Overcome the Fear of ‘Wrong’ to Grow and Evolve
Recently I was telling a lovely friend about the time I met Oprah and I was reminded of a few things. Woahh…back up, did I just say that? Sorry to name-drop so casually, but yes, it’s true, I have met Oprah (if you’d like to know the full story, call in for a cup of tea some time). One of the things I remember about Oprah (now we’re both just too busy to catch up so regularly) was the aura of complete peace that surrounded her. I remember thinking ‘blimey, this woman has done some work on herself.’ She carried herself with an ‘ease’ that I believe stemmed from a sense of being in full acceptance of herself. While I was standing behind her (drinking in the serenity of her bouffant hair) she happened to make an obvious error in judgement. A mistake! What did she do? Well, she let out a huge belly laugh at herself. It was at that moment that I almost put my hand to my heart as I excitedly thought ‘she’s just like me!!’ Oprah makes dumb mistakes and laughs at her dumbness!
I tend to enjoy having a laugh at myself and I do enjoy that wonderful Piscean trait of seeing the ‘cosmic joke’ that the Universe plays on all of us as we earnestly do our best in the game of life. But am I always laughing? (I have actually had clients ask me this!) The truth is that I do spend a lot of inner time devoted to self-criticism. I habitually berate myself for my mistakes, errors and wrong-doings. I have found that breaking the habit of self-criticism is difficult and I am really bad at it (Oops! there I go again). That’s why I decided to try a new approach. Instead of ‘beating myself up’ for ‘beating myself up’ (insert eye-rolling emoticon here) I decided to simply take note of the times when I can ‘let myself off the hook’ and enjoy a good belly laugh at my errant ways and those times when I decide to ‘beat myself up.’
The criteria for the ‘off the hook’ category (belly laugh errors) appear to be first-time offences and petty crimes. If I have made a mistake due to my innocent ignorance when trying something new - ‘Oh! That macramé knot looks like a noose instead of a square knot’ – then I definitely don’t decide to hang myself with it, I have a laugh at such first-time shenanigans, reboot the You-Tube clip and start again. If it’s a petty crime - ‘Oops, I’ve mistaken that cucumber for a zucchini’ – I will definitely have a laugh as I pull the soggy cucumber out of the vegetable steamer and get on with my lunch (minus zucchini).
However, the criteria for the ‘beat myself up’ category is another soggy cucumber altogether. That basket is chock-full of old chestnuts. There are the errors that trigger the chestnuts ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I am not good enough’, then there are the mistakes that trigger the ‘I am bad’ or ‘I am a terrible person’ beratements and then there is the overarching mother of all chestnuts that can be used for relentless self-punishment…the ‘I should have known better’ chestnut. What a big fucking chestnut that is. Just when you might be on the brink of being able to laugh off a mistake, the ‘should know better’ chestnut chimes up to remind you that you have made this mistake before. In fact, you have made it over…and…over…again. And THIS is the definitive evidence that you, my friend, are a COMPLETE LOSER. The fact that you have failed to ‘learn from your mistakes’ and have still, despite ‘knowing better,’ repeated your idiocy, is well, idiocy.
What I also noticed from this exercise is the innate resistance I have (and believe we all have) to being ‘wrong’ or ‘doing the wrong thing’ and a reflexive reluctance to being corrected. For years, I have noticed the madness of popular teaching approaches that prefer the ‘good try’ over ‘wrong’ approach to learning. ‘Johnny, 2 + 2 = 7? Oh, GOOD TRY’. While this seems so gentle, nurturing and encouraging at the time, do you really want little Johnny to be the accountant doing your taxes in 20 years’ time? I think not. Hang on, let me turn down the heat on that pot of steaming cucumber so we can explore this further.
I cannot tell you how many sessions I have done with clients on the whole ‘fear of being wrong’ chestnut. And what have I learned? That the fear of being or getting it wrong actually blocks inspiration, stifles intuition, stymies creativity, prevents growth, kills curiosity, exploration and experimentation, and of course, completely destroys the ease of decision-making. This fear of wrong is just simply wrong!
How did we get so scared of being wrong? And why are we so bad at simply correcting ourselves and moving on with life when we do get it wrong? Two words people. Guilt and shame. And this brings us back to the two categories. In the ‘off the hook’ category lie those mistakes that you don’t feel too guilty or ashamed about – first timer errors (new to macramé) and low-impact mistakes (no zucchini for lunch). In the ‘beat myself up’ category lie those mistakes where things really went pear-shaped because your choices, actions or words seemingly caused pain and suffering for yourself or others. In those cases, the guilt or shame played a valuable role in helping you to find your moral compass at the time. In other words, these emotions helped you to learn your lesson and ‘correct’ your behaviour. Yet you may have never properly processed these emotions nor learned to separate out the behaviour or action from your true and perfect Self.
This leaves you in a position of not trusting your natural innate goodness to guide your behaviour but instead relying on a fear of being wrong and experiencing guilt and shame to drive your decision-making. It’s therefore not surprising that you may spend so much time hiding in procrastination and perfectionism or running away from ‘WRONG’. It also means that you may have become all too aware (and scared) of correcting others (particularly children) for fear of guilting and shaming them. You don’t want little Johnny to feel like a complete fuck-up for getting an answer wrong, so when something is wrong, instead of being guided by your highest good (and the laws of mathematics) you are instead driven by sympathy and a reluctance to inflict the shame of ‘wrong’ on someone else. Instead of associating ‘wrong’ with ‘learning’ you’re associating it with ‘failure.’
Being wrong is an integral and necessary part of learning, growth and evolution. It plays an important role in finding yourself, living your truth and reaching your potential. You absolutely need to be wrong and to ‘correct’ your wrongs without fear, shame and guilt if you are to evolve. The true definition of ‘karma’ is ‘habit’ and it is the opposite of growth and evolution. Karma is being ‘stuck in a loop’ of making the same choices over and over again (based on your past programming) with little change in the result. You cannot break with your karma and evolve without correcting your wrongs.
In most sessions I find myself helping clients to ‘get back on track’ or to ‘find their path’ or to ‘connect with their truth’ and all of this requires a ‘course correction’. All healing occurs through:
The awareness of an error - ‘Shit! I’m off course!’
The willingness to learn from it - ‘How the hell did I end up here?’
The act of compassion for self – ‘I can understand what happened and I forgive it’
The inspiration for a new choice - ‘A -Ha! I am free and empowered to choose differently’
None of this can happen if you’re investing a great deal of energy into avoiding blame, shame and guilt, and it certainly can’t happen if you’re too scared to correct yourself. Naturally, it is uncomfortable to admit that you’ve done the wrong thing, but it will be a lot more uncomfortable if you continue to repeat your mistakes, remain stuck in a karmic loop and move further ‘off course.’ Yet, even this very logical reasoning may not prevent you from ‘fessing’ up to a wrong.
I am quite sure that most of my clients assume that I bang on about self-love and self-compassion just for the fun of it (and to see them squirm). But the truth is, I am being very practical. I have learned that you are never going to ‘fess up’ to your so-called failings if self-punishment awaits. And you’re certainly never going to get an aura of self-acceptance like Oprah’s. I propose that you learn the art of making a ‘compassionate correction’. Which basically means learning the humble ability to deal with your fuck-ups without always feeling like a total fuck-up.
Let’s have a look at what’s involved:
STEP 1: Put this Shit into Perspective
The compassionate correction begins with taking a ‘big picture’ or ‘evolutionary view’ of your mistakes. In other words – let’s put this shit into perspective. You have been here many lifetimes and this little ‘habit’ you’ve got may have been in operation for a few centuries. It may also involve some pretty deep and irrational fears based on some pretty ‘wild’ past circumstances (oh you know, torture, death and stuff) so now is the time to make a vow to stop beating yourself up for this ‘wrong’.
STEP 2: Accept You Don’t Have A Bloody Clue
Next, it’s time to trust the process of growth. In other words – let’s accept that perhaps you don’t have a bloody clue about anything. Your intellect cannot grasp the entirety of the problem nor see all the possible solutions. Stop making intellectual assumptions about your problem (and why you still have it) and be open to listening, what is your problem really prompting you to do? Trust that your problems are always leading you towards an opportunity to break free from a karmic pattern by making choices that promote learning, growth, expansion, freedom and evolution.
STEP 3: Apply the Feminine Care Factor – Forgive the Error
Apply the feminine principles of empathy, care and gentleness to forgiving the error. Think about the compassion a mother has in understanding a child’s pain. Use whatever means you can to get to a state of accepting and allowing the ‘mistake’ instead of judging it. In this stage you can say to yourself ‘I may or may not understand why you made that choice, but I no longer judge you for it.’
STEP 4: Apply the Masculine Power Play – Action the Correction
Unite your feminine empathy with a bit of masculine tough love. Apply the masculine principles of confidence, determination and firmness to actioning the correction. Call upon every ounce of courage you have affirm that you can and will change. In this stage you can say to yourself ‘I want to stop doing this and I have the power and capability within me to choose differently’ (or ‘For God’s sake, check closely if that it is a cucumber!’).
STEP 5: Check that You’re on Course
Ultimately a compassionate correction should feel freeing and loving. Remember that your erroneous behaviours have arisen from your karma and programming – they do not reflect your true nature. If you have blown up at your kids, sworn at a telemarketer or lied to your boss then remember that these ‘errors’ are not the totality of who you are. Do you really need to put yourself through the wringer of shame over it? If you do find yourself feeling guilty, then ask yourself, honestly, with love and understanding: will this guilt take me closer to or further away from being my true Self? Will it contribute to my freedom, growth and evolution as a loving human being? Can I simply decide to course correct?
Compassionate corrections will continue to help bring you into alignment with your true Self. You can continue beating yourself up and stay in fear of being wrong or you can grow. The choice is yours. But all ‘I know for sure’ (thanks Oprah) is that it feels ‘wrong’ to deny my true nature and my birthright to grow and evolve into the best version of myself.