Mistakes Grow Your Brain: How to Use the Science of Struggle to Improve the Learning Experience


The more you love mistakes, the more your brain will grow.

Brain scans actually show that our brain grows more when we make mistakes – because it means it’s entered new territory, so there’s more stuff ‘firing’.

People are way too scared of ‘failure’ and mistakes – which keeps them from pushing themselves intonew challenges. Science is showing that this fear is actually illogical, because mistakes are amazing for the brain!

Here’s how it works:

  1. So the more you and your kids love mistakes, the less you’ll be afraid of them.

  2. The less afraid of mistakes you are, the more you will try new things.

  3. The more new things you try (and mistakes you make), the more your brain grows and the more challenging things you can keep taking on!

To get better at loving mistakes, understandthe science.S tart with this article on how mistakes literally and physiologically lead to more brain growth than getting answers right.

Then, watch (and show your students or kids) this video on how amazing mistakes are.W a tch this short Khan academy video about growing your brain.

The more you focus on the process instead of results, the longer you (and your students) will persevere and take on challenges.

Research also shows that the more kids understand that ‘their brain is like a muscle that grows the more they use it’, and the more they celebrate and are praised for effort and strategies (instead of intelligence or results),the more they persevere and take on more challenging tasks!

To get better at focusing on process and growth instead of results,start with this really great summary of growth mindsets.

Next, use “process praise” instead of “person praise.”

For example, when an adult uses ‘process praise’, such as:

“Wow, I love how much you kept trying new ideas!” or”I love how you used a rhyme to remember that!” or”I love how hard you worked on that!” –instead of “Wow, you are so smart!” (person praise).

Just changing thesefew key words in how we praise kidsis confirmed by research to change their outcomes significantly and in the long term. (See article above.)

Then, show kids videos that talk about how the brain grows :

Here are some eally fun animated videos for kids called The Mojo Show based on Stanford research

The more often kids get these messages, the better…

Starting around 9-10 years old, kids start believing that ‘effort = lack of innate ability’, meaning, if something feels hard, it means they’ll never be good at it, so they stop trying.(Read U Chicago’s research on this.)

This happens a lot in math especially – and teachers who focus too much on speed and getting answers ‘right’ actually block students from really understanding and enjoying math (and other subjects).(Read Stanford’s research on this.)

So the more you and the young people in your life learn how to ‘celebrate mistakes’ and love the process more than the results, the better learning will feel, and the more we will all get to see what people are really made of as they take on higher and higher challenges.

Teachers I consult with who have tried these ‘mindset shifts’ have observed almost immediate improvements in how their students tackle new tasks and deal with mistakes.

Let me know if you have been trying these ideas and have seen any changes!

One comment

Leave a comment