The fear of making mistakes

I remember putting on paper a couple of years ago, in a writing exercise I had proposed for the children and myself, my greatest fears.  It was quite instructive—enlightening, clarifying to my conscious mind the fears that were working on me.  What I learned about myself that day was that I fear . . . making mistakes.

I don’t know how accurate the “Color Code” is–perhaps it’s more a measure of our preferences than our inherent personalities—but I took that personality test several years ago and was told (per the results) that I was almost equally red and blue: passionate/pro-active and associative/purposeful.   As I consider now the effect of these preferences on my mental and emotional health, I wonder if a lot of the depression I’ve felt over the years came as a result of believing:

1) that I could know the right/best things one should do, and

2) that I could actually do the right/best things that one should do, and

3) that I was accountable before God for my failure to do those things he expected me to do (or to master).

I tried to do everything right, but the very stress which such an effort produces made me ill-equipped for the difficult moments in life when things don’t go as planned or desired.  Despite my previous good intentions, my reaction during such difficulties was angry outbursts or neglectful inactivity.  After such “failures,” I allowed myself to be racked with guilt and self-loathing rather than relying on God’s understanding and compassion for imperfect me.  I could not get past my belief that my mistakes made me unworthy of God’s love, especially since I was definitely a repeat offender.

Ironically, fearing mistakes just primed me to make more.  Perhaps not major “sins,” but the mistakes that come of controlling others, overreacting, inflexibility, ingratitude, emotional isolation, and joyless deference to duty.

Fearing God’s displeasure over my mistakes did not make me a better person; it primed me for obsessiveness and depression.  Likewise detrimental was believing that my church alone knew God’s ultimate truth and will for mankind, which caused me to be judgmental and condescending toward those who failed to comply with our LDS standards/commandments.

My fear of mistake-making was paralyzing and problematic on many fronts.  I now believe that it was also unnecessary.

Mistakes are instructive!  God must know we are going to make mistakes and suffer some regret for our poor judgment—that is our lot in this package deal called mortal life.  But I believe he also gave us the capacity to learn from those mistakes, to change our minds, to try out new actions.  If he is an omniscient God, he knows perfectly well how and why it is that we make mistakes.

Trusting in God’s love and support allows us to pick ourselves up after failing to live up to our own expectations for ourselves.  Such trust keeps us from the debilitating choice of despairing.

I’m grateful that to some degree I have overcome my fear of making mistakes.  I trust in God’s mercy–and I’m learning to trust that life isn’t as high-risk as I once thought it was!  While acknowledging the seeming complexity of modern life, I choose to view it as a grand adventure–an unparalleled opportunity to examine and sample the possibilities.  Sorry Yoda, there is a “try”!

Life is so much more exciting and pleasant with the perspective that God has planned life to be a grand experiment, not a final exam. We’re here experimenting with life, doing what we can and learning as we go, God willing!  It’s all good.

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Changing my mood

Yesterday afternoon I started to feel irritated, for various reasons.  I began to micromanage my son as he did his assigned chore, demanding that he re-do it three times until I considered it “perfect.”  Already ornery, I walked upstairs and learned that my daughter had not begun her math assignment–which meant I soundly berated her for wasting her time.  Annoyed at the smaller children for having made a mess in the master bedroom, I refused to help when they asked for my assistance.  I could feel my anger growing and knew that this bad mood was threatening to suffocate the life out of my afternoon.

Thankfully, I did something about it!  Remembering the little I’ve read about cognitive behavioral processes, I decided to try to consciously alter my mood.  The strategy I chose for myself was: “Do something productive!” (Which perfectionist doesn’t love that?!).  I headed straight for my den, looking for a “project.”  I saw one waiting for me when I got there: a newspaper article I had been intending to scan and email to my family.  I set to work, accomplished my little feat, and was almost instantly in a better mood!  I apologized to my kids at dinner for having been such a jerk, and then gave them some personal time with me before bed.

Three cheers for mood management!

Thankfully, I get angry at my kids much less often than I used to.  I’ll post the story of  “why that is” soon.

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On dissuading others

The phenomenon of trying to dissuade someone from their current beliefs is a fascinating one. What inspires such behavior? For the LDS faithful, it is a heart-felt desire to share what they believe is the world’s most important message (the Restoration) so that others can come to enjoy the blessings of the gospel in their lives now and eternal relationships with their family members in the next. For those who have left the LDS faith, it is often a heart-felt desire to share what they’ve learned about the dubious foundations of the church so that members can come to enjoy the blessings of independent thought and spiritual exploration rather than fear-filled conformity to whatever the apostles and prophets teach (evidenced by members “putting on the shelf” any doubts/concerns which church dogmas or practices inspire). Many who have lost their testimonies of the church feel judged by devout members (“You’ve lost the Spirit”– “You’ve failed the test of faith”– “You wanted to sin”– “You’re listening to Satan”–etc.) and would do about anything to convince their family members that the church should be the one on trial, not the whistleblowers. “Live and let live” is one possible mantra for life. “Share what you learn” is another. Which philosophy you choose to follow is often determined by your level of “passion” for improving the world and promoting your definition/understanding of “truth.”  I, for one, am very passionate.
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