and carefully enough, you won’t make any mistakes? Or that if you take the time to learn from other people’s mistakes, you can avoid making your own?

As well-meaning as this advice probably was, it likely did you more harm than good. How? By teaching you that it’s unacceptable to make mistakes and not to try anything new because of fear of failure. Research shows that perfectionists fear challenging tasks, take fewer risks, and are less creative than non-perfectionists

No wonder so many people struggle with perfectionism and the feelings of anxiety and fear that can come with it.

So how do you break free from perfectionism and allow yourself to make mistakes? Read on to find out:

1)Determine where your perfectionism comes from.

Many people are afraid to make mistakes because they’re afraid of being criticized or seen as incompetent by parents, teachers, friends, co-workers, or people in general. Were you judged harshly or criticized for making mistakes growing up? Were you singled out in class for making a mistake and ridiculed by your teacher or peers? Think about where your perfectionism comes from. These early childhood experiences can have a lasting effect on you.

2)Examine your beliefs about failure.

‘Failure’ is the other f-word that people don’t like to hear. Examine your thoughts about what would happen if you failed at something. For many people, if they fail at something, they automatically think that their mistake will lead to a catastrophe.

For example, I failed my very first midterm in university. When I received my mark, I automatically thought that I would fail out of university and end up poor and homeless. Obviously, these thoughts were illogical, but that’s the nature of perfectionism – perfectionism is illogical because nobody can be perfect. What are your beliefs about failure? Chances are, they’re probably illogical. Think of an instance when you were scared to fail or make a mistake. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you failed or messed up? What would happen after that? How do you think you’d handle it?

3)Find examples that prove your beliefs about failure are wrong.

I’ve failed more than one test since my first midterm in university and forgotten what to say during more than one presentation. Guess what? I didn’t get kicked out of school and become homeless. More importantly, the world didn’t come to an end. Can you think of any facts that challenge your beliefs about making mistakes?

4)Develop new and healthy beliefs.

One reason why we fear making mistakes is because of the negative or critical reactions of others to our screw-ups. When we see others respond negatively to our mistakes, we learn to think that making mistakes is bad. Yet making mistakes is actually a good thing! How else would you learn? Think about when you were learning how to ride a bike. If you hadn’t fallen off your bike a few dozen times, you wouldn’t be able to ride a bike today.

5)Allow yourself to make a mistake.

So many people beat themselves up for making a mistake that they lose sight of the fact that they’ve just been given a great learning opportunity. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed and tell yourself you’re a loser, an idiot, you’ve let down your family and friends, and think about your screw up over and over again. When you notice yourself doing this, stop and notice the emotions you’re experiencing and where you’re experiencing them in your body. Observe the thoughts going through your mind and label them as just that – thoughts. Thoughts are not facts. Ask yourself what you’ve learned from your mistake and how you might use what you’ve learned in the future.

It’s easy to feel the pressure to excel in a society where our worth is largely dependent on how others evaluate us. Yet if you wish to learn and grow, you need to allow yourself to not only make mistakes, but to also learn how to handle the inevitable disappointment that comes with making them.

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