Mistakes make your brain grow bigger
Failures and mistakes are like dots in the big scheme of things. They trace the right path for you. We all need to be reminded that they are just fine and that they are a huge part of growth and success
While I was growing up, I often heard my teachers say things like to student of my class, “Oh, Rohan is gifted in algebra.” While watching the Olympics I would hear my father say, “These gymnasts are born with such agility.” When we would pass by a swimming pool, I would hear my elder brother say, “I have no idea how people swim so well.”
These natural and innocent statements shaped my beliefs about talent. They gave me a fixed mindset. I believed people were born with certain talents and abilities and if they didn’t have a particular one at birth, then they never would. Hence, I rarely focused on algebra because I could see I was not ‘gifted’ in it. I did not even try to be a gymnast because I was ‘not born with that agility’ and I never stepped into the pool because ‘I did not have any idea how people swam’.
Nobody told me when I was a child that algebra always seems difficult at first, but if you keep trying to befriend it, you will have a lifelong friendship with numbers. Nobody told me that gymnasts train all the time to master that agility. Any child’s body can transform through regular practice and rehearsal. Nobody told me that no child is a born swimmer. With dedication and practice, you can master floating in the water and swimming in deep oceans.
Nobody told me that if you keep trying and trying and trying, and have fun, one day a difficult feat will seem easy-peasy.
That is a growth mindset, wherein we intrinsically believe that we can be whatever we would like to be. All we have to do is try and never give up. We have to believe that we can become intelligent or master any skill if we make an effort on a daily basis.
Mistakes make our brain grow bigger
I learnt about the growth mindset from my wife one day at the dinner table. I was finishing some paperwork and I said, “Oh no, how could I have made that mistake!” She instantly said, “Honey, don’t worry. Mistakes make your brain grow bigger.” She was unstoppable as she continued, “I learnt somewhere that the brain gets stronger and smarter if we keep trying. You must keep trying and trying,”
I found this adorable, but I later realized the deep significance of the statement. As a teacher I knew that even a single mistake could be disastrous. Teachers live with the fear and burden of that mistake creeping in. So I wrote out and framed the quote, “Buddy, don’t worry about mistakes. They make your brain grow bigger.” And I put it up in my room to see and reflect on daily. It caused ripples of relief and respite on many days. A simple statement from a dear one made me realize the unreal benchmarks we set for ourselves. The stress we invite by the idea of ‘perfectionism’. The fear of making mistakes is programmed into us very early on. When we are criticized as children over making mistakes or when we watch parents suffer over their own errors, we observe and imbibe this unhelpful trait for life.
We all need to be reminded that mistakes are just fine and that they are a huge part of growth and success. However, the regular belief is the opposite. We are hardwired to believe that mistakes will translate into a punishment of sorts, mistakes are always bad, and successful people never make mistakes. Adults spend a lifetime not trying something simply because the fear of failing cripples our moves. Had someone defined ‘failure’ differently to us, we would all be far more adventurous and far happier.
“The greatest mistake a man can ever make is to be afraid of making one,” says Elbert Hubbard.
Words such as ‘failure’ and ‘mistake’ have been defined faultily to us. We dread ‘failures’ and ‘mistakes’ greatly and pass on our beliefs to our children. The truth is, how can we achieve greatness, versatility and a fearless attitude if we fear failing so much?
Failing is as important as success. I guess that’s why Einstein and Edison loved their failures. They would celebrate them. It gave them clarity that a particular tactic or approach would not work, and it was a signal to move on.
Failures and mistakes are like dots in the big scheme of things. They trace the right path for you. Sadly, people take them so personally and give up their journey, not realizing that a failure or mistake is not a cul-de-sac. We must correct this with our children and give them a new perspective. We must encourage them to make mistakes because that means they are trying out new ideas and venturing into new territories every day. The word ‘failure’ makes you lose hope. On the contrary, it should give you clarity that if a particular path does not work, you either need to try harder or find another conduit.