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How Do I Overcome My Fear of Making Mistakes?

Sonima's psychologist and meditation teacher advises one reader how to face the fear of making mistakes, and turn that self-criticism into self-compassion and personal growth.

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Dear John,

What can I do to overcome my timidness and fear of making mistakes?

Sincerely, Jaylin

 

Dear Jaylin,

“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

Thank you for your inquiry! Your question is an incredibly relevant concern for many. Whether it’s making a mistake at work or wanting to overcome shyness and be bolder socially, this is a growing worry for most. The first thought I had when I sat with your question was that it’s OK to make mistakes. Human beings have a long history of questionable decision making, so you are not alone.

I think many have been taught through cultural conditioning that we ought to be perfect without exception. This expectation is not realistic. Further, I believe that anyone, who is humble and honest, would be very hard pressed to reflect back on their life and not uncover at least one error or lapse in good judgment, and that includes mistakes big and small. I also believe that when mistakes happen, that is the moment to practice mindfulness, self-kindness, compassion, and self-forgiveness.

In bouncing back from mistakes, it’s important to remember to not skip over the hard psychological work of making contact with the painful emotions that can come with mistakes. I know from my own errors that shame, embarrassment, awkwardness, and feelings of failure often follow. Let’s be real and admit these are all very uncomfortable feelings and it is natural to want to avoid them. However, you must remember that when these feelings are felt and processed, the other side of them is positive growth, learning, and transformation. Those are the growing edges of making mistakes.

Next, I offer you a guided reflection practice designed to help you get more familiar with underlying thoughts and emotions that may be feeding your fear. You may wish to slowly read these instructions out loud, record them, and then play them back as you follow along.

To begin, take some time to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Work on becoming aware of your mind, body, emotions, and connection to your own heart. Let this be a way of getting familiar with how you feel right now. When you feel settled, and have a clear sense of your present moment experience, think of a time when you made a minor mistake.

When you have that memory available, ask yourself, what is the worst part about making this error? Does it feel that you failed? Is it a fear of being criticized? Embarrassed? Is it a concern about disappointing yourself or others? Do your best to get clear on what is troublesome about this for you. As you invite these thoughts in, notice how your physical sensations in your body change and see how your emotional state may also shift.

Can you start to accurately identify the thoughts that are arising and sit with them? Ask yourself, is this thought accurate? Or is it a negative self-judgment? If you believe it to be true, can you find supporting evidence? What was the outcome of this mistake? What were the tough parts and consequences?

As you meditate and sit with these memories, are any of those old feelings coming back up for you? If so, can you sit still with them? Can you welcome them in as a guide? Can you trust in yourself to have the ability to hold these emotions and befriend them? Can you courageously make friends with unpleasant thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations? Can you see that this is a path to liberating yourself from this fear? Notice the moments where you wish to push them away or cast them off, and see if you can stay connected with them until they dissipate and pass on their own. Now ask yourself, can I hold more peace within myself as I accept my history with compassion?


Related: Why Your Mistakes Are a Good Thing


Take a deep breath and gently investigate how you learned, discovered, grew and transformed as a result of this mistake? Was there learning and emotional growth? Spend time sitting in this affirmative space of realizing this transformation. Let these positive emotions spread through you and let them imprint upon you. Feel this vibrant energy of growth and let it settle in your heart and be a source of strength. When you feel complete in this meditation, take a deep breath and with your exhale release it.

I recommend taking a few minutes to reflect and write in a journal about your meditation experience.

Lastly, I encourage you to trust in yourself, be willing to follow your true life path, and know that you have what it takes to overcome any missteps along the way. Trust in your courage and your ability to find the growth opportunities in your struggles and see them as a doorway to future success. Remember to connect to your own heart and practice discernment to keep yourself and others safe, as you step into the unknown.

If you find that your timidness and fear of mistakes is disrupting your personal or professional life, then I would recommend working with a qualified professional that can provide you with more tailored guidance. You can find more support from other meditations on Sonima.com. I would recommend meditations focused on self-compassion, like this one. I wish you the best on your journey, Jaylin, and again thank you for writing in.

Many blessings,
John

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