No one likes to be wrong. It is possible that to avoid error we do not risk when we present a report, learn a language or carry out any type of activity. In this way, we have the fantasy that our beloved self-esteem is safe. But this is where we really go wrong, as the results of a Johns Hopkins University experiment have shown.
In the experiment, published in the Science Express magazine, a group of volunteers were asked to do various tasks by moving a joystick. As the scientists measured the brain’s response to errors and successes, they were pleasantly surprised. It was discovered that we have two circuits when we do new things: one that incorporates new skills and one that processes mistakes. The latter would be equivalent to a coach, who criticizes learning, detects our failures between what is desired and what really happens and memorizes them for use in the future. Curiously, this last circuit, the one of errors, is the one that allows us to learn faster. So it’s no wonder that when we start something we’re not very good at the first few minutes, like a sport or speaking in another language or making a presentation. We think it’s because we need warm-up, but, according to this discovery, it’s because the circuit of mistakes (or our mental coach) needs to accumulate faults to start acting. Therefore, the sooner we get into the error, the sooner we learn to do things, as defended by Scott Young, who managed to graduate from the prestigious MIT in the career of Programming Sciences. The studies lasted four years, but he got them in one.
According to Young, reading or attending class doesn’t allow you to assess whether you’re integrating new concepts. You have to put yourself to the test. In his case, at MIT he studied on his own and signed up for work groups to experiment, make a quick mistake, analyze the mistake and learn from it. With all this, in just 12 months he successfully passed 33 subjects and completed the required projects! Not bad, is it? So let’s see what we can do to apply these findings to our more modest reality:
First, we need to be honest with ourselves about learning. In other words, do we really know how to do what concerns us? Feynman, the Nobel Prize in Physics, said that we tend to deceive ourselves with great joy. We think we know English when we really mess it up or that we can solve an equation or speak in public when we really feel lost. We have to land our fantasy and recognize our areas for improvement.
Second, we must move quickly to error without affecting self-esteem. To learn is to make a mistake, as simple as that, and as neuroscience has shown. So, if you get confused on a test, in a meeting or anywhere else, you’re simply proving that you’re human and not Superman or Superwoman. So let’s leave self-esteem a little bit alone and don’t link it to 100% success because it’s impossible. Therefore, if you want to make a presentation that costs you, get ready, but get ready to experiment quickly, ask your family to listen to you, to tell you what you can improve and let the circuit of your brain that processes the errors is putting the batteries.
And thirdly, let’s surround ourselves with people who will help us learn. In the previous case, it is the family, but we have endless possibilities: companions, friends, couple… who offers to give you valuable information. Of course, there are more options: work with people who are in your same challenge or be with experts or mentors who know the subject and learn from them.
In short, science has given us a good argument to relieve ourselves when we screw up: we feed the circuit of mistakes that allows us to learn faster. Therefore, get in as soon as possible to experiment and make mistakes because only in this way will you be able to incorporate new knowledge.