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Essential mistakes for the brain

In this era, it has become more and more essential to constantly learn and grow old and new skills. This becomes a very complex task conditioned by many factors, ‘perfectionism‘ it appears to be the one of the most on demand. This leads us to be under constant scrutiny and pressure, causing stress and difficulty in expressing ourselves at our best.

In this negative context, the concept of perfection is nothing new: over the years, many have wondered about it and, perhaps, Dante Alighieri is the one who best explained it. For the Supreme Poet, the answer is found in ‘The Divine Comedy‘, in the book of Paradise, where he understands and explains that being blessed is a state of mind of complete fulfilment that culminates in the attainment of the perfection that every man, on earth, strives for in vain.

Thus, this goal is both unattainable and harmful. In fact, our brains are equipped with various error detecting and correction systems, fundamental for us to learn. Mistakes shape the brain and depriving it of the possibility to make mistakes makes it difficult for learning processes to take place. This is somehow revolutionary, especially for all the people who often find it difficult to accept that they have made a mistake. The brain learns by making mistakes and it is this precise mechanism that allows us to improve our knowledge.

Becoming aware of this scientific discovery requires a very complex step: being aware of our mistakes. We often tend to not want to admit them, especially to ourselves. We try to convince ourselves of a not completely truthful version of reality, denying to ourselves and others that we were wrong. But it is precisely by admitting this mistake that our brain will implement a learning process and help us overcome it, with both conscious and unconscious processes.

Consequently, mistakes are the basis of our learning process. For this reason, it becomes important not to anchor the idea we have of ourselves and our self-worth to the mistakes we make. If we did so we would risk jeopardising the brain’s learning process resulting in poor outcomes.

When I think of the many historical figures, who have played a prominent role in the past, I then immediately think of all the obstacles and ‘failures’ they had to overcome before being able to reach their goals and ultimately their fame. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody has to fail or make mistakes in the process of reaching their goals, it’s merely pointing out the most common course of human journeys. It is important to underline the different types of mistakes and their impact in different areas of our life, for example our personal life or work life.

Particularly in the latter, the mistake-learning process is fundamental in the growth of professional on all fields. Awareness of what has been analysed up to this point allows people to reflect on another fundamental point that is the relationships with others.

Teamwork is crucial, and the everyday opportunity to learn something new from each of our colleagues becomes crucial. Every single person we interact with, whether is a brief or prolonged encounter, has unique information and life experiences that we don’t.  So, the ability to understand this concept allows us to learn from the other person consciously and willingly. Avoiding in this way closed mind attitudes and approaching every interaction with an open curiosity in order to gain as much knowledge as possible. Social interactions help us learn faster and they open us up to new scenarios that we would not have known otherwise.

The very interesting aspect, that works in favour of those who make mistakes, is that specific regions of the brain emit error signals when we make mistakes. There are two types of this signal and they both depend on how we realise the mistake.

The first one happens when we are the one making the mistake. If we immediately realise that we have made it, the brain returns a signal within 80 milliseconds causing our movements to slow down automatically. This signal is the Error-Related Negativity, and its slowing down process is due to the fact that we tend to analyse decisions in more detail to optimise success. This allows us to stop the erroneous action taken, avoid carrying it out and, if possible, correct it.

The second type happens when we become aware of the error as a result of a feedback from outside. In this case, the brain emits a Feedback-Related Negativity signal 250 milliseconds after receiving the information and this allows the strategy to be modified to achieve a better result in the future.

In conclusion, making mistakes helps our brain to improve and learn. If we overcome the fear of making mistakes, we can really use it as an opportunity that our brain gives us to improve and use to our advantage.

Written by Riccardo Pandini.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Opinions - Essential mistakes for the brain
Riccardo Pandini
Riccardo Pandini is an Academic Tutor at the University of Milano-Bicocca and a writer at the State of Mind, an online journal of psychology, psychotherapy, neuroscience, psychiatry, and various current affairs.

Riccardo Pandini is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.