15 Life Mistakes You Don't Want to Make (and How to Fix Them if You Do)

Light steps

One of the benefits of watching the years go past in your life is the ability to look back and see where you screwed up.

If you look back often enough, with a discerning eye and an open heart, you can often self-correct along the way. Or at the very least, you can learn from your screw-ups and become a bit wiser and stronger in other areas of your life.

You probably know from your own life experiences that mistakes are painful but very useful ways of learning. However, there are some life mistakes, that if avoided in the first place, will save you a whole load of heartache and misdirection.

These are the mistakes that stem from a lack of knowledge, infrequent self-reflection, or little solid emotional guidance as you grow and enter adulthood. These are the mistakes that can stick with you for a lifetime if someone or something doesn’t gently (or often abruptly) help you self-correct.

Although I’m sharing these mistakes with you, and some ideas on how to fix them, I haven’t been immune from them. In fact, I’ve made every single one of these mistakes, and I can proudly claim that now in mid-life I am beginning to make a dent in a few of them!

So here they are — 15 life mistakes you don’t want to make:

Mistake #1: Losing Sight of What Makes You Happy

Remember when you were a kid, and pure, unadulterated joy was part of most every day? We didn’t have to ask ourselves, “What makes me happy?” We just knew and made it our mission to do those happy things. But adulthood and responsibilities take us farther and farther away from the pure happiness of our youth. We get so caught up in the work of life that we lose touch with the joy of living.

The Fix: 

Go shut yourself in a clutter-free, distraction-free room with a pen and paper. Think about all of the things you did as a child, a teenager, and a young adult (before you had major responsibilities) that brought you happiness. Write them down. Now think about some things you’ve done in recent years (whether in work or life in general) where you have felt really happy or content. Write those down as well.

How can you make space for more of those things that make you happy back into your life?

Mistake #2: Giving Power to Fear

Fear, which was once an appropriate reaction to real and present danger, is now the reaction to any imagined negative outcome. Fear is mostly a product of our imaginations, almost always without any true basis in reality. We fear failure. We fear success. We fear the future. We fear the past. We fear possible scenarios with only a shred of evidence to lead us there. The more we think about what we fear, the more we feed the fear. Then fear begins to control us, limit us, and ultimately overtake us.

The Fix:

Examine your fears under a magnifying glass. Break them down and study all of the parts. How much truth is there really in each fearful thing? What are the odds that the fearful thing will come to pass? Leave no fear un-probed, until you become bored with fear. Become practiced at seeing fear as a weak and capricious companion, only useful when you are dealing with reality.

Mistake #3: Believing You Are Right

We put a lot of stock in our beliefs. We’ve spent a long time cultivating them, supporting them, proving to others that we  have the last word on the subject. We do this with our beliefs about religion, politics, sexuality, child rearing, money, lifestyle, and any number of lesser areas of life (where we still feel compelled to take a stand). But once we are firmly lock in to a point of view, we lose. We lose perspective, kindness, and a learner’s mind.

The Fix:

You don’t have to give up your beliefs — just your attitude about them. Open yourself to other points of view. In fact, seek out other points of view. Look at the topic from every angle and be discerning. You will be a more interesting and understanding person.

Mistake #4: Pleasing Others at the Expense of Yourself

Helping other people, being there for friends and family, finding ways to serve your community — these are all positive things. Until you find that you have lost yourself in the process. Do you please others out of obligation? To feel better about yourself? To avoid abandonment or loss of love?

The Fix:

Examine your motives for giving of yourself. Does giving fill you up or drain you? Are you pleasing to find love? If so, shift your pleasing efforts to yourself for a change. Find ways to love and please yourself. Then you will create authentic love to give others.

Mistake #5: Complicating Your Life

Life is full of opportunities and choices, and for some reason we must grasp at all of them. With every success comes more . . . more tasks, more stuff, more paperwork, more events, more distractions. With each passing year, our lives become exponentially complicated and full. We are stretched to the limit and drained of energy.

The Fix:

Begin simplifying your life. Start with clutter. Then material things that you no longer use. Then start chopping unnecessary tasks and events. Pare down. Trim back. Craft your life into the purest essence of exactly what you love the most so that your precious time is spent in the best way possible.

Mistake #6: Staying Stagnant

You’ve grown up, secured your job, created a steady income, have a nice place to live, have a pretty decent lifestyle. Now that your life is in good shape, what’s the point of shaking it up? You may feel restless or bored, but things could be a whole lot worse.

The Fix:

And they could be a whole lot better. Life is change. Staying stagnant stunts our potential for happiness. We are born with an enormous capacity for continued learning, personal growth, and new ways of living in the world. With every “life stretch” comes thrilling new opportunities and experiences. Where can you stretch yourself through change?

Mistake #7: Not Facing Realities

Life experience has taught us to put our head in the sand when we don’t like what we see. If things look unpleasant, if people let us down, if we fail to meet expectations — we spend precious energy finding ways to obfuscate, hide, deny, and pretend. The painful truth seems too scary to face, so we wear ourselves down trying to avoid it.

The Fix:

Denying unpleasant truths in life causes tension and internal pain for as long as we deny. Facing the truth may cause brief pain, but the relief and freedom of living honestly is liberating and allows us to move on in life with renewed hope and energy. Where are you denying reality? Pull the band-aid off quickly. It will sting, but not forever.

Mistake #8: Giving Away Your Power

When life is overwhelming, tedious, or frightening, it seems easier to let someone else take over. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else make the decisions or call the shots. But when we do that too often, or when someone intimidates or manipulates us into acquiescing, we give away our personal power. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and despair.

The Fix:

Examine your life and look at ways you may be giving away your personal power. Being empowered means taking responsibility for all of your actions and choices. This can sometimes be hard or painful, but the reward is your freedom and self-respect. Reclaim your personal power, even if there is some fallout.

Mistake #9: Neglecting Relationships

We all claim that our relationships are the most important parts of our lives. But quite often our most valued relationships get neglected as we allow less important for more demanding activities fill our time and attention. An untended relationship will eventually wither and die, leaving us unwittingly holding the bag.

The Fix:

Be honest with yourself. How might you be neglecting your most prized relationships? Are you truly offering the love and attention these people deserve? Begin to re-prioritize your actions and agenda so you can cultivate and care for the relationships you value.

Mistake #10: Feeling Guilty

We make a mistake and feel guilty. We hurt someone and feel guilty. We lie or deceive and feel guilty. We don’t do what someone wants us to do and feel guilty. Even after we apologize, we often still feel guilty. For some reason we believe that ongoing guilt will absolve us — that we deserve to feel bad to make amends for our sins, regardless of how large or small.

The Fix:

Guilt is our psyche’s way of letting us know when we’ve acted against our integrity. It can also signal that we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by someone. If you have done something wrong, apologize and do what needs to be done to make it right. If someone tries to make you feel guilty, state your truth with confidence. Then consciously work to disengage from guilt. Once a situation is properly addressed, guilt does absolutely nothing for you except cause pain.

Mistake # 11:  Spending Mindlessly

We often spend money on impulse, buying to satisfy a brief whim, to fill a void, or to impress. So much of what we spend money on doesn’t offer any long term happiness or fulfillment. Overspending often ties in with complicating our lives, creating more stuff, more tasks, and more responsibilities that we don’t really want.

The Fix:

Question yourself every time you make a purchase. Why am I buying this? Does it meet a need? Does it offer long-term satisfaction? Can I truly afford this? Focus your spending primarily on real needs, experiences, and soul-enhancing material things.

Mistake #12: Over-Thinking

Many of us who are analytical or who dwell in ideas and possibilities, spend a lot of time in our heads, pondering problems and solutions. We ruminate and pontificate, believing we can think ourselves to a result or resolution. But over-thinkers can get stuck in thought, living on a mental treadmill that leads nowhere.

The Fix:

If  you are an over-thinker, you must hop off the treadmill and begin taking action. Sound thinking followed by regular action is the most powerful combination in the world. And action doesn’t need to wait for thinking to be “complete.” In fact, action can lead to some of the best ideas you will ever have.

Mistake #13: Neglecting Your Body

A body that is poorly nourished, overweight, and out-of-shape will make you feel bad in every way. Routinely neglecting your body is one of the worst life mistakes you can make.

The Fix:

Fortunately, it is always a correctable mistake. You know what to do. Move your body and eat healthily.

Mistake #14: Not Managing Your Anger

Like all emotions, anger comes and goes. But too often we attach truth and meaning to our angry feelings that aren’t necessary. So we feed the anger because we feel justified, unheard, or disrespected. Then the anger feeds ill-health in mind, body, and spirit.

The Fix:

If you are able to look at your anger, see the senselessness of it, and simply disengage, then by all means do that. If you are unable to disengage, seek help from a counselor so your anger doesn’t destroy you and those around you.

Mistake #15: Never Giving Yourself Time

So many people never take the time examine themselves to see where they are making these life mistakes. Without awareness, change is impossible.

The Fix:

Give yourself the gift of time to reflect on these mistakes in your own life. If you haven’t made them, how can you prevent them? If you are living one or more of these mistakes right now, are you willing to take action to turn yourself and your life around?

What is your experience with these life mistakes? What other life mistakes have you encountered and self-corrected along your own personal journey?

Comments

  1. Barrie,
    Where was this 20 years ago? Would not have mattered anyway, I was too hard-headed to listen. Looking at the list does make me think of how much heartache and general unhappiness we could save ourselves. Most of our troubles are self-inflicted. But seems like it takes 50 yrs on the planet to gain the wisdom to have this perspective. Those who can do it sooner can reap exponential benefits. Enjoyed the post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi David,
      Yes, it took me 50 years as well! Some of the lessons I figured out earlier, but most have come as a result of trial and error. I do wonder if someone had taught me about these mistakes earlier, I might have listened and taken action. I’d like to think so. But sometimes you just have to arrive when you are emotionally ready. I’m so glad you liked the post.

  2. Barrie,

    Regarding #3, are you trying to say I’m not . . . Right?
    ;-)

    This one makes me smile because my mother is and always has been RIGHT and I continue to struggle with that one quite a bit myself. But your fix is right – learning to look at things from a different angle has been very freeing.

    And I agree with David, too. These are such great tips and I can only hope that younger people WON’T be hard-headed and will take them to heart.

    Of course, being also middle-aged, I have made all of these mistakes myself, but I’m doing better at most of them. I

    I think.

    Well, of course I’m right about that.
    ;-)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Maybe you are right, maybe not. :) Yes, there are always two (or more) sides to every situation. It is hard to live with an “always right” person. But I find by smiling and simply saying, “You could be right,” you diffuse the situation without committing yourself. There are times in life when you need to make a stand on an issue, but unless you are in politics, those times are few and far between!

  3. Nice post! When I read it i tried to pick my top three that applied to me so that I could choose to work on a solution. But I ended up with six so now I really need to work. :)

    I really identified with Number 6 about staying stagnant. It is what we do when we get safe and secure. Life becomes a bit mundane and yet we choose not to move forward because it is also pretty comfy.

    I am leaving a big (as in income) job in January. I have had a target for my 55th birthday and have been working on it as a 5 year plan. (Overthinking maybe…) But I am ready now and it is still a bit of a leap but ….

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kelly,
      Focus on one at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed! Especially with the bigger challenges. It sounds like you have already dealt with the stagnation mistake. Leaving a big job is a bold move. Bravo for you. Happy leaping!

  4. As I went through this list I was smiling to myself. I kept on saying “done that, done that, done that…” there were 15 mistakes so I must have said it 15 times.

    Mistake #3: Believing You Are Right really stuck out to me. When I was younger I was sure that my way was always the best way. Then when I got out of college I had a job that kicked the crap out of me. I had no option but to listen to people as I was struggling so much that I needed any help I could find. One of the other things I have learned is that often when I let people fully flush out their ideas (even when I initially disagree) I often end up agreeing with them. I really work hard on not interrupting and being a good listener. There have been countless times when I let someone finish and I think “wow, in the beginning I completely disagreed and now I totally agree”.

    Mistake 12: overthinking is definitely one I have fallen victim too many a time. My father calls it analysis paralysis. Which I think sums it up rather nicely. I have learned that in general my instincts are pretty good. But there are still times when I battle with this.

    A very informative post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Izzy,
      You are so fortunate to have learned to overcome these mistakes at a young age. Many people (myself included) don’t get there for a long time — or never! I love your dad’s description of overthinking — analysis paralysis. I may have to borrow that for a future post. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. We can all learn from them.

  5. Bless you for these terrific, insightful posts.
    I can add nothing to what the other good people have said already.
    Barrie, Thank you, so very much…

  6. This is really great, Barrie. I especially relate to #3 just because it’s the most effective way to grow as a person, morally and intellectually. The more single-minded we are (in the sense that we refuse to consider any other perspective), the less likely we will be to develop wisdom and a moral perspective that’s not very narrow and incomplete. While I’m pretty strong in my beliefs, it’s because I’ve opened myself literally to a world of ideas, culled from them what I think are the best ones and rejected some I felt strongly were not consistent with my understanding of what’s right. But I was opened to them being right, just found them lacking. But here’s the point: it was in the interaction with other ideas that made me more confident in the beliefs I’m solid about today. And, by the way, the boats still out on some beliefs I haven’t been convinced yet been convinced in either direction.

    Thanks for this wise post, Barrie. Just loved it!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I totally agree Ken. Opening yourself to other perspectives and have a learning attitude can help you better form your own beliefs. I have finally come to admit that there are very few things I “know” for sure. I might have a strong feeling or inkling about them, but I still try to keep my mind open. There is so much too learn from everyone, even when it doesn’t fit with your own personal operating system!

  7. This is brilliant!!!
    Thank you so much! This puts so much into perspective, I’m guilty of most of these mistakes mostly because of mistake # 8: Giving my power away.
    I know what I have to do now so thank you so so much!!:-))))
    Blessings of love and light to you, Barrie:-))

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Cheyenne. I’m so glad you like them. Awareness is the first step toward change. Once we become aware of mistakes or misguided decisions, you feel compelled to change. So you are on the way! :)

  8. Hi Barrie,
    How you managed to pack so much into a list of 15 is amazing. Pretty much everything seems to be covered in what you wrote. Thank you so much! I am inclined to print this out and give it to my clients as part of the intake checklist!

    Love your content!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kristin,
      You are so welcome. I’m so glad you found it useful — please do print it out!

  9. Barrie,

    I love that you offer practical ideas for self-correction! Super helpful! I have also made many of the mistakes on the list. Somehow, I’ve even been creative enough to make more than one mistake at one time. Now THAT takes talent! :)

    Mistake #11 + #12

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve purchased an obscene number of books/courses/programs, etc. I justify it by telling myself these things are necessary for my development. How can wanting to grow and evolve be wrong?

    But then I over-think the concepts and insights I gain from the material. I spend so much time analyzing the book, taking notes, and discussing the ideas with other people that I never get around to taking action.

    The Fix:

    I’m going on a self help book spending freeze, cold turkey. No new materials for 6 months.
    I’m also going to pick ONE of the books I already have and allow myself only 24 hours to process the material. I will then create a short ACTIONABLE list and act on it within 24 hours…or else….Let’s see how this goes :).

    Thanks for the post!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Way to go Alana! That is the way to make things happen in your life. Now you have proclaimed it publicly so you must follow though. Will you come back and let us know how it goes?

      • I’ll certainly come back and let you guys know how it goes. Accountability is exactly what I need! :)

        • I’m proud to say I’ve stuck to my self help book spending freeze so far! I did buy The Alchemist the other day but I’m not counting that :-D

          Most of the goals I set for myself dealt with career and finances. I wanted to find other sources of income and also to pursue a writing career in earnest. The very first action step I took was to actually begin to call myself a writer. When people ask me what I do, I now say that I’m a writer as opposed to an academic counselor (my “day” job). It has been a powerful shift in my perception of myself and my abilities. I really feel like a writer!

          My other action steps involved writing more and generating more exposure for my writing. I’ll admit I set the bar pretty low. I told myself I was only going to write for an hour a day. But, it has worked in my favor because I actually end up doing much more than that. This makes me feel like I’ve gone over and above and I have a greater sense of accomplishment.

          As a result of doing these things, I’ve been published twice this month and have several other pieces in varying stages of acceptance. I was also offered the opportunity to do some freelance writing in the personal development genre! Woo hoo!

          One of the major messages of The Alchemist was once you commit to your “Personal Legend” and take steps toward fulfilling it, things begin to align to support you. I truly believe that and have seen it work in my life.

          Thanks again for the post!

  10. Good stuff! For me step #4 hits home the most. It’s human nature to want to please others especially your family and friends. Unfortunately, by doing that sometimes we are hurting ourselves whether it’s personally or professionally. People perceive you to be a certain way and they want you to live up to their standards. When you tell someone no and do things your way, many times they will be offended. It’s a shame that people are like this especially our own loved ones. In life you have to do what’s best for you because ultimately, you are the one that’s going to have to live with the decisions you make. If I’m going to be wrong, I want it to be because of a mistake on my behalf, not because I did what someone else told me to do.
    Great article!

  11. As I went through your list I felt like I had made every single one of those mistakes. Which I guess isn’t a bad thing as long as I am learning from them. I think the one that stuck out to me the most and is the most tricky for me is number 3:

    “Mistake #3: Believing You Are Right”

    I think this is one is difficult because there are moments when I am actually right. There are other moments when my arrogance can get the best of me. It is such a fine line.

    One of the things I battled with a lot earlier this year is being to open to advice. I would take everyone’s feedback and consequentially end up creating Frankenstein. But on the other end of that is refusing to take anyone’s feedback. That doesn’t work either. It is a very fine balance. I would even call it an art. The ability to know when to listen to ourselves and to listen to others.

    15 lessons is powerful. Really it is almost too much for me to process. That is why I had to take it one at a time.

  12. kiran kumar k v says:

    Dear Writer…please accept my sincere thanks on the compilation….It touched me…..i say me….a person who has literally achieved the peak in his life, career etc….and two years ago fallen to the deep hallow due to many mistakes i have done in your list….like helping others over my limits…spending too much….god….today struggling to live….thank you for the wonderful post

  13. I’m doing around 13 of the mistakes mentioned here… There’s a lot to change…

  14. Davis Nguyen says:

    Hi Barrie,

    I am so glad I am reading this at 20. I see so many adult making these mistakes and wanting to fix them but putting it off.

    One I would think about adding myself would be Not Having Balance in Life. It is a combination of 9, 13, and 15, but attacks at the root problem of devoting all of one’s time to one thing and neglecting others.

  15. Why do keep making the.same mistakes? Why cant I commit to a choice and.be strong.enough
    To see it through?

    I hate that I keep hurting myself through selfishness and lack of self control…

    What can I do?

  16. My god! I feel so accomplished.. if this was a test, I’d get an A+ for managing to make 15 out of the 15 mistakes. … pbbhtt………

  17. Master Tims says:

    So interesting! I have been victim of many. Please I ask for permission to print this out for better guidance. Thanks for this work Barrie

  18. this is so gret though i still have a long way to thank God im still got more time im still 19 yr old

    • Hi Zion,
      You are so smart to pay attention to these ideas at such a young age. You have lots of time ahead, and it’s the best time right now to decide who you want to be and how you want to live your life.

  19. Hi Barrie,

    It’s a beautiful article. I am 24 and have been dealing with guilt and regret lately, especially so as a couple of people close to me have been kind enough to bring up instances of my past, stirring up mixed emotions. On one side, I have wanted to let it go and not remember them, on the other side feeling rally guilty (though I had dealt with the emotions of guilt few years back and moved forward).

    Your article has certainly given me an insight, and the courage that I do not need to keep beating myself up for my mistakes and misbehaviours even if others intend to make me.

    Thanks a ton.

    Gratitude.

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