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The magic of mistakes

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar  

Everyone commits blunders, but the wise learn from them

A life spent making mistakes is more honourable and useful than a life doing nothing

– George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever learnt from a mistake you have made? Many won’t admit doing so. For those who do, there is no need for guilt.

We often make mistakes from taking risks, but some brush them aside and learn from it. With that, they may not make mistakes the next time around.

When entrepreneurs spend time and money trying to avoid failure, the lessons learnt from missteps can be invaluable, making them wiser and ultimately earning them more profit.

While we know the importance of learning from mistakes, the reality is not as easy as it sounds — despite the best efforts, our brains fight us every step of the way by making us rationalise that it was not a big mistake to start with.

The name of the game

Everyone makes mistakes, but the wise learn from them. Experience is the name of our mistakes and the resulting pain nourishes courage. The hidden magic in every mistake is the learning. To learn from mistakes, we have to first acknowledge that we have made one, but that makes us feel bad about ourselves. To avoid it, we often skirt around the truth, which is a big obstacle and arguably the most important one to overcome.

The magic of mistakes
 

We often retroactively create positive attributes to a choice we have already made, which is a choice supportive bias and an example of a rationalisation-after- the-event.

Effects of making mistakes are not limited to the psychological level either. When we celebrate after a win, there is a rush of “feel-good” chemicals such as testosterone and dopamine from the brain, giving us a high. With repetition, this neurotransmitter signal morphs the brain’s chemical configuration to make the better-trained people feel smarter and more confident.

The dictum “success begets success” makes future winnings more likely and neuroscientists call it the “winner effect”, which along with the not-yet-officially-named “loser effect” runs in accordance with Nietzsche’s famous adage “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

The 18th century polymath Benjamin Franklin was being more intuitive than rigorously scientific when he famously defined insanity (as echoed by Einstein) as “doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result”. Such persisting attitudes are not a foible because the consequences can be severe.

Neurosciences suggest that the inability to learn from mistakes may lie at the heart of problems such as passive aggression, substance abuse and certain types of personality disorders. The changes in EEG patterns in some cases suggest that the flaws may be hard-wired in the brain.

Since science is about measurable and repeatable phenomena, every failed experiment is a learning experience. Failures being more plentiful than successes, mistakes are to be celebrated because of their immense tutorial value.

Ian Wilmut had hundreds of failures before succeeding with cloning Dolly the sheep.

docgjohn@aol.com

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 10:20:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-magic-of-mistakes/article29245877.ece

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