Why Mistakes Are Good and How to Feel Better About Making Them

Mistakes are good.

As James Victore, author, designer, filmmaker, and educator writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“Mistakes are a part of life and often the path to profound new insights – so why try to remove them completely? Getting lost while driving or visiting a new city used to be an adventure and a good story. Now we just follow the GPS.”

Mistakes can show you possibility, an alternative perspective.

But mistakes have to be made if you or I are to learn and grow.

Mistakes open up a world that can facilitate unapologetic self-improvement.

According to Grayson Perry, the amount of mistakes you make can be treated as a gauge of how much effort you are putting into your work:

“You have to make mistakes, this is how you learn. If you’re not making many mistakes, I hate to worry you but you’re not working hard enough.”
If it weren’t for mistakes, the microwave wouldn’t have been invented.

The Microwave

Percy LeBaron Spencer loved nature.

He would always carry a peanut cluster bar in his pocket to break up and feed squirrels and chipmunks during lunch.

It’s funny how this bar would aid Percy in discovering the microwave.

How?

Here’s what Scott Belsky writes in Making Ideas Happen about the accidental discovery:

“One of the most famous examples of discovery by mistake is the invention of the microwave oven by Raytheon scientist Percy LeBaron Spencer during World War II.

While working on the development of a radar system to assist the Allied armies in the detection of Nazi warplanes, Spencer stood in front of an operating magnetron.

Later, the unassuming scientist realised that the candy bar that had been in his pocket had melted. Further experimentation to understand this accident created an entire industry.”

How to feel better about making mistakes

We live in a society that celebrates mistakes and glorifies failures.

Indeed, the mistakes don’t have to be yours as you can learn by observing others.

After all, we as humans are – as author of Mastery Robert Greene notes – primed for observational learning.

By learning through the mistakes of others, you are de factor cutting your learning curve into a fraction of the time it would take you to learn by yourself – through trial and error.

However, there is no better education than making your own mistakes and having to learn from them.

Making mistakes can be stressful though.

That’s why people are generally averse to making any sort of them.

They are afraid they might be ridiculed, reprimanded, scolded by others.

Above all however – they simply just feel bad about making them in the first place.

Indeed, areas of the brain related to avoidance are activated when mistakes are made.

So how can we feel better about making them?

It turns out there is a simple psychological answer to this question.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications by neuroscientists Stefano Palminteri and colleagues suggests that if people are given the chance to review and reflect upon their mistakes, they could feel good about making them.

This could also make them become less averse to making future mistakes and better embrace the lessons that ultimately come from them.

Palminteri and colleagues also found that making mistakes could be experienced as rewarding as reward circuits of the brain were activated upon reflection in participants.

Closing thoughts

With mistakes, you either win or you learn.

Microwave inventor Percy LeBaron Spencer won.

But most times, you simply learn.

Heed the lessons from these mistakes and you’ll be golden.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to the email list for more posts like this.

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