Many of us have a hard time admitting when we’ve made a mistake. We actually find it easier to rationalise, justify and sometimes fictionalise the story in our head. Often this allows us to downplay our mistakes and make our choices and behaviours seem more acceptable.
In fact, research has shown that the brain has optical and psychological blind spots that enable us to invest in the delusion that we aren’t so delusional.
See, each time we have an experience, the brain keeps a record of what happened, which is in itself just a collection of snapshots of information, that the brain turns into a story by filling in the gaps based on past experiences, to create one continuous story in our minds.
So really for the brain it’s not actually making a ‘mistake’. It’s merely learning from the last experience and making the necessary changes in order to offer a better option next time.
A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University investigated the brain’s neural activity during learned behaviour and found that the brain makes mistakes because it applies incorrect inner beliefs, or internal models, about how the world works. The research suggests that when the brain makes a mistake, it actually thinks that it is making the correct decision — its neural signals are consistent with its inner beliefs, but not with what is happening in the outer world.
On the plus side, when we have had a successful experience our brain strengthens all the links in the story, increasing the chances that the same actions will be repeated again in the future. Over time and with experience, we create more and more successful stories and fewer and fewer ‘mistakes’.
See, it important to realise that life can be complex and is inevitably unpredictable; no matter how old you are or how many experiences you have had, ‘mistakes’ are unavoidable. For us to change our behaviours requires a neurological rewiring within the brain.
So next time you make a ‘mistake’, honour it, recognise it and admit to yourself that you’ve made it.
Take responsibility for it, because as soon as you start blaming other people, circumstances or life, you distance yourself from making any possible changes in the brain that will allow you to gain from the experience.
One of the most powerful things I have learnt to do myself and recommend my clients to do when they have made a ‘mistake’ is to get other people involved in the process. Either through advice, coaching or simply being an ear to listen. A supportive friend, partner, coach or colleague’s perspective on your behaviour will be more objective than your own, and will help you identify what you can gain from the situation.
In the moment, a situation might seem like the end of the road, but remember, there are countless successful men and women who are enjoying success because of their ‘mistakes’, so keep pursuing your goals no matter what.