Woo-Hoo! I Made a Mistake

Do you celebrate your mistakes? Research suggests we should always challenge ourselves beyond our current capabilities in order to learn and strengthen the brain.

The research of psychologist Carol Dweck jumped out at me in Jonah Lehrer’s fascinating book, How We Decide. Lehrer shares some wonderful stories and compelling research to get us to look at the brain and its role in decision-making in a new way. Dweck’s research shows that the way we praise children has a significant effect on their willingness to challenge themselves and improve their thinking abilities.

Via a series of experiments, Dweck found that when a group of fifth-graders were praised for their efforts, they chose to take a test that would challenge them and to look at the exams of those who did better than them in order to learn from their mistakes. The group of fifth-graders that were praised for their intelligence (told they were “smart”) preferred to take the easier test to validate their intelligence and wanted to see the results of those who did worse than them.

Dweck went on to show, via another set of experiments, that the kids who were willing to challenge themselves ultimately scored a significant level of improvement in the tests – - +30%! Those that were randomly assigned to the “smart” group actually had their scores drop by an average of close to 20%.

Author Jonah Lehrer sums up the meaning of this significant research for all of us: “Before your neurons can succeed, they must repeatedly fail. There are no shortcuts for this painstaking process.”

As adults, many of us get into the habit of avoiding anything that we can’t do well because we don’t want to make a mistake. What started out as a real talent or area of expertise turns into mediocre work because we don’t regularly stretch further.

We never become the genius we’re meant to be in our chosen life passion or work unless we challenge ourselves beyond our comfort zone, look for the mistakes, and then learn from them.

Where in your life are you in need of making some mistakes?

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