Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

3 Common Mental Mistakes Even Smart People Make

Enhance your relationships, self-esteem, and your mind with these solutions.

One of the most common psychological errors people make is not saying “yes” enough to promote intimacy in important relationships. Indeed, one of the best ways to increase closeness and positive feelings in intimate relationships is by saying "yes” as much as possible.

It's amazing to me how many people do not have their default setting on "yes" when asked to do something for their loved ones. Instead, they often hedge by saying "maybe," "we'll see," "I'm not sure," or some other noncommittal response.

When a loved one asks you to grant a favor or agree to a simple request, unless you have a very good reason to say "no," the only sensible response is to say "yes," "sure," "no problem," or some other affirmative. Of course, if you're asked to do something unreasonable, or clearly inappropriate, you can always decline despite having already said "yes."

But too much of a good thing can be bad if someone often says “yes” when they’d really like to say “no,” and have a good reason for doing so.

Thus, not saying “no” enough or failing to be assertive is another common mistake people make. That is, being too much of a people pleaser out of guilt or fear. Guilt if others become upset when they hear “no,” or fear they will withdraw or withhold their love if they don’t get what they want.

When people get in touch with the fact that it’s really okay to take care of themselves and not feel it’s their job to manage other people’s emotions (unless they are one’s young children), they can be tactfully assertive without needless guilt. If someone gets nasty or withdraws love because of not getting a “yes,” it suggests he or she has some significant personal problems, or the relationship was tenuous in the first place. As I often tell people in therapy, “I’m not sure what the universal formula for happiness is, but a sure-fire recipe for misery is to try to please or be liked by everyone.”

Staying in one’s comfort zone and thus not recruiting important “mental muscles” is also a common mistake many people make.

People have a natural tendency to maintain familiar behavioral patterns and habits. Basically, this is always taking the path of least resistance because these well-worn routines are as easy as they are comfortable. But just as skeletal muscles have to push or pull against resistance to get stronger, the brain’s "muscles" (i.e., certain structures and neural pathways) must encounter resistance to benefit, too. Keep in mind it is often said that the path of least resistance usually goes someplace you don't want to be. Therefore, try to challenge yourself with mildly stressful activities — deliberate excursions beyond your comfort zone — on a regular basis. So, drive in the left lane instead of keeping to right; do a harder crossword puzzle than usual; start a conversation instead of keeping to yourself; assert yourself rather than saying nothing when someone bothers or upsets you, etc.

Related to this is the importance of doing things differently and doing different things. This helps keep our minds flexible and nimble rather than rigid and narrow. Because just as we need to stretch our muscles and move our bodies to maintain our physical range of motion, our minds also benefit from “movement” which helps us keep our mental ROM.

So, do something differently often. That is, introduce some change into familiar routines. For example, if you're in the habit of sitting in the same place while watching TV, sit in a different place once in a while. If you always hold your coffee cup with your dominant hand, have a cup while using your other hand. By mixing it up like this you again recruit pathways in the brain that are not as active as the ones used by the default behavior thus providing a flexibility stimulus for your mind.

And do different things. Instead of doing the "same old, same old" do something different for a change. For instance, have some tea instead of coffee; wear different clothes than usual; hit the stationary bike instead of the elliptical at the gym; order some different dishes when you get takeout; etc. This, too, activates and stimulates the brain in novel ways which helps keep the mind and psyche balanced and nimble.

By correcting these common mental mistakes, you will likely enhance your relationships, improve your self-esteem, and help your mind retain its maximum flexibility.

Remember: Think well, Act Well, Feel Well, Be well!

Dear Reader: The advertisements contained in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me. — Clifford

Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.