Practical tips to overcome the fear of making mistakes at work

Just the other day, I had to send an important email at work which contained some critical sales numbers and analysis.

Before sending it out, I got into a mild state of anxiety, wondering if I had gotten everything just right.

Had I made an error in the numbers? Had I left room for misinterpretation?

It was as if I was on a grand stage, under an unblinking spotlight, with every single word of my email being critically examined.

Intellectually, I understand that’s not how it is. But try telling that to a panicked brain.

Over time, I have learnt that this sense of apprehension around work is fairly common, but there are ways to work around it. So you may still feel the anxiety rising, but you can handle it like a pro. 

That’s what I did as I hit the send button and moved on to other tasks that needed my attention.

Understanding the root cause: Why do we fear mistakes?

Our anxiety about making mistakes at work doesn’t simply spring out of nowhere.

Like a towering tree held firm by its extensive underground root system, our fears also have deep roots hidden within us.

The desire for perfection

The fear of not being “perfect” can lead us to worry excessively about any perceived flaw or misstep, creating a continuous cycle of anxiety. 

This desire is typically rooted in a deep-seated belief that our worth is tied to our performance, and any mistake is viewed as a direct reflection of our abilities and self-worth.

The fear of judgment

This fear comes from a deep-rooted concern about what others think of us, leading to a constant pursuit of approval and validation from our colleagues. 

Every mistake then feels like a public declaration of our inadequacies, further perpetuating a cycle of anxiety and apprehension.

The misconception of mistakes as failures

Equating making mistakes with personal failure stems from a fixed mindset that views our abilities as static, rather than something that can be developed through learning and experience. 

When we internalize mistakes as failures, we cultivate a fear of making errors which in turn breeds anxiety.

How the fear of mistakes affects our work and well-being

The fear of mistakes, if left unchecked, can spiral into a colossal mountain of anxiety that leads to the following outcomes.

Performance paralysis

We become so worried about getting everything perfect that we’re unable to move forward with our tasks, negatively affecting productivity and progress at work.

Impaired creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation are born from the freedom to explore, experiment, and even make mistakes. But when we’re wrapped up in the fear of getting things wrong, we become less likely to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.

Impact on mental health

Over time, the chronic stress and anxiety resulting from the fear of making mistakes can take a toll on our mental health. It can lead to issues like sleep disorders, mood swings, and even serious conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.

A new perspective: Mistakes are opportunities

In the ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi, broken pottery pieces are mended together with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold. It’s a beautiful celebration of imperfections, acknowledging that fractures are a part of the object’s history rather than something to be hidden away.

Instead of viewing mistakes as dreaded errors, learn to see them as golden opportunities for learning and growth. Remember these lessons the next time you find yourself anxious about a mistake at work.


A mistake can be an influential teacher

Every mistake is a learning opportunity. When we stumble, we gain invaluable insights that textbooks and tutorials can’t offer.

Mistakes foster resilience

When we make mistakes, we are given the opportunity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again. This process strengthens our resilience, making us more equipped to face future hurdles.

Mistakes help innovate

Some of the world’s greatest inventions were the result of mistakes. Take penicillin or the microwave, for instance. Mistakes often lead us down unexpected paths, sparking creativity and leading to innovation.

Recognizing the potential that mistakes hold is an integral step in transforming our fear into an appreciation for these unexpected opportunities. 

Let’s carry this perspective forward as we discuss some practical strategies to manage our anxiety about making mistakes at work.

Strategies to overcome anxiety about making mistakes at work

With our newfound perspective on mistakes as opportunities, let’s now delve into some practical strategies to reduce the anxiety about making errors at work.

Shift from perfectionism to progressivism

Instead of striving for perfection, aim for progress. Celebrate the small victories and improvements. This shift in mindset can help reduce the pressure and anxiety related to making mistakes.

Cultivate a growth mindset

A growth mindset – believing that your abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work – can help in viewing mistakes as a natural part of growth and learning process. This outlook can greatly reduce the anxiety associated with making errors.

Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques

Practicing mindfulness techniques, like meditation or yoga, can help manage stress and anxiety levels. Taking a few minutes each day to breathe and center yourself can make a significant difference in how you handle mistakes and the stress that comes with them.

Practice self-compassion

No matter how much we try, sometimes we do end up making mistakes. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and it’s a part of being human. Be kind to yourself and treat failures as opportunities to learn rather than something to be overly critical about.

Seeking professional help when needed

There’s no shame in seeking help. If your anxiety about making mistakes at work is overwhelming and affecting your quality of life, it might be beneficial to seek the assistance of a mental health professional.

Each of these strategies offers a different approach to handling mistakes and the anxiety they can induce. Try implementing these steps and see what works best for you. Remember, the goal is progress, not perfection.

If you’re seeking a comprehensive approach to tackle chronic mild to moderate anxiety, consider enrolling in our program, Freedom From Anxiety & Stress. It’s an online, self-paced course, based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), designed to provide you with effective strategies and tools for handling various anxiety-inducing situations and leading a more relaxed, anxiety-free life.


Practical exercise: Steps to implement what we’ve learned

Talk doesn’t cook rice or in other words, action is what truly drives change. 

Now that we’ve explored the idea of reframing mistakes and mitigating work-related anxiety, it’s time to put these concepts into practice. 

Here’s a simple exercise you can do:

Identify a recent mistake: Reflect on a recent mistake you made at work. Try to approach it without self-judgment.

Analyze the mistake: What led to the error? What could have been done differently? What did you learn from it?

Plan for future action: How will you apply the lessons learned from this mistake in the future? How will this experience influence your approach to similar tasks or decisions?

Practice self-compassion: Remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes. Write down a few self-compassionate statements and repeat them to yourself.

Celebrate your learning: Recognize that by analyzing your mistake and learning from it, you’ve grown. Give yourself credit for this growth.

Remember, it’s not about perfection but progress. So, take small steps and embrace the journey of growth and learning. Let’s learn to cook the rice, one grain at a time.


This article was written by Nisha Salim.


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