We Hate Making Mistakes!

by Margaret Enloe, JD, PCC

We hate making mistakes and it’s no wonder. Just look at two definitions:

“Some unintentional act, omission, or error arising from ignorance, surprise…or misplaced confidence.”

“An error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.”

Putting aside the damning definitions, research suggests that humans have a high addiction to being right; when we persuade others we’re right, our dopamine level goes up. Winning a point, just like winning in sports, makes us feel good. Further, our educational system is rooted in teaching about right and wrong answers; we are rewarded for “correct” answers and learn to avoid, as best we can, the embarrassment of being wrong.

So, while it’s no surprise we hate making mistakes, we rarely live a day without making at least one. Eleanor Roosevelt knew this when she said “learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

Hence, we focus on learning from our mistakes. Indeed, every self-improvement book you will ever read addresses this important concept. And, many rules we live by, like buckling seat belts and getting safety instructions before a plane takes off, started with mistakes from which improvements flow. In April of this year, SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded in its flight over the Gulf of Mexico. As covered in The New York Times, “The rocket…did not reach orbit but provided important lessons for the private spaceflight company as it worked toward a more successful mission.” That mission is estimated to cost between $2-$10 billion and thus, a lot more mistakes are anticipated!

Five Quick Tips:

  1. We will always make mistakes. “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” Theodore Roosevelt
  2. Sometimes getting stuck on whether we’re right or wrong can be more of a problem than just being wrong; we could miss what really matters.
  3. It’s never easy to accept our own mistakes but berating ourselves for our “dumb, stupid, can’t believe I just did that” mistakes will not make it easier. Showing some self-compassion will.
  4. We learn from a mistake when we admit that we made one and take time to think about it. What is the “gift and opportunity?” If we’re blaming others, beware, the “victim” is loose! This is basically opting out from the lessons our mistakes can teach us.
  5. “The only real mistake is the one from which we learned nothing.” Henry Ford

No one would suggest we seek to make mistakes so we can learn from them and shout hurray! However, accepting them as a normal and frequent part of life can make our days more of an adventure and less an ongoing battle with the inevitable.

Elevate your Leadership Potential

To learn more about re-framing your mindset and executive coaching, reach out to Margaret for a consultation.