Part of human nature is a desire to make progress, or positive change. We all want to improve some area of our life. Perhaps we want to improve our finances, relationships, health, or education. We may want to control our emotions, develop self-disciple, or grow more tolerant. But why do we frequently wind up with just partial success?
One reason is due to not asking ourselves that very question. Rather than ask ourselves what’s holding us back, we shrug our shoulders and sigh, “Well, I guess that’s what is meant to be.” However, what happens to us is not the result of what is meant to be, but the result of the actions we take or fail to carry out. So, if we find ourselves in less than satisfactory circumstances and wish to do something about it, let’s start by considering 25 common mistakes we make, mistakes that limit our success.
There’s nothing magical about the number 25; it’s just the point where I decided to end this article. There could be many, many more mistakes to discuss. In fact, I’d like to invite you to add to the list, not just for your benefit or the sheer fun of it, but to share with our other readers. So, if you feel so inclined, send me your additions to the list, and I will combine all I receive into one master list and share them with all our readers.
25 Common Success-limiting Mistakes
1. Afraid of making mistakes. This one mistake can be subdivided into four.The first error we make is to be afraid of making errors. As children, we were afraid of making mistakes, being criticized, denied affection, appearing stupid, breaking the rules, or being punished. For when we were ‘wrong,’ we were made fun of, humiliated, or scolded. Unless we remain vigilant, these childhood fears will carry over and direct our present action. Remind yourself that you are no longer a child and resolve to act courageously.
Making mistakes simply means you are learning. Yet, some people are afraid to take chances. They are scared that if they make a mistake they will be ridiculed. The fear of making a mistake is a serious mistake because it hinders our progress. Not only does it stop us from growing, but it prevents us from discovering the glorious adventure that life is meant to be. Each moment that we hesitate to act because we don’t want to make a mistake and look stupid, another person is busy making mistakes, learning from them, and looking smart. We claim we want to be successful, but how is that possible without making mistakes along the way? Today, give yourself permission to make mistakes, for once you do, you have also given yourself permission to succeed.
Some people are afraid to admit they were wrong. But as long as they feel that way, they stop learning. When we refuse to admit our mistake, we appear like a fool, but when we admit it and learn from it, we prove that we are wise. Here is a useful, little ditty by Arthur Guiterman: “Admitting Error clears the Score / And proves you Wiser than before.”
America’s youngest female billionaire, Sara Blakely, realizes that failure or making mistakes is nothing to fear, for as she said, “Failure is nothing more than life’s way of nudging you and letting you know that you are a little bit off course.”
The second error we make is to ignore our mistakes. Confucius taught, “To make a mistake and not correct it − that, indeed, is a mistake.” In other words, if you make a blunder and learn nothing from it, it’s a mistake. But if you take a misstep and learn something, it’s a valuable lesson. The moral is, if we stop attacking the mistakes of others and start admitting our own, we will learn a great deal.
The third error we make is to believe we don’t make any mistakes, for until we acknowledge them, we’re condemned to keep repeating them. To which Fred Van Amburgh adds, “There is no fool like the fool who will continue to kick the rubbish of his mistakes along the path ahead of him, and then be compelled to stumble over these mistakes a second time.” But acknowledging our mistakes positions us to take corrective action.
The fourth error we make is to be ashamed of the mistakes we made. Making mistakes is a characteristic of human nature. So, to be ashamed of your mistakes is to be ashamed of being human. That doesn’t make sense, does it? No, it doesn’t, for as Robert T. Kiyosaki explains, “In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we never fell down, we would never walk.”
In summary, the only mistake is to make a mistake and not correct it; the only failure is to fail and not learn from it.
2. Fear of Our Own Inner Power. We all know we have vast inner power. We know this by observing the great deeds of others. For we share the same human nature. If others are capable of greatness, so are we. But we are afraid to use our power. Maryanne Williamson explains:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Why are we so afraid? Here are some reasons:
If we acknowledge our power we have to accept responsibility and can no longer make excuses or blame others for our failure.
We may be afraid of working hard and prefer to loaf.
We may be afraid people will expect too much from us or take advantage of us.
We may be afraid friends may become jealous of our success and abandon us.
3. Allowing Our Past to Rule Our Present. Tom’s parents divorced when he was just three years old and his single mom had to work two jobs just to survive. Tom received very little guidance from his mother because she was away working most of the time.
Today, Tom is confused and not very successful. “I can’t help it,” he says, “I never received proper guidance, so I’m all screwed up and don’t know how to succeed.” Tom is allowing his past to rule his present. It’s true that we cannot change our past, but we can change how we perceive it. Instead of focusing on the lack of guidance he received from his mother, for example, Tom could have focused on his mother’s self-reliance.
Even though Tom’s father wasn’t paying child support, his mother worked hard enough to raise him. He could learn a lot from his mother’s devotion, dedication, and perseverance. Instead of interpreting his past as depressing and discouraging, he could have found it inspirational by learning from his mother that we can survive even in very tough situations.
Besides, Tom is no longer a child. What’s to stop him from going to the library or bookstore to get the guidance he didn’t receive in his youth? If he were to do so, he would be receiving guidance from the top experts, giving him the edge over most of his peers.
4. Handling the Mistakes of Others Improperly. Rather than pointing out their errors, point out where the other person can learn what you already know. Would you rather be right and friendless or helpful and surrounded by friends? Don’t become upset by the mistakes of others. Give them the benefit of doubt; after all, they’re just doing their best under the circumstances. Besides, making mistakes is part of our nature. How can you become angry because someone acts like a human? What’s more, the mistakes of others are nothing more than opportunities for us to practice forgiveness, for as Alexander Pope wrote, “To Err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.”
5. Not Getting Along with Others. When we fight rather than cooperate with others, we diminish our power and happiness. If we can’t get along with others, it is not because something is wrong with them, but because we haven’t mastered the incredibly important art of relationship building. If you have problems in this area, don’t waste another moment; go to your local library or bookstore and get a book on how to get along with others. Here are three examples of helpful books.
EXTRAORDINARY RELATIONSHIPS: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions by Roberta M. Gilbert and Roberta Gilbert
Relationships 101 by John C. Maxwell
6. Giving Up too Quickly. Farmers realize that it takes time and hard work before one can harvest the crops. But city folk who are accustomed to instant wireless communication, bullet trains, and computers, have little patience. They want things now. If they don’t reach their goals immediately, they abandon them. Aborted dreams scatter the landscape. How many doctors, engineers, authors, artists, and valued tradespeople do not exist simply because students gave up too quickly? The lack of persistence and its relation to failure has led someone to say, “Failure is the path of least persistence.” Successful people understand that winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit.
7. Lack of Self-Reliance. In childhood we learned that we could not take care of ourselves. We relied on mom and dad to provide us with food, shelter, and safety. They told us what we had to do, when we had to go to school or see the doctor, when to go to bed, when to go out and play, and when to study. As a child we came to believe we could not look after ourselves and we had to rely on others. If we do not remain careful, remnants of those early beliefs will remain, and as adults we will continue to search for help outside of ourselves instead of relying on our inner resources.
8. The Wrong Mindset. It is surprising that many people continue to believe that their suffering is caused by external events, failing to realize that it is their attitude that is the cause of their problems. More than 1,800 years ago Epictetus taught “Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them.” Similarly, around the same time, Marcus Aurelius taught, “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” Instead of bemoaning your present problems, why not rejoice, which you can do simply by adopting the attitude, or mindset, that no matter what happens to me, I’m going to benefit from it one way or another.
9. Postponing Future Success for Immediate Gratification. It’s silly to deny ourselves the exhilaration, satisfaction, and pride of lasting success for temporary pleasure. But our brains are programed to favor pleasure over the ‘pain’ of making an effort to succeed. That’s why procrastination is rampant. But procrastination is the postponement of life. That doesn’t make sense does it? Despite our programing, we can override it by making conscious decisions to make the effort to succeed. After all, the rewards of success far outweigh the ‘rewards’ of partying, TV, playing games, and other diversions.
10. Not Willing to Pay the Price. We don’t seem to mind paying for the tickets of sports events, concerts, and the theater, so why do we resist paying the price for success? We cannot succeed unless we first recognize that anything worthwhile has a price. So before you begin any endeavor, cheerfully promise yourself that you are willing to pay the price for success. If you’re not willing to put in the time and effort, you’re just wasting time dreaming about success or making halfhearted attempts.
11. Delaying Action. Some put off their plans because of fear of failure. Waiting for the perfect moment to start a new project doesn’t make sense because there will never be a ‘perfect’ moment. There will just be NOW. Either we use it or lose it. Jerry Gillies makes a good point: “I have made decisions that turned out to be wrong, and went back and did it another way, and still took less time than many who procrastinated over the original decision.” So, don’t delay; act today!
12. Not Planning. How can life go according to plan, unless we first make a plan? Failing to plan is planning to fail. So, don’t start off each day wondering what will happen. When you have a plan in place and follow it, you will be able to predict your own future success!
Doubtlessly, you understand the importance of progress, for it is what narrows the gap between where we are and where we want to be. But we mustn’t mistake aimless action for progress, for as Alfred A. Montapertwrote, “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.”
Some people con themselves into believing life just happens. They say, “Life happens. Stuff happens. Things happen.” In other words, “I can’t help what happens to me, it just happens.” That type of thinking makes us powerless victims. But the wise person says, “It is not life, stuff, or things that happen; it is consequences that happen. That is, it is the results of the choices I make that happen.” This realization makes us powerful, for if we don’t like what is happening to us, all we have to do is change what we choose to do.
Others prefer to make excuses instead of plans. But when we accept responsibility for our actions, we empower ourselves, and when we deny our shortcomings and rationalize our poor behaviour, we condemn ourselves to mediocrity or failure. For as Shirley Chisholm wrote, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
13. Failing to Learn from the Mistakes of Others. Heed this sage advice: “From the errors of others a wise man corrects his own.” (Publilius Syrus). And Samuel Levenson put it this way, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”
If we’re bright, we learn from our mistakes. But if we’re brighter, we learn from the mistakes of others.
14. Avoiding Problems. Problems aren’t the problem, but avoiding them is. Why don’t we already have the degree of success we want? Because there are problems, obstacles, and hurdles blocking the way. Isn’t it obvious we have to solve the problems before we can succeed?
15. Lack of Resilience. The path to success is not smooth. There are bumps in the road. We are bound to stumble, trip, and, perhaps, fall. Successful men and women are resilient. They know how to get up after each fall and how to maintain a positive attitude, regardless of the difficulty. If you could use more help in developing resiliency, I heartily recommend this book:
THE RESILIENCE FACTOR, 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte.
16. Making Poor Choices. For instance, students partying instead of studying, young working men purchasing expensive sports cars instead of saving for the future, and families spending more than they earn and going heavily into debt. Wrong choices weaken our stance and make us ill-equipped to handle future emergencies.
17. Chasing after what We Want rather than what We Need. For example, satisfying our craving for sweets instead of our need for nutritious food is self-defeating and will sabotage our plans for good health.
18. Listening to our Inner Child instead of our Inner Adult. We constantly hear two voices within us. One suggests how we can improve our lives. This is the voice of our True Self, Inner Adult, or Inner Wisdom. Unfortunately, the inspiring words of our Inner Adult are often drowned out by our Inner Child, which is the stored memory of our childhood. Our Inner Child is a Fraidy Cat or scaredy-cat. It is afraid to try anything new or to step out of its comfort zone. When you act without thinking, you usually turn over control of your life to your Inner Child. To succeed in life, we need to listen to our Inner Adult and act courageously.
We usually just automatically respond to whatever happens to us at the moment. And when we act automatically, we just continue doing what we have always been doing, which is the definition of not making progress. The solution is to stay alert, vigilant, and think before we act. Before acting, ask yourself if what you are about to do will improve your life, keep it the same, or make it worse.
19. Failing to Realize the Value of Mistakes. Although we want to avoid mistakes that will hold us back, don’t lose sight of the value and importance of the blunders we are likely to make. Here are two examples.
Tom asked Mary to marry him and she refused. After getting over his disappointment, Tom is forced to look for a new girlfriend, meets someone better than Mary; they get married and live happily ever after.
Harry is our second example. He got angry at the workplace, was fired, and couldn’t find another job. To survive, he was forced to go into business for himself. As the months passed by, Harry grew increasingly successful, and today he has 25 people working for him.
These two examples explain why author Margueritte Harmon Bro said, “Sometimes what you want to do has to fail so you won’t.” Similarly, Henry Ford said, “Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”
20. Not Paying Attention to Our Thoughts and Words. We program computers by typing program code, but humans program themselves with the words they think or speak. Think or talk about victory and you become victorious. Incessantly and morbidly think and talk about failure and your words will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, dragging you down to ruin. Watch what you say to yourself and others!
21. Rashness. Don’t say or do anything before you think about it. The sting of hurtful words still remains after an apology. Resist acting on preconceptions, opinions, or unverified beliefs. Be thoughtful rather than impulsive, and if you want to have a safe landing, don’t jump to conclusions.
22. Forgetting We Die. Of course, we don’t really forget we will die; we just suppress it. But if we were to remain aware of the frailty and brevity of life, we would behave differently. For example, in your dealings with others, how can you become angry, hold a grudge, or seek revenge knowing that they are on their deathbed? Have you no compassion? How can you procrastinate knowing that life is a candle flame about to be snuffed out by the wind? Would you rather live like a coward, suppressing thoughts of death, or face it and live courageously? If you are served delicious ice cream, don’t you want to enjoy it before it melts? So, too, does death remind us to cherish life while we have it and to enjoy its magnificence before it ‘melts.’
23. Forgetting Everything Changes. Why do we forget life is synonymous with change? It is helpful to keep this fact in mind. For when we find ourselves caught up in unpleasant circumstances, remembering that “this too will pass” will give us the courage to move on. And when we are happy with our present state of affairs, remembering it may all change for the worse makes us prudent, alerting us to prepare for the unexpected.
24. Judging Others. We all make mistakes, but did you notice the difference between the mistakes you make and those that others make? You see, when we make a mistake, we usually consider it an ‘unavoidable’ or ‘honest’ mistake, but when someone else does the same thing, we tend to think it is an ‘inexcusable’ or ‘stupid’ mistake. Isn’t that odd?
When we call someone’s mistake ‘stupid,’ we are judging them. That is, we are applying a label to them. And labels obscure and conceal reality. They make us blind to the goodness of others. They are also emotional, directing our attention away from rational thought. For example, take a look at these three sentences: He is an enthusiast. He is a zealot. He is a fanatic. Although the first sentence may be positive, the other two, especially the last, are tinged with emotions and may evoke suspicion, fear, and anger.
25. Not Realizing You Are Here to Serve Life. It’s not the other way round! Life is simply the Inexpressible expressing Itself. We are notes in the Symphony of Life. We are here to experience, enjoy, and add to it. Expecting the world to conform to us rather than us adapting to the world only leads to frustration, resistance, and unhappiness.
Synopsis of what We Need to Know about Mistakes
Mistakes are the experience we need to become skillful
Mistakes aren’t harmful until we refuse to correct them
We can hide our mistakes, but can’t escape from their consequences
If you don’t correct your mistake, you’re making another one
Mistakes are the gateway to discovery
If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough chances
You’ll never make a mistake if you always do your best
The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future (Tryon Edwards)
Life would be dull without them (Oscar Wilde)
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes.
I’ll give the last word to William George Jordan:
“Mistakes are the inevitable accompaniment of the greatest gift given to man, − individual freedom of action. Let us be glad of the dignity of our privilege to make mistakes, glad of the wisdom that enables us to recognize them, glad of the power that permits us to turn their light as a glowing illumination along the pathway of our future. Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom. Without them there would be no individual growth, no progress, no conquest.”
WHAT GOT YOU HERE WON’T GET YOU THERE: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter
MISTAKES WERE MADE (BUT NOT BY ME): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.