A Mistake-Making Organism: Your Brain

brain_learning
This isn’t a learner sign: It’s a ‘I’m going to make a mistake’ sign

Think of anything you’ve ever learned.
Anything.
Ever learned.

And the only way you’ll have learned it is by making a mistake.
Look at the act of learning the alphabet.
Speaking; walking; running; talking; dancing, and just about anything.
And you’ll never be able to point out even one instance in your entire life that was learned without making a mistake.

This idea of willfully making a mistake scares the heck out of most people.
It literally means that you have to make mistakes—and that if you don’t make mistakes you can’t learn. If you can’t learn, you can’t acquire a new talent. If you can’t acquire a new talent, you remain exactly where you are.

Are you scared?
You should be.
Because the younger you are, the less you’re afraid of making mistakes. The older you get, the more you tell your brain it’s bad to make a mistake. The older you get, the more you feel you have to learn something quickly, and correctly the first time.

Yet that’s not the way the brain learns at all.
The only way the brain learns is through actively making mistakes. The brain’s most powerful tool is to make the mistake, recognise the mistake, and then try to remember the mistake. This is so that it doesn’t make the mistake again, or doesn’t create mistakes of an equal intensity.

This process needs time and effort.

The smaller, and simpler the task, the quicker the brain is able to eliminate mistakes. The more complex the task, the more time and effort is required to make the mistake, recognise it, remember it and finally correct it.

And yet the correction factor is almost never 100%.
So let’s say you’re learning a new dance step for instance. The brain has to first goof up. Once it has goofed up, it has to recognise the goof up, or it won’t improve. Once recognition sets in, all your neurons have to fire in the right sequence to memorise this mistake.

The more you muck up the dance step, the more your brain has to work out what’s wrong. And with every mistake, it eliminates only a percentage of the error. It’s only when it eliminates 100% of the error, does it then get that dance step right.

What’s interesting is that you’re never learning one step at a time.
You’re learning several steps. And the brain has to go over this whole sequence of making the mistake, recognising it, memorising it and then fixing it.

And it has to do this entire sequence for every single mistake.

Luckily our brains have enormous computing power.
And they’re able to process these mistakes and make corrections in a matter of milliseconds—if we are willing to make the mistake, that is.

The biggest reason we don’t get talented is for a simple reason.
It’s because we can’t bear to make a mistake.
And as you can now tell, that’s the biggest mistake of all!

Note: During this lesson I had to go through this exact process, because I was trying to learn how to insert an ’em-dash’. On my PC, I have to press Alt + 0151 on my keyboard to get an ’em-dash.’ On a Mac, it’s different. I have to press  Shift+ Alt + – to get the same result. I learned how to create the ’em-dash’, and then promptly goofed it up. I had to go back several times to learn it. And now I think I have it. Or do I? 🙂

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean

This literally means that when I learn say, a drop shot, when I playing badminton, I have to make 899 mistakes, before I get the drop shot right on the 900th time.

If I’m lucky enough to get it right on the 900th time, that is 😉

What’s also interesting is that the brain needs to go away and process the mistake. This needs relaxation and sleep. More on that in a later post.

Sean

Or to put it another way: Conscious incompetence 🙂

Sean D'Souza

I made a mistake on this blog: I typed: On my PC, I have to press Alt + 1051 on my keyboard to get an ‘em-dash.’

When in fact, it’s Alt + 0151 🙂
And a reader told me to fix it.

Francois

This is what attracted me to hypnosis: it is a way of learning, without having to make mistakes. But of course, making mistakes is essential to learning.

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