We all make mistakes, we are not infallible. And we commit them more often than we are willing to acknowledge. Some mistakes are small and insignificant, such as not buying milk because we are "sure" that we still have some at home. Others are more important, such as forgetting an appointment for a job interview and missing out on this opportunity. And other mistakes mark inflection points in our life, such as losing a partner out of fear of compromising ourselves.
Three ways of dealing with mistakes
Nobody likes to make mistakes, we don't do it on purpose. We usually experience mistakes as unpleasant emotional experiences. What is really important is not the error itself but the way we react when we realize we are wrong. What do we do when we are late for the job interview and we miss the opportunity?
Some simply admit that they were wrong: “I forgot the appointment time, next time I will have to write it down in my diary”. This is the most mature reaction because it implies not only the acknowledgment of responsibility, but also the adoption of measures so that it does not happen again. Admitting and learning from our mistakes allows us to enter a growth spiral.
Others admit they made a mistake, but do not openly acknowledge it: “If it hadn't been for the traffic, I would have arrived in time. Next time I'll have to leave earlier. " In this case, although you don't take responsibility yourself, at least you learn the lesson. It is not perfect but it is already something.
Others, however, categorically refuse to acknowledge their mistake and even hold others responsible: "Interviewers have to foresee possible delays, it is unheard of that they did not give me a second chance!" In this case, not only do you reject personal responsibility, but you blame someone else for what happened and you can even go as far as denying the facts or distorting them to fit your personal vision. Why do some people react this way?
For the fragile ego, mistakes are threats
The error has a negative connotation that is imprinted in our mind from the first years of life. An education based on reward for achievement and punishment for mistakes sets a negative precedent, causing some people to try to avoid mistakes by all possible - and impossible - means.
These people are convinced that mistakes make them useless and expose them to humiliation or social disapproval. In fact, a study conducted at Stanford University revealed that social pain activates the same brain circuits as physical pain. As a result, the brain interprets any attack on the ego, from mild criticism to direct rejection, as physical pain. Fear of social reaction, therefore, would generate resistance to the recognition of errors.
However, those who fear social reaction are because they have a fragile ego. People who do not feel safe and depend on the approval of others often see mistakes as something threatening, in such a way that their ego does not tolerate them and denies them. For those people, accepting that they are wrong is a severe blow to their self-esteem, so they put in place a defense mechanism that leads them to distort reality to fit their ideas.
Often these are also very rigid people, who never give up their ideas and do not recognize that they have made mistakes even in the face of evidence. This psychological rigidity is not synonymous with strength, as they like to believe, but with weakness. These people do not cling to their view of the facts out of conviction, but to protect their ego. Whoever does not recognize their mistakes, therefore, is a psychologically fragile person.
Vicious circle or spiral of growth? You decide…
Admitting that we are wrong can be a huge blow to any ego. It takes a lot of emotional strength and solid self-esteem to recognize our mistakes and take responsibility. But if we can't recognize our mistakes, we can't correct them. As a result, we will plunge into a vicious circle condemned to stumble indefinitely on the same stone. And this is even worse.
Neuroscientists at Michigan State University found that when we make a mistake, two fast signals are generated in our brains. An initial response indicates that something went wrong. A second longer answer indicates that we are trying to correct the error. The interesting thing is that the brains of people who think they can learn from their mistakes react differently.
The second signal is much more intense, which means their brain is working hard to correct the error by paying more attention. People who had a rigid mindset and didn't recognize their mistakes, however, didn't show that level of activation, meaning they weren't correcting the mistake. As a result, their performance was worse because they were constantly wrong.
Recognizing mistakes is not a pleasant feeling. We may feel bad, but maybe that's the key. Neuroscientists at Ohio State University have found that people who only think about failure tend to make excuses for their failures and don't try harder when faced with a similar situation.
These people try to justify the thought that the mistake is not their fault or that the consequences are not as serious as it seems. They develop self-protective thoughts such as "it wasn't my fault" or "I couldn't have done better, even if I tried."
On the other hand, people who focus on their emotions after a failure try harder when faced with a similar situation. These people show thoughts of improvement such as "next time I will try to do better". This means that we can use emotions in our favor, as indicators to help us learn from our mistakes and strive to avoid them in the future.
In fact, the only big mistake we can make is to rigidly and persistently refuse to acknowledge our mistakes, thinking that it is a sign of strength because in reality it is the opposite: a sign of immaturity and fragility.