From Mistakes to Brainpower

Not surprisingly, people who achieve great feats, tend to recover from mistakes that lead  less successful people to give up. Why though, do some fear mistakes, and why do we criticize other’s mistakes?

It may surprise you to realize that errors allow the brain to scoop up lessons from your past that can often launch a better start.

Author, Henry Link showed why this is so, in the words:

While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, another is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.

How so?

Reflection is the mental tool that transforms missteps into mental growth. It’s a bit like a litmus test. By looking beyond poor tone spoken to a cranky colleague in past, for instance, why not try a new approach this week?

Human brains make the best use of bloopers according to neurological research, when people learn and change through their muddles.

Check out three smart skills that help you mentally to turn mistakes into stepping stones that shape new successes …

1. Focus on new possibilities rather than regret lost opportunities. When it comes to the brain we truly do become what we think and do, and mistakes make better stepping stones when we learn from them by shaping new approaches that help us move on.

2. Step back from each mistake you make and reframe a new approach for a similar situation in a more effective way. Ask others for advice. See evidences for success by imitating people you respect. Refuse to remain in ruts, or blame others. Risk courage for the change it takes to convert tragedies into triumphs.

3. Be good to you, because you need the mental chemical serotonin to succeed. Make a decision to stop beating up on yourself for mistakes and then stick to that decision. Admit your mistakes quickly before cortisol takes you down – apologize if others get hurt by errors you make and the mental freedom that gives will help you to move on.

Mistakes become capital for successful people, yet can bankrupt those who rewire brainspower more for failure than triumph. What smart skills move you beyond past failures?

6 Comments

  1. What a great explanation of how we manage the levels of serotonin or damaging excess cortisol based on the type of self talk resulting from making a mistake. I agree that focusing on the best possibilities is an approach that is empowering rather than ruminate over mistakes made in the past. Dr. Weber, thanks for this great post!

  2. Ellen this post came at a great time.
    I had a meeting with a client the other day and it went not good.
    So after some hours of moping and driving my cortisal loop I was in a funk.
    Then yesterday I had to opportunity to lead some amazing inquiry and reflection based programming with a group of kids at a camp (that you would love).
    These wonderful experiences, the joy and seeing these young people work to focus on new possibilities of initiatives that they struggled with really picked the whole brain up.
    The more time we spent focusing on alternative solutions and utilizing an awarness of our tone I we began to develop amazing new ideas for fun and learning.
    The largest challenge we face is you last bullet “Be good to you”
    I always see participants and myself beating ourselves internally with failure. The “this is stupid” “I can’t do this” “boring!” are all mechanism that we learn from childhood to undermine our value.

    Thank you Ellen.

  3. Tim Hall says:

    Thanks for this article. Great information. I do have a couple of questions that may or may not make sense to others. (If you knew me you would know that things sound really good in my head but once out sound completely different.)
    I am a teacher. I teach a very unique class that is designed for helping middle school students transition to high school. In other words I teach 9th graders to be human. I also have worked with at-risk kids for about 15 years.
    Now the questions: How can we use this information to help kids who really don’t see their mistakes as “mistakes”? Do we just “plant the seeds”, as they say, and hope they grow when the kids reach a certain age? (I like chia pets, they grow quick!)
    Don’t get me wrong. I have had success using exactly what you are talking about, reflection, mistakes vs continued mistakes, etc. I just want MORE success. This article will help with that.
    Thanks for writing it.

  4. eweber says:

    Marguerite, thanks – who would have thought learners and leaders can “manage the levels of serotonin or damaging excess cortisol based on the type of self talk resulting from making a mistake.”

    How often have we looked at the limitations, and focused on shortcomings – to the detriment of moving forward. What a lovely revelation for those who enjoy making changes to improve their situation. Thanks for stopping by and doing just that for the rest of us!

  5. eweber says:

    Mike, It’s always refreshing to see your words, engage your questions and brainstorm together!

    You speak for many of us who flop in that cortisol loop and slip into a funk.

    The kids are lucky to have you – because you enable people’s brains and turn on delightful chemical and electrical circuitry for dynamic results!

    Like you – we find ourselves reflecting about the ups and the downs to see how we are drawing on new strategies for moving forward in both settings!

    LOVED YOUR WISDOM HERE!! “The more time we spent focusing on alternative solutions and utilizing an awareness of our tone the more we began to develop amazing new ideas for fun and learning.” Bravo – thanks for inspiring the rest of us!

    Your reminder to “BE GOOD to YOU” came back full circle in our own busy day, dear friend and fellow leader! Stay blessed – your leadership is making a difference!

  6. eweber says:

    Thanks Tim, and what cool questions – for strategies that work wonders with teens!

    Tim, your class sounds unique and what a privilege to help teens transition to high school.

    To “plant the seeds”, is a delightful metaphor, but they can be watered and weeded in wonderful ways daily for higher motivation and achievement in all learners. You are clearly a leader in the field, and many schools are looking for the kind of improvements you framed so well here.

    Check out http://xrl.us/be2ibf. Perhaps you and several peers could join our dynamic week long institute and go back with these components built into the center of your curriculum. We will be building curriculum that addresses these two questions at the Aug Brain Institute here in Rochester. Strategies come alive when integrated into the learning and assessment tasks themselves, so secondary faculty and students benefit in exciting new ways.

    Over the year then, we’ll remain alongside your implementation of the the custom created curriculum to ensure you achieve that higher level of success that takes teens to the peaks. Sound like a plan?

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