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How to overcome your fear of making mistakes

Christian Fernsby ▼ | July 6, 2020
No one can reduce mistakes to zero, but you can learn to harness your drive to prevent them and channel it into better decision making.
Manager thinking
Decision   Fear of mistakes can paralyze
The traditional image of a leader is one who is smart, tough, and unafraid. But fear, like any emotion, has an evolutionary purpose and upside, Alice Boyes writes for Harvard Business Review.

"Your concern about making mistakes is there to remind you that we’re in a challenging situation. A cautious leader has value. This is especially true in times like these. So don’t get caught up in ruminating: “I shouldn’t be so fearful.”

"Don’t be ashamed or afraid of your fear of making mistakes and don’t interpret it as evidence that you’re an indecisive leader, or not bold, not visionary.

Fear of mistakes can paralyze people. Emotional agility skills are an antidote to this paralysis. This process starts with labeling your thoughts and feelings, such as “I feel anxious I’m not going to be able to control my customers enough to keep my staff safe.” Stating your fears out loud helps diffuse them. It’s like turning the light on in a dark room. Next comes accepting reality.

For example, “I understand that people will not always behave in ideal ways.” List off every truth you need to accept.

Then comes acting your values. Let’s say one of your highest values is conscientiousness. For example, it might involve making sure your employees all have masks that fit them well or feel comfortable airing any grievances they have. Identify your five most important values related to decision-making in a crisis. Then ask yourself how each of those is relevant to the important choices you face.

Repeat this process for each of your fears. It will help you tolerate the fact that we sometimes need to act when the best course of action isn’t clear and avoid the common anxiety trap whereby people try to reduce uncertainty to zero.

When we’re scared of making a mistake, our thinking can narrow around that particular scenario. It might seem illogical that you could reduce your fear of making a mistake by thinking about other negative outcomes.

But this strategy can help kick you into problem solving mode and lessen the mental grip a particular fear has on you. A leader might be so highly focused on minimizing or optimizing for one particular thing, they don’t realize that other people care most about something else. Find out what other people’s priorities are.

That type of adrenalin-fueled behavior can have short-term value, but it can also be myopic. A different approach can be more useful for bigger picture thinking. We need leisure to step back, integrate the threads of our thinking, see blindspots, and think creatively.

As mentioned, when people are fearful they can go into always-on monitoring mode. You may have the urge to constantly look at what everyone else is doing, to always be on social media, or check data too frequently. This can result in information overload. Your mind can become so overwhelmed that you start to feel cloudy or shut down. Recognize if you’re doing this and limit over-monitoring or overchecking. Avoid panicked behavior.


 

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