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7 Common Mistakes of People Making Changes


There are a number of areas where people commonly make mistakes when setting out to make changes in their life – whether the change be a new career, a better relationship, breaking a habit, overcoming stresses or anxieties or any other changes. Fortunately, people don’t usually make all the mistakes listed below, just some of them! 

This webpage gives some simple ways in which you can approach each of the potential problems highlighted. I suggest you try to identify which of the errors you may be most susceptible to and decide whether some of the suggested strategies for dealing with them may help you. 

Error 1: Allowing Yourself to be Paralysed by Doubts

First of all, it is healthy to have some doubts! However, if your doubts are all-consuming or are stopping you from attempting to make changes, then you need to start addressing them - commit to taking some action even if it is only small.


That your doubts overwhelm you or paralyse you into inaction and you remain indefinitely in your current unhappy position, frustrated, stressed or unfulfilled but still hesitant.



    1. Begin with small achievable changes. If you were training to run a marathon, you wouldn’t start with a 20 mile run (I hope), you would begin with say a 2 mile run. Similarly if the thought of a major change is quite scary or seems a long way off, start off with something small which will start you on the way towards it.

    2. Assess how realistic your fears are, both in terms of likelihood of them materialising and in terms of the extent and nature of the potential negative consequences if they do materialise. Then create a plan for what you can do to reduce the likelihood of them occurring and for dealing with them if they do materialise.

    3. If relevant to your situation, use some of the techniques for managing “Negative Self Talk” described under Error No. 2 below.

Error 2: Negative Self Talk

"Negative Self Talk" is when you have a negative phrase or sentence or self-critical comment which commonly goes through your head in certain situations or frequently. Perhaps something like:

‘I am useless’ or

‘I shouldn’t be late all the time’

‘I’m never able to control my temper’


That you become preoccupied with your own perceived weaknesses and failings and are unable to assess your situation objectively or improve on it.


    1. Identify when you use phrases with a moralistic element (such as should or must) and substitute a less dramatic, more practical way of thinking about yourself and your actions. For example, instead of saying to yourself 'I shouldn't be late all the time', you might say: ‘I don’t like being late so often for important appointments. Next time I have an important appointment, I will set my timer to go off in sufficient time to be able to get there.

    2. To help you challenge the accuracy of your self critical judgement, ask yourself what a trustworthy friend would say about the judgement you have made about yourself or what you would say to a friend if they made that judgement about themself in a similar situation.

    3. Recognise when you are adopting an 'all or nothing' view or using words such as 'never' or 'always'. Ask yourself: ‘Is it really true that I do this all the time or never or can I think of some occasions when actually I have done what I would like to do more often?’ – See also the other Recommendations listed under Error 3 (“All or Nothing Mentality”).

Error 3: All or Nothing Mentality

This error tends to be associated with a kind of perfectionistic thinking – the usually unstated belief that if you don’t achieve something 100% all the time then you have failed. I frequently get new clients who come to me saying that they cannot do something – e.g. that they are unable only to have one drink of alcohol rather than five, or perhaps that they are unable to participate in conversation in a group gathering.

On further exploration, it quite often turns out that on some occasions, they have achieved what they say they have never achieved but they discount these successes because they are much more aware of their failures – for example, the person who says they cannot have just one drink of alcohol may in fact do precisely that if they are driving, because of the consequences for themselves of not doing so. The person who experiences anxiety in large gatherings may in fact find that they do participate in conversation in groups at their home but not when they are outside their home.


If you feel that that the only alternative to 100% is zero, then you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself and setting yourself up for a big feeling of disappointment if you don’t succeed 100%. Not noticing the successes that you do have because they don’t reach the 100% level can lead to a feeling of inability to change and a difficulty in analysing the differences between successful occasions and unsuccessful occasions.


    1. Make a note of specific occasions when you have done, or have done in part, what you think you never do. What helped you on that occasion – is it something that you can translate into the situations where you have not had so much success? In the above example, for instance, if you can manage to drink only one glass of wine when you are going to be driving, due to the strong incentive, is there a way that you can give yourself a different but equally strong incentive to drink only one glass of wine on other occasions.

    2. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to achieve everything all in one go. Change takes time, so set yourself achievable, realistic goals at first. In the second example above, for instance, if you are anxious about going to a large social gathering for four hours, is there a way you can arrange to go for just one hour – or can you take a friend for support?

    3. Promise yourself a reward (nothing illegal, too unhealthy or too costly!) if you achieve your goal – maybe a pampering session or a trip out.

Error 4: Giving Up Too Early

People who give up smoking normally make several attempts before they are fully successful. The same is often true of people trying to change habitual ways of thinking or reacting to situations. It is also often said that perseverance is the most needed quality of people who want to develop their own businesses. There is some truth in this, although blind perseverance will not usually help (i.e. continually doing the same thing which has produced negative results in the past will probably lead to negative results again).


If you give up too early, you may miss the chance of gaining what you want and revert to a lifetime of frustration.


    1. Allow for the fact that change may take time and be patient.

    2. Learn from your mistakes – If something didn’t work, ask yourself what went wrong. What can you do differently next time? If you are not sure, then this may be when you could benefit from the support of a coach or someone else independent.

    3. Recognise the progress you have made. You may not have got to your original desired goal but that doesn’t mean you have achieved nothing. What steps forward have you made compared to your original starting point? How have you developed as a person?

Error 5: Over Confidence

    This is the opposite to No. 1. You may feel very confident that you can achieve the changes you desire, perhaps because:

    - You are highly determined

    - You have a vision of what you want to achieve

    - You have a track record of success

All of these are very good qualities to have and will be very helpful in assisting you to make changes. However, they are not alone sufficient to ensure that you will succeed.


The risk is that you may ignore potential pitfalls on your path to success and proceed too quickly.


    1. Identify potential risks that could prevent you succeeding

    2. Create a plan to enable you to prevent, reduce or deal with those risks

    3. Have a contingency plan ready for what you will do if your plan does not succeed, or takes longer to achieve success than you expect, to help you cope and regroup while you decide how to resume progress or change direction.

Error 6: Inefficient Use of Time

You may find your mind wandering or, alternatively, you may become preoccupied with one particular aspect of what you are doing and devote a disproportionate amount of time to that.


Inefficient use of time may lead to important tasks not being completed (jeopardising your whole project) and to feelings of frustration with yourself at your slow progress.


    1. Use simple time management strategies to make effective use of your time, e.g. 

    2. Set priorities and allocate time accordingly

    3. Take short breaks in your day, to keep your mind fresh

    4. Ask for assistance, if there is someone who can help you or teach you what to do in a more effective way

    5. Build in regular relaxation periods in the week. If you spend all your time trying to achieve the personal or professional changes you want, you may experience ‘burn out’. Through allowing yourself some specific time to do something else and forget about your project, you may actually find that you can use time more productively when you are focusing on your project.

    6. Plan your project with clear achievable goals, setting specific actions to assist you in reaching them with associated timescales. If you’re not ready for that stage yet, then set yourself a first step and do that. 

Error 7: Not Planning for the Unexpected

You may be going along fine, but because you didn’t plan for certain eventualities, you may subsequently be caught off your guard by something you were not expecting which puts a spanner in the works and upsets your equilibrium or your momentum.


You can lose your motivation, feel unsure what to do or be faced with a crisis you can’t handle on your own.


    1. Before you start your project, ask someone who is in a position to know, what potential pitfalls they think you should be aware of – ideally someone who has successfully done what you are planning to do.

    2. Try and create a safety net for yourself to give yourself scope for the unexpected and a plan to fall back on if things don’t work out. If possible before you start the project follow the recommendations relating to the error of over-confidence, whether or not you suffer from over-confidence!

    3. If it is too late and the unexpected has already happened, creating a problem for you, then draw up a list of your options and the Advantages and Disadvantages of each option, before deciding what to do. If you think it might be helpful, then seek appropriate independent advice as to whether there are any other options open to you.


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