Behavioral Psychology

Embrace Mistakes

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Most of us are aversive towards making mistakes, and the reason why is obvious enough. Mistakes we made in the past were met with aversive consequences like punishment, shame, guilt, and other unpleasant stimuli. We quickly learned how to avoid these negative reinforcers, which was of course by not making any mistakes.

We can blame the trainers – parents, teachers, priests, and other authority figures in a teaching role – for this unfortunate state of affairs, but it’s not too late to reprogram our brains in order to embrace mistakes as an integral part of learning, to view them as positive reinforcers signifying that we are getting better. We have to make mistakes to get better.

It’s only at the zone of proximal development, what yogis call the edge, that improvement happens. This is where the task is challenging but doable. The challenging part means you’re going to fail sometimes, the doable part means you’re going to succeed sometimes. It’s the constant appraisal of your skill level and the purposeful shifting of the zone of proximal development to reflect where you currently are that leads to increasing mastery. Otherwise you’re likely to stay stuck at a mediocre stage indefinitely, not making any embarrassing mistakes but also never really improving.

In the context of yoga we’ve written that falling out of a pose is cause for celebration not consternation because it means you’re getting better. You can apply the same idea to pretty much any undertaking. The point is that only on that edge where mistakes happen can growth happen. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, regardless of the aversive consequences that accompanied them in your past. You’re an adult now, you’re the one in charge of your development, and if you want to further your development you’ve got to embrace mistakes not run away from them.