Behavioral Psychology

Afraid to Make Mistakes

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The simplest explanation for why you are afraid to make mistakes in your life is behavioral. You learned to associate them with bad emotional consequences when you were young and the feeling has stuck. The most classic example of behavioral association is Pavlov’s dogs. Every time Pavlov fed his dogs he would ring a bell, and before long they would start salivating at the sound even when food didn’t arrive with it. They had learned to pair the two stimuli together, the food and the bell, so that whether these stimuli occurred by themselves or in tandem they produced the same salivating response.

What you have to realize as an adult is that the road to a successful outcome is paved with many mistakes, and if you are hesitant to make them you will never achieve anything of substance because you’ll never reach beyond yourself to find out how much you are capable of. You’re not a kid anymore; there is not some stern authoritarian looking over your shoulder, ready to pounce on the slightest error in order to make you feel incompetent. Or if there is tell this person to take it easy or get lost.

Since behavioral association is what has made you learn to be afraid of mistakes, behavioral association can help you learn to not be afraid of them too. All you have to do is be prepared to make them, and you’ll quickly find that most of the bad consequences you are secretly worried about never come to pass. These experiences will help you rewire your brain so that you begin to associate making mistakes with learning, growing, and taking risks rather than feeling like you are deficient.

Obviously we want to do the best we can and avoid mistakes where we can, and it’s true that some mistakes can be catastrophic. But the vast majority of them can be categorized under ‘learning experiences’ and are an essential part of growth in any discipline. If you are afraid to make mistakes then you’ll never get to that more advanced stage where you rarely make them anymore. You will quickly find that most of the bad consequences you are worried about are a holdover from a time where you were basically powerless and dependent on the approval of authority figures, but this is one of those realizations that you can only arrive at through doing, passing through the fire yourself and actually committing errors, seeing that no life altering catastrophes accompany them.