Mistakes grow your brain – for parents & teachers

#1) 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 into new challenges.  Science is showing that this fear is actually illogical, because mistakes are amazing for the brain!

Here’s how it works:

  1. The more you understand the brain ‘mechanics’ of failure and mistakes, the less you’ll be afraid of them.
  2. The less afraid of failure you are, the more you will try new things and push yourself to new levels.
  3. The more new things you try (and therefore mistakes you make), the more your brain grows, which helps it move up to another level of mastery of more and more advanced things.


To get better at loving mistakes, understand the science:
start with this article on how mistakes literally and physiologically lead to more brain growth than getting answers right.

Increased electrical activity occurs when the brain experiences conflict between a correct response and an error:

“the brain sparks and grows when we make a mistake, even if we are not aware of it, because it is a time of struggle; the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth.” – Professor Jo Boaler, Stanford University


Then, watch (and show your students or kids) this video on how amazing mistakes are for your  brain
Khan Academy how to grow your brain

Research shows that the more kids understand that ‘their brain is like a muscle that grows the more they use it’, the more they persevere at and take on challenging tasks.


#2) To help students be less afraid of failure, focus on the process instead of results.

To get better at focusing on process and growth instead of results,
Start with..start with this summary of growth mindsets from Stanford:


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 these few key words in how we praise kids is confirmed by research to change their outcomes significantly and in the long term. (here’s a cheat sheet on phrases you can use)


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

There’s really 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.
(here’s the research on that)

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 more research on that here)


So the more you and the kids 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.


When I have shared these ideas with teachers and they have implemented them, they have seen immediate changes in how their students tackle problems and deal with mistakes.
Let me know in the comments below if you have tried anything like this and what you’ve noticed!

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