How do you react when you make mistakes? Your mindset – and how you respond to your errors at the moment – can make a big difference in how quickly you learn and improve.
We all make mistakes. That’s a simple fact of life. However the mindset we have, determines all of our outcomes.
However, certain people respond to their mistakes and errors in a much healthier and more constructive way compared to others.
One of the most powerful shifts in your mindset is thinking of your errors, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.
Mistakes aren’t to be ignored. Mistakes aren’t reasons to beat yourself up constantly. Mistakes are just facts that we need to adapt to.
According to one new study published in Psychological Science, when you change how you think about your mistakes, you change the way your brain responds to them.
Researchers first hooked up participants to an EEG to record electrical activity in the brain. Then they had participants perform a simple task where they had to identify the middle letter in a 5-letter series. For example, “MMMMM” or “NNMNN,” where the correct answer is M in both cases (sometimes the middle letter was the same as the other four, and sometimes it was different).
Although it was a super easy test, it became tedious enough that many participants would zone out and make silly mistakes from time to time. You can probably relate to this in similar situations where you get tired, bored, or run low on willpower.
Whenever someone makes a mistake, the brain sends out two signals.
The first signal was when participants realized they messed up – researchers jokingly called this the “Oh crap!” response. The second signal was when participants were trying to correct themselves so that the mistake wouldn’t happen again.
Researchers compared responses in the brain between people who had a growth mindset (“I see mistakes as an opportunity to grow and improve”) vs. fixed mindset (“I see mistakes as a lack of ability”).
Individuals with a growth mindset were faster to bounce back after making a mistake. Their brains also sent out a much stronger signal telling itself, “I’ve made a mistake. I need to pay more attention.”
Overall, they were better at self-monitoring and self-correcting at the moment.
One of the most important findings in this study is how our mindset can influence how our brains operate – it’s more evidence that we can create neuroplasticity by changing our thoughts and attitude.
How does your brain react when you make a mistake?
The Power of Making Mistakes on Purpose
Now we all understand that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process, but what about making them on purpose?
Another fascinating study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology discovered that even making deliberate errors can facilitate meaningful learning.
For example, consciously making errors and correcting them (such as writing “whales are fish,” then crossing it out and writing “whales are mammals”) was shown to improve long-term memory and retention.
Psychologists call this counter-intuitive approach the derring effect.
One less contrived way to practice this is to teach what you are learning to someone else who is learning it. They may make errors that you wouldn’t make (and vice versa), so you both have the opportunity to correct each other and learn from each other’s mistakes.
This fits perfectly with the student-mentor-peer model of success, where you interact with people at all stages of the learning curve, giving you plenty of opportunities to correct others and be corrected.
Another funny iteration of this idea is Cunningham’s Law, which states, “The best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.”
People love correcting others when given a chance. Sometimes, the fastest path to learning is to simply share your thoughts and be willing to be wrong.
You’re probably going to make more mistakes in the future, so start making the most of them.