The 10 Most Common Mistakes in Life (and How to Fix Them)

Are you guilty of making these mistakes?

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Common Mistakes in Life

“The only person who never makes mistakes is the person who never does anything.”

You’ve heard sayings like this before, and although you know there is truth in them, miscalculations, errors and blunders are still not easy to deal with.

However, as conventional wisdom tells us, mistakes are a part of life, and viewing them as opportunities to learn rather than a reflection of our worth is perhaps the healthiest thing we can do.

So, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes people make in their lifetime and talk about how they can best be navigated.

1. Staying in our comfort zone

“Better the devil you know”, goes the saying. What’s familiar is often what feels safe, even when, in reality, standing still often harms our growth.

Stopping ourselves from trying things in case we’re not instantly “good enough” at them is the best way to ensure we’ll never be good enough at them. You can’t go anywhere unless you take the first step, right?

Though leaving your comfort zone requires pushing through fear, remembering what awaits on the other side can make that discomfort easier to deal with.

2. Not setting enough goals

Dreaming of a different life is easy — or, at least, easier than coming up with a plan to turn things around and sticking to it.

A lot of the time, doubt and pessimism can cause us to think things like “What’s even the point?” or “I probably won’t make it, anyway”. But wandering through life without something to work towards can negatively impact our mental health, as we deprive ourselves of the sense of reward that comes from achieving goals.

Plus, the process of working towards goals can be beneficial in itself. For example, if you set the goal of walking 5,000 steps every day but you only manage to do it 3 times a week, that’s still 3 days a week of being more active than before.

3. Avoiding the truth

Sometimes, believing what we want to believe, and not what’s actually true, is convenient. It’s easy to lie to ourselves and others, claiming we’re happy in our relationships, careers and within ourselves. But, like a pebble stuck in a shoe, the truth can be ignored for so long.

Facing the truth means knowing (or admitting) who you are. It’s the first step to breaking away from situations that you’ve outgrown or were never happy to be in.

Working on your confidence — reminding yourself that you can instigate and survive changes, no matter how difficult — can help you become more authentic.

4. Neglecting ourselves

It’s often easier to be kind to and patient with our loved ones than it is with ourselves. If a friend is struggling, we’re there to comfort them and offer solutions to fix the problem. But when we struggle, our internal, critical monologue sees no end.

The same goes for physical needs; you wouldn’t starve your dog or convince your little niece she doesn’t need any sleep, but when it comes to treating your own body with respect, you may suddenly forget the basics.

If you have the tendency to do this, you may want to start by asking yourself why you don’t think you deserve to be treated better (by your own self, that is).

5. Focusing on the negative

Some days, even minor inconveniences can send us on a downward spiral. And although knowing that other people have it worse doesn’t make our own situation easier, keeping things into perspective matters.

As Hannah S Packiam, MD puts it: “Not only can negative thinking adversely affect our mental health, but it can also affect our physical health. […] Although negative thoughts can make us feel powerless, we actually have the power to fight back against them and challenge the way we think.”

6. Thinking things will last forever

This applies to good and bad things. When going through something difficult, it’s easy to lose sight of everything that’s great about this world, and trap ourselves in negative thoughts. When things are going great, on the other hand, it’s easy to forget to be grateful while it lasts, assuming it will carry on that way. Except life hardly ever works like that.

Things change and evolve, and while that can be scary, it’s this very impermanence in life that moves us along, allowing us to grow.

7. Going against our own grain

Another thing that’s not sustainable: pretending to be something we aren’t, making choices that go against our values, following the crowd even when we know it’s not right.

Of course, it takes courage to overcome this tendency, as honoring what feels right for you might not sit well with those around you. You risk being challenged or rejected, which can cause your sense of self-worth to falter.

It’s never too late to start choosing yourself, however — in small ways to begin with. Think of something inconsequential you’ve always wanted to do, such as leaving the house with two socks that don’t match, and see what happens.

In other words, allow yourself to experience disapproval in small doses, as that’s great exposure!

8. Not making enough time for loved ones

I recently came across a drawing on the internet: a minimal sketch of a tombstone bearing the words “Worked really hard”. Above it was the caption “Work really hard and this could be you”.

Macabre? Maybe — although I found it more amusing than disturbing, because of how simply it conveyed its message.

The fact is that life is expensive and requires hard work. But making no time for our closest relationships also comes at a big cost: without them, our happiness and wellbeing suffer.

9. Seeking approval from others

This tendency can show itself in different ways. Working a job you don’t like, for example, because you think it pleases your family. Or going out drinking every weekend because you think that that’s how you keep your friends.

However, the more you prioritize what others expect from you, the more you turn your back on your own needs and identity.

All of us want to feel accepted and supported by the people who matter to us — but when those people are a good match for us, we don’t have to sacrifice parts of ourselves to fit in with them.

10. Closing our mind to new ideas

You’ve probably met people who act like they know everything. They’re not very pleasant to be around, right?

Unfortunately, most of us can be that way sometimes! Although it’s perfectly fine to have some non-negotiables (for example, being unwilling to debate whether everyone is entitled to human rights), closing yourself off to different opinions can cause you to only experience the world from a limited perspective.

If you’re guilty of rushing to defend yourself and your opinions, consider where this tendency comes from. Do different opinions (validly) make you feel threatened?

Key takeaways

A study led by sociologist and gerontologist Karl Pillemer has shown that among older adults’ biggest regrets are not taking enough chances, not being honest enough and worrying too much. Though sad to think about, this shows how universal some needs are — and how common it is to make ill-informed decisions.

As we’ve seen:

  • Life is not so much about reaching perfection as it is about keeping an open mind and learning from our experiences — particularly the tough ones.
  • The importance of some things, such as living authentically or prioritizing our close relationships, often becomes strikingly clear later in life.
  • Forming habits when we’re young, such as setting goals and speaking our minds even when our opinions might not be embraced, can lead to fewer regrets.

Can you think of any other common mistakes people make and how to avoid them — or learn from them? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Originally published on August 25, 2015.