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Why Are People Afraid to Make Mistakes?

Hi, I’m Mike Staver and this is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question, and this is a great question – they’re all great questions, you guys do a great job.

Dear Mike, if it is true that we learn from our mistakes, then why are people so afraid to make mistakes? It seems like people would be smarter and that would be good!

Well here’s the reason, this is a GREAT question. If it is true that we learn from our mistakes, then why are people so afraid to make mistakes? Because most people get punished for mistakes.

Very few people are in a world where their mistakes are used as an opportunity to grow and develop. At work bosses and leaders either create a blame environment or a responsibility environment. If you’re in a place where you’re allowed to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, you’re very fortunate and blessed.

If, on the other hand, you were raised in an environment where mistakes equal pain then your brain will do everything possible to avoid mistakes, and if you make mistakes you’ll have a tendency to also make excuses. The destructive cousin of making mistakes is making excuses.

So the reason people have challenges is because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of the pain or consequence of the mistake. The way they get over that, and it does not take a short amount of time, it takes some time, is to start experiencing mistakes as real learning. So, if you make a mistake yourself, and you’re around people who support that – “hey, it was just a mistake” – that’s one thing. But if they say “what did you learn from this, and how is that going to be helpful for you?”, that’s another thing.

So, first of all, I think it’s irrational not to be a little bit afraid of making a mistake. Recently I called a CEO by the wrong name. The woman who paid me… I called by the wrong name. Publicly. What an idiot! It was a mistake! What I learned from that is I need to pay greater attention, because I looked right at her and said the wrong name. It was a mistake. Now, she made a joke of it, she called me Steve, ok it all worked out. But I learned from that that I need to be more diligent prior to interacting with people and that I’m really clear about what their names are.

So, don’t expect not to feel uncomfortable, make sure you surround yourself with people who support your learning when making a mistake, and be judicious about when and where you make them, if possible.

Hope that’s helpful! I’m Mike Staver, see you next week. Take Care.

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