5 Common Mistakes Smart People Make

written by Darius Foroux

If you believe that only stupid people make mistakes, you’re as wrong as I was. The truth is that everyone makes mistakes. Smart people admit that. Stupid people do not.

What’s more, the smartest and most successful people in history have made the most mistakes. Are those two things connected? I think so. This Albert Einstein quote says it all:

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

I used to blame myself for making mistakes in life. I think that’s how our society is. As a kid, you’re punished for making mistakes in school and life. And because of that, we think it’s normal to punish each other as adults.

But why would you punish yourself or another person for making silly mistakes? Most things in life are reversible and small (I’m not talking about committing crimes or adultery here). What matters is that we learn from our mistakes.

One of the best traits one can have in life is to be forgiving. You must go easy on yourself when you screw up. Same is true for the people in our lives. Alexander Pope put it best:

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

And when people really cross the line — just move on. No need to make things complicated.

In life, there are lines one should not cross. If you keep yourself to a high moral standard, you’re doing the right thing. And if you make mistakes? So what? No one is perfect.

Here are 5 of those mistakes that smart people make. Remember that you don’t have to make these mistakes yourself. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes. They have made them, so we don’t have to.

1. Chasing money

I recently read How To Get Rich by Felix Dennis, who owned one of the biggest magazine publishers in the UK. Contrary to the title, the book actually tries to discourage you to chase money.

Many rich people will tell you the same. The funny thing is that we all know there is more to life than money. And yet, we make it our sole purpose. Dennis writes:

“People who get trapped in the tunnel vision of making money think that is all there is to life.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get rich. We just have to remind ourselves that making money beyond a certain amount has little impact on our happiness. But somehow, we get tunnel vision. Again, trying to get rich is not a mistake. However, it is a mistake if you expect that it’s the answer to all your problems.

2. Ignoring sleep

When you get excited about something, you want to spend all your time on it. That’s a great feeling.

But when your excitement prevents you from having quality sleep, you want to change that. It’s one of my biggest pitfalls. I can read and work all day long — well into the night.

But even when I go to bed at 2 AM and wake up 8 hours later, I still feel tired. Somehow, it’s different when I hit the sack at 11 and wake up at 7. I feel much more energized.

For the past year, I’ve been taking my sleep more seriously. I wake up at the same time every morning. And I turn off my devices exactly one hour before I want to sleep. That means no work or heavy mental activity before bedtime. Just some light reading or journaling.

3. Being connected too much

The past decade has been great for technology. Almost everyone has a smartphone with access to the internet. Within a few years, the whole world will be connected. Even the less developed countries.

Modern technology has changed the world. These developments are great. But remember that too much of a good thing becomes bad.

That also applies to your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. Recent research shows that Generation Z (born after 1995) is distressed and anxious. The American Psychological Association even say they have “the worst mental health of any generation.”

One of the biggest reasons for their mental state? All the signs point towards their smartphones and connectedness. For years, I’ve been limiting my smartphone usage.

And inspired by Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism, I’m only getting more strict with this.

4. Not exercising enough

Life is full of obligations. Our biggest obligation is to work. Then, we have family and friends that we spend our time with. We have bills to pay. Plus, unforeseen things happen all the time. A crisis at work. A family member that gets ill.

It’s all part of life. And when these things happen, it’s easy to move exercise down on your list of priorities.

But after a while, you feel tired and weak. You run out of breath after you climb a few flights of stairs. You complain when you can’t find a parking spot in front of the store. You don’t want to walk. Your back hurts from all the sitting. Your gut grows. And you can’t look at yourself in the mirror.

Don’t let it come this far. Break a sweat at least three times a week. And go for a walk on the other days. You will stay strong and fit. Plus, you’ll feel better.

5. Being overconfident

One cognitive bias that affects smart people the most is overconfidence. When you are good at something, it’s easy to overestimate yourself.

That doesn’t happen in a cocky or brazen way. Overconfidence can happen to everyone. From many soft-spoken and gentle individuals to the most outgoing extroverts.

Researchers have established three ways that overconfidence happens:

  • Overestimation - thinking that you are better than you are.

  • Overplacement - exaggerated belief that you are better than others.

  • Overprecision - excessive conviction that you know the truth.

Let’s be honest. How often do we think we can take on a challenge and later find out it was too much? Or that we can do a better job than our co-workers or competitors? And when we have conversations, how often do we think we know it better?

It’s the classic pitfall of smart people. But as you and I both know, the wisest people in history stated they knew nothing. So why are we still overconfident?

I think one of the reasons is that you stop questioning yourself after you achieve some small success. It’s very appealing to think you’re better. Maybe that’s the case. But it doesn’t matter.

The moment you start thinking you’re better, you’re already losing. When you stop questioning yourself, you stop learning. And only losers don’t learn.

Instead, rely on the things that brought you to where you are: curiosity, passion, excitement, and most importantly; hard work.