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By it’s okay to make mistakes, say counsellors SANGBARTA CHATTOPADHYAY AND NAMITA BHUTA
  • Published 29.06.14

Shantanu came with a fear of public speaking. We had a few sessions. A partial conversation with him in one early session went as following:

[Readers, please note that fear of public speaking can be due to various reasons. Our minds are unique and different from each other.]

Therapist: What exactly happens when you need to speak publicly?

Client: Oh my God! I can’t tell you doctor how miserable I feel. I feel hopeless and as I am talking to you I can visualise that I am standing in front of the board members and I am feeling panic.

T: Stay with this visual…. How do you know that it’s panic?

C: I can feel my heartbeat. There are butterflies in my stomach…. There is a sinking feeling in my heart. I’m visualising that my boss and my colleagues are looking at me…. And I am blanking out. A fear is engulfing me… it’s terrible.

T: Okay, stay with this fear…. Fear of?

C: That I am standing in front of them… I am feeling that they are judging me… I am feeling like a loser.

T: They are judging you for what?

C: That I’m wrong… my presentation is wrong.

T: Okay, and if it is wrong?

C: I can’t be wrong…. How can I be wrong? It will be the worst thing if I am wrong...

T: What if you are wrong? What does that mean?

C: It means that I am a loser. I am not good enough.

T: And you are always right?

C: No… but I try to be…

T: Yes, I know you try hard to be… but is it possible to be always right? Always? No matter what?

C: No. (After a brief silence) I guess not…

T: And if you try to be right and if you do everything to be right, is there still a possibility that people still might not agree you are right?

C: Yes… that is a possibility.

T: So if this is a possibility, how about trying to be okay with it?

C: Yes, I guess I can try that…. Strangely, I do not feel that anxious now. I feel more relaxed... I am sure I am going to be all right…. The fear of judgement is also lesser than before.

We all know how it is to feel not-so-confident: the nagging feeling of self-doubt which we detest so much. It stops us from being sure, hampers our performance and dampens our spirit. Sometimes we fight it by doing more, and pushing harder. And yet, at other times we succumb to it. This self-doubt reinforces our worst fear of ‘I am not good enough’. For example, if we want to write an absolutely perfect article and take it upon ourselves not to start unless we are sure about the content of each and every line, we’ll probably never end up writing a word.

Most of us believe and often demand of ourselves to be absolutely convinced about everything we do, that we must always make the ‘right’ decisions. In the process, sometimes, we neglect the initial signals that tell us when something is going wrong. And if something really does go wrong, then we immediately start questioning our self-worth, as if our worth depends on being right about everything every time.

When we doubt our decisions or what we know, we take it to heart and feel miserable like Shantanu. We feel awful because we are failing to ensure that we are ‘right’. We end up being extremely self-critical.

Instead, if we accept that we are just a ‘work in progress’ and acknowledge that we are capable of making mistakes, not only can we recognise where we are going ‘wrong’ at an early stage but also be more flexible to learn. We then have more freedom and openness to act, observe and grow. Here are three points to keep in mind...

1) Be prepared to be wrong: Acknowledge that it is not possible to know everything and sometimes you will be wrong. It’s okay to be wrong. Do not deny it, and do not try to prove you are right. There is nothing shameful about being wrong. Actually, it takes a great deal of courage and character to acknowledge that one is wrong.

2) Entertain that doubt: It’s okay to be in doubt about the end result. You don’t need to be absolutely sure about something to act on it. You can always learn in the process. Be sure to give your 100 per cent.

3) Learn from the ‘wrong’: Allow yourself to also gain wisdom from your ‘wrong’ choices. You will learn what’s ‘right’ for you along the way. Be ready to make mistakes. Think of it as taking a step, rather than taking none at all.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches

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