Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Be OK With Making Mistakes

Mistakes lead to panic. Here are steps to increase your comfort with mistakes.

Source: stocksnap

If I had to title last week, it would be called “tornado of typos.”

Almost every piece of writing I sent out last week had typos in it.

I have an amazing editor who looks at my work (shout out to my sis) and I re-read my work many times over, but still, there were so many typos.

My first reaction was to feel shame about the mistakes.

Then I felt fear that everyone would stop reading my words because I had made a mistake.

But really the most painful thought was from somewhere in the back of my heart and head that said, “I told you that you should not have tried to be so visible.”


That really stung.

When I noticed that thought, I felt so sad.

How did I go so quickly from “I made a mistake with my keyboard” to “I am worthless?"

It happened in an instant.

I am so grateful I caught that jump, but man, was it intense.

I bet you have had a similar experience where you try something new and when you naturally hit a bump you think it was a mistake to even try?

What a brutal way of being.

But, we all do it.

It is so hard to step out and do something new and challenging.

Our nervous systems are coded for safety and like predictability and familiarity. When we step into unfamiliar territory, our nervous system is on high alert.

It scans for any form of danger or threat.

When danger is detected, it tells you, “Step slowly away from that hot stove and never again touch it when the light is on.”

While this is a helpful and smart system to avoid danger, it also keeps us from taking chances and persevering.

When I realized all the typos I had made, my body said, “Too much danger, abort the mission.”

I had to use my thinking brain to say to my nervous system, “You know what? The typo tornado did not kill me and actually is not a threat to my survival, so I am going to stay in the new space of writing a bit longer and see how it goes.”

So, the next time you find yourself wanting to give up on something new, try these steps:

  • Look around and ask yourself if your mistake put your safety at risk.
  • Feel the feelings that are coming up and label them as the nervous system’s adaptive response.
  • Remind yourself that you are safe in this moment and can keep going with your task for one more day.
  • On that next day, check in with how you are feeling about your mistake and see if you can agree to try for one more day.

By acknowledging that your desire to stop what you are doing and shame yourself is your nervous system’s natural reaction, you give yourself room to decide how you want to respond.

I am grateful I did not listen to my nervous system’s warning to stop all my writing because otherwise, I would not have been able to teach this important lesson.

What task did you give up on that you would like to try again?

More from Elizabeth Cohen Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today