We all hate making mistakes

 Not long ago, a coaching client and I were exploring the concept of procrastination and came upon the notion that we all suffer from fear of failure to one degree or another. The need for perfection and our attempt to avoid making costly mistakes can sometimes prevent us from moving forward. This got me to thinking about the nature of mistakes and the affect they have on us.

 On the personal level, there appear to be a variety of different types of mistakes that we make:

  •  We have hurt someone’s feelings in some way, even though it was unintentional; we did or said something we wish we could retract, especially after we see the impact.
  •  We don’t live up to commitments we made to others or ourselves. When we make promises and do not keep them, we feel we have let our self down.  
  •  Saying one thing and doing another, not walking our talk.
  • We violate our or other’s principles is some way.
  • We make a decision or take an action that we have not thought through.
  •  We assume that others will look after our interests.
  • We took on something we did not have the knowledge or skill to achieve.
  •  We did not heed good, experienced advice.

 As we make these mistakes, we often suffer consequences or punishment that we were not expecting and that we would not have chosen. These unfavourable consequences create a reluctance to step out on a limb. As children we make one mistake after another; that is how we learn that there is a better way to do something. As we mature, we become focused on success and fear the costs of mistakes.

 Dealing with our mistakes in a mature and healthy way

  •  Know that most people can forgive a mistake of the mind easily. But mistakes of the heart are harder and take more care to rectify. (Covey) Recognize the error and make a sincere apology. Acknowledge the impact of your mistake.
  •  Beware of taking yourself too seriously. Laugh at your mistakes, laugh at yourself. With laughter, we’ll probably cope with obstacles more effectively and rebound faster from the disappointment. You’ll blow off steam better, your self-esteem will rise and people may even like you more. (The Complete Guide to Your Emotions and Your Health by Emrika Padus)
  • Avoid blowing things out of proportion and allowing our guilty feelings to take us over. Lighten up!
  • Recognize that success and failure are not opposites, they are both products of the same process. Recognize failure as a stepping stone to new ideas, or trying something new. Roger Von Oech in A Whack on the Side of the Head says “Errors are a necessary by-product of creative thinking.”
  • Be sure to acknowledge a mistake, correct it and learn from it. By not acknowledging, correcting and learning we make a further mistake of a different order. This puts a person on a self-deceiving, self-justifying path, often involving rationalization to self and others.  (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  by Stephen Covey) This second mistake empowers the first one, giving it disproportionate importance and causes far deeper injury to self.
  • Flex your risk muscle. Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering a risk: (taken from Thinking Body, Dancing Mind by Huang and Lynch)
    • Will taking this risk possibly improve my performance?
    • What is the worst case scenario for the risk? Can I accept the down side?
    •   What is my plan? A plan will help prevent inferior performance. Obtain information and instructions. But listen to your intuition and don’t be afraid to change your mind.
    • When are congratulations in order? Immediately. Praise yourself and feel proud of having the courage.
    • What if I suffer a set back? Look for the lessons that it offered. You are already successful just for having taken the risk. Avoid negative criticism that will extinguish the flame of courage.
  • Make peace with imperfection.
  • Pay close attention to your reaction to others’ mistakes.

 Coaching Questions to Stimulate Reflection About Your Life & Work

  1.  What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
  2. What did you learn from it? When was the last time you made a mistake?
  3. How often do you make mistakes? What does that tell you?
  4. How often do you take a risk?