How to learn from your mistakes (2023)

Sooner or later everyone fails at something. But does everyone learn from their mistakes? In fact, the evidence suggests that most people struggle to grow from mistakes and failures.

How to learn from your mistakes (1)

When researchers Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Ayelet Fishbach created the game Coping with Failure, they wanted to test how well people learn from mistakes. The game consists of consecutive rounds of multiple-choice questions, where feedback from earlier rounds can help you do better in later rounds, and getting more correct answers means earning more money.

However, in many different studies, researchers have consistently found that people "learn less" from game failure. In fact, people continue to fail to learn from mistakes, even as incentives to do so increase.


How to learn from your mistakes (2)

"Even when participants had the opportunity to earn a learning bonus that was 900% greater than the participation payout, players learned less from failure than from success," they write. This is a finding echoed by other studies. The "ostrich effect" describes thisTrendso that investors stop reviewing their stocks when the market value is falling while they compulsively do so when things are going well. OneStudy 2012found that beginners generally avoid negative performance feedback.

Why do people avoid the lessons of failure? Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach addressed this question in alast articlepublished byPerspectives in Psychology. They find a variety of emotional and cognitive barriers to learning from mistakes and offer concrete steps to overcome them.

(Video) Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

Overcome feelings of failure

Failure hurts the ego, that metaphorical seat of our self-esteem and self-importance. When we fail, we feel threatened, and that sense of threat can trigger a fight or flight response.

"Fighting" in the context of failure seems like a total denial of the value of the task or a criticism of the people involved or the unfairness of the situation you faced. However, “running away” can be the most common response to failure. When we run away from failure, we divert our attention from the task that threatens our sense of self as effective people.

in oneSeries of six experimentspublished in 2020, Hallgeir Sjåstad, Roy Baumeister, and Michael Ent randomly assigned participants to receive good or bad feedback on a cognitive test or academic performance. They found that participants who initially failed a task predicted that future success would make them less happy than they actually were, and they tended to reject test objectives. The researchers coined the term "sour grape effect" to describe this type of reaction.

How can we make failure less ego-threatening? The search offers some suggestions.

Look at the mistakes of others.In their article, Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach suggest eliminating the failure ego as much as possible by first noticing other people's failures before accepting a task. In one of his studies, half of the participants in the game Coping with Failure learned from other people's negative results before playing it, and they learned more from those mistakes than from their own. In other words, when you start learning to ski, you'll probably find it helpful to watch YouTube videos of common mistakes before hitting the slopes yourself.

Take some distance.If negative emotions get in the way of your understanding, they likewise suggest tryingself-distancing techniques. In doing so, you reflect on your personal experience from the outside perspective of a neutral third party and ask yourself: “Why?jeremyfail?" instead of "WhyUEfail?" While that may sound cheesy, it seems to work. Like Amy L. Evahe writesShegreater good:

In accordance withSeekWhen people take a distanced perspective when discussing a difficult event, they better understand their reactions, experience less emotional distress, and show fewer physiological signs of stress. In the long term, they also experience reduced responsiveness when recalling the same troubling event weeks or months later and are less prone to recurring thoughts (or ruminations).

It can also help to write about failure in the third person or from the perspective of a future self viewing failure.

(Video) How to Learn From Your Mistakes | Jim Kwik

Share your own error story.Peopletend to hidetheir own failures out of shame, but there are ways to turn failures into successes by making it a success story.

in a series of2018mi2019Studies with Angela Duckworth, Eskreis-Winkler, and Fishbach challenged people to turn failures in different areas, such as work, fitness, or school, into inspiring stories for others. This often led to future success. High school students who shared their failures with high school students performed better than those who did not restate their failures; High school students who gave advice to elementary school students spent more time on their homework.

How can adults apply this knowledge in real life? For example, if you're a manager, consider sharing your mistakes with employees to help them improve their own performance, which will help them (and you) learn from mistakes.

Acknowledge your achievements.There are other ways to boost your ego. Studies consistently show that professionals are more tolerant of failure in their field, in part because they have a track record of success and build a future on dedication.

in oneTry 2014, the seventh-grade teachers combined constructive criticism with encouraging grades that reminded students of skills they had already demonstrated in the classroom, leading to better grades in the future. Research suggests that teachers can also reframe failure as success by making learning a goal, 2019 studyfound.

Of course, this idea can also be applied to the workplace: managers can take steps to boost employees' egos through feedback, reminding them how far they've come. You can also make learning one of the goals of each project to turn progress from missteps.

feel the disappointmentWhen all else fails, try to be sad about your mistakes and failures. there is onea lot of researchsuggesting that sadness evolved asreaction to failureand loss, and which serves to encourage us to reflect on our experiences. Sadness appears to improve memory and judgment, which can help us be successful in the future.Busesit can really increase motivation. When children reach the developmental stage where they can feel remorse, he suggestsa study from 2014, they are more likely to learn from mistakes.

Think beyond failure

In addition to the emotional challenge to our ego, failure also poses a cognitive challenge, which means that information from failure can be more difficult to process than a sense of achievement. “Whereas success indicates a successful strategy, people must infer what from failureNOdo,” write Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach.

(Video) How To Overcome Failure & Learn From Your Mistakes - Jordan Peterson

in a complexTry 2020, presented contestants with three boxes, each containing an imaginary big hit, a medium hit, and a small flop, with actual cash prizes associated with each selection. They structured the game so that the rewards were higher when choosing the failure scenario because the failure carries better information: "Learning the loser tile position statistically increases a player's win more than revealing the moderate win position because he knows how to avoid failure guarantees greater gain.”

The results? A third of the participants did not see that the imaginary glitch contained better information that would ultimately make them more money. "Even though 'failure' is a revelation, not an actual failure and therefore not an ego threat, people find it difficult to see that a failure contains useful information," they write.

It's not too hard to see what's going on in experiments like this: ego aside, we all need to be realistic about whether a task is worth our time and effort. An initial failure sends a signal that a task may not provide ROI; that's why we are naturally inclined towards success, even if the success story has nothing to do with us. So how can we get our brains to pay more attention to the lessons we learn from failure?

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Focus on the long-term goal.We often have to ask ourselves: Will my mistakes lead to future rewards? This is why goals and commitments are important to overcome the cognitive barriers that prevent learning from failure. Having a clear long-term goal in mind, such as: Things like becoming a doctor or learning to surf can help us tolerate short-term failure and deny information avoidance.

(Video) Learn How To Recover From Your Mistakes with Rick Warren

practice mindfulness."There's another reason why mistakes often contain superior information: mistakes contradict expectations," write Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach. Since humans almost never intend to fail, failure can be surprising, which has the happy effect of waking up our brains, and an alert brain learns more than a sleepwalker. If you're feeling overwhelmed by failure, take it as a cue to be mindful and stick with it, rather than ignoring it. As a matter of fact,several studiessuggest thatpractice mindfulness— that is, cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts and experiences — can help you overcome failure.

Reflect on the lessons you have learned.Since failure requires more interpretation and reasoning than success, Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach suggest reducing mental stress as much as possible if we want to learn from it.

In one version of their Facing Failure game, the researchers highlight the lessons of failure: “PLEASE NOTE: There were only two possible answers to the question. Based on the comments above, you can learn the correct answer! It's any option you didn't choose initially." You can do this yourself by distilling the lessons into notes for yourself: "I failed my math test because I didn't study hard enough for at least four hours!"

do less.Finally, they suggest improving our ability to learn by devoting less effort to tasks that present opportunities for failure. In other words, when you learn to do something difficult, you may need to prioritize it over easier tasks by simply doing one thing at a time. Repetitions help too. In other words, practice makes perfect, or at least it doesgood enough.

Practiceself-pity.Many peoplebelievethat after failure they should be hard on themselves; How else would you eventually grow? Actually,many recent studiessuggest that you are more likely to be when you speak kindly to yourself, the way a loved one might speak to you after failure.

Besides being kind to yourself, there is another component of self-compassion worth noting: shared humanity. This is the awareness of our connection to other people and the universality of human experience. Failure is one of those human experiences because it's inevitable. it is not aboutconyou will fail, then the time has come. The only real question you need to answer is what you can learn from the experience.

Well, maybe there's one more question you should ask yourself: keep failure to yourself, or make it a lesson for others. That can be scary, but as Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach argue, “lack of information is a public good. When people share, society benefits."


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6. Welcome (your) mistakes! | Norma Cerletti | TEDxMirandola
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