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Overcoming Fear of Making Mistakes

Examining the flip side of FOMO: FOMM, the fear of making mistakes.

Key points

  • The flip side of fear of missing out is the fear of making mistakes (FOMM), which is an inhibitory drive that causes people to give up or not engage in a behavior.
  • Perfectionism often drives FOMM and it can make people intolerant of fallibility in themselves and in loved ones.
  • FOMM can stop people from living their fullest lives because people learn and grow by making mistakes.
  • Some people may not even be aware of the FOMM that guides their lives, but understanding it can help them conquer it.

Perhaps you’ve heard about FOMO (the fear of missing out), which can be described as an excitatory impulse that drives a person’s behavior to attain experiences they fear they are missing out on (or not being invited to). Sometimes these drives to sate one’s FOMO are positive and life-enhancing while other times, an overactive FOMO can be indicative of impulsivity, addiction, and avoidance. It might need to be examined if it is causing harm to oneself, relationships, and/or responsibilities.

Another fear that could be considered the flip side of the FOMO coin is the fear of making mistakes (or FOMM). This fear is an inhibitory drive fueled by unattainable perfectionistic standards that result in the person giving up and not engaging in a behavior (like a job promotion, relationship, or learning something new). There are several thought processes that feed FOMM on a conscious and subconscious level. This post will dismantle some of these thought distortions (or lies) so that you can move forward with bravery and new thought processes that will help support you in achieving your goals.

An Example of FOMM

Before I proceed, I want to emphasize the gravity of perfectionism and FOMM by sharing an experience I had as a young college student.

I was discussing my less than stellar grade on an economics exam with a fellow student who was arguably the smartest person in class, if not the entire school. I was feeling quite ashamed and berating myself with great severity. I was also crying because I feared my performance would risk my scholarship money that required high grades. My friend was compassionate and then shared something he said he never told anyone—he said he had made a B in a class and considered suicide. He described how his father had perfect standards for him and his siblings and that he would be disowned with a B in class and that he would have rather taken his life than experience his father’s wrath.

Suicide is not something to take lightly. Fortunately, for my friend, he worked through the illogic of his thought processes and concluded that the feeling of wanting to do irreparable harm to himself far outweighed any of the negative consequences from his father’s expectations. Moreover, he found acceptance with himself and learned to relax and feel free without the perfectionist monkey on his back that continually whipped him whenever he made a mistake.

Making Mistakes Leads to Learning and Compassion

Perfectionism often drives FOMM. The trouble with perfection is that it is unattainable and unrealistic. It also strips away the joy of experiencing the precious moment and can keep an emotional distance with others as one’s intolerance of their own human fallibility can extend to intolerance of loved one’s humanness, which is often one of the underlying reasons a person becomes highly critical of their partner and their children. Perfectionism breeds intolerance and unhappiness. Accepting that humans are fallible and that we all make mistakes opens the door to compassion, peace, gratitude, and happiness.

FOMM can also stop a person from learning and growing. Making mistakes means someone is learning. Mistakes are inevitable in life and learning to appreciate them enables enlightenment and growth. Think about some of the things you want to learn yet feel you can’t because you will make a mistake—is it learning a new language, dancing, running a marathon, going to school, mending a relationship, giving someone an apology, or going on a date? People cannot learn without making mistakes so don’t let FOMM stop you from living your fullest life.

FOMM can even guide you. It can act like an internal GPS when you tap into your feelings and find FOMM’s presence. Some people live in such a reactive state that they are unaware of the FOMM tapes that guide their lives. Once FOMM is confronted and understood, it can be easier to realize when the gravitational pull that’s telling you not to do something is actually a FOMM lie and not your intuition. Confront the lie that says to be safe and not enter dangerous territory where you might fail and then you can conquer it and feel even happier for doing so. This is part of resilience.

What about when other people judge your mistakes? Worrying about other people’s reactions has been woven throughout these FOMM issues. People are imperfect and they make mistakes too. Besides, most people are uncomfortable around “perfect” people. Don’t use another person’s possible judgement as an excuse for making or not making a mistake. And don’t keep a running tape of their criticisms in your head either. Drop the lies, be brave, and live your fullest life—mistakes and all.

If this hasn’t inspired you to tackle your FOMM, remember what Albert Einstein said about mistakes: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Or Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

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