Nothing new will happen if you don’t have this

Talking about, even “celebrating” mistakes is not enough
for us to become less afraid of failure.

And it’s not enough to help us learn anything new.

“Re-framing” mistakes is the first point of entry but it’s only the beginning.
(If you missed the previous post about this, click here to read it).

You must create a track record of movement

The next step to push through a fear of mistakes
and to actually create NEW behavior….
is to create a conscious record of surviving the discomfort and awkwardness that happens when we try to do something we’ve never done before.

The only way to build this record (aka., a conscious/explicit memory)
is to intentionally engage in movement despite our nervousness or fear of failing.

By movement, I mean things like:

  • movement of the body
  • micro-movements of the vocal cords and diaphragm (speaking, singing),
  • movement of fingers across a key board,
  • hand gestures,
  • movement of a paintbrush across a canvas,
  • moving electrodes on a person’s head or face to collect new information,
  • moving bits of data to create new combinations.

Sensorimotor mastery (automation) is needed 

Sensorimotor = using the senses and motor functions/movement

ALL learning – no matter how old we are, starts with sensorimotor learning
until it’s mastered into a semiautomatic process*.
Doing a movement enough times creates an efficient neural network
– also called a ‘schema’ (similar to something computer programmers call a ‘subroutine’).

*For more on this, read Patricia McGuiness’ book Why Our Children Can’t Read,
which is recommended by Stephen Pinker as “one of the most important books of the decade”. She gives a fascinating review of how how backwards we teach reading to kids. For a critical review of her approach and a totally contradictory

but also interesting point of view, read this New York Times Review).


A skill that’s automatic uses fewer neurons and less glucose,
so it feels like it takes much less effort.
Being ‘better’ at something means you are doing it more automatically.


The better you get, the less of your brain is actively involved. 

When you start out a new skill, your brain will gobble up glucose,
which will make you feel tired, awkward, and uncomfortable.

The more you move, the more automatic your movements get,
the less glucose your brain will need, the easier it will feel.

Once that happens, you can focus more on adding your own ‘flare’ and complexity to it.

For example, when a child is learning to read –
they need to master the sensorimotor movements of their eyes across the page,
and moving their mouth while saying (or mouthing) the words aloud to gain mastery.
Once that is automatic, they can move onto processing meaning.

p.s. –  SEEING is a MOTOR MOVEMENT: if our eyes didn’t move, our brains wouldn’t register that we are seeing anything.
LISTENING is a MOTOR MOVEMENT: our middle ear muscles tense and relax to hear either human voice or background sounds.


(click to download as a pdf!)


Make a new move, and then do it again and again


If you want to learn something new (or help someone else learn something new),
or be more creative – whether that means creating a new object, project, idea…
or even creating a new relationship, or a change in your life on any level ….

You have to bring an idea from the interior (your mind) to the exterior.

The only way to do this is you must initiate some new, intentional form of
​​​​​​​ physical movement, however small or microscopic. 

And you’ll need to do it again and again until it’s mastered on a sensorimotor level.

When people think ‘movement’, they often think of more obvious forms.
I’m talking more about ‘sensorimotor learning’  – but calling it ‘movement’.

Here are examples:

  • Moving a pen across the paper to express what you’re thinking or tell a story.
  • Moving your finger to push the submit, send, post or publish button.
  • Moving your mouth and vocal cords to say something NEW so someone can hear it.
  • Moving your lips, mouth and vocal cords to sing.
  • Dancing.
  • Walking.

Some other ideas:

  • Say something you’ve never said.
  • Smile at someone you’ve never smiled at.
  • Shake the hand of someone you’ve never met.
  • Share something about yourself you’ve never shared.

The key being, don’t just think about doing
or creating or saying something…

You need to actually get your body to make a movement it’s never made before.

And then do it again and again.

Eventually, you’ll have a track record
of surviving the discomfort of doing something new.
(Not pre-approved, not something you’ve done before. Something NEW).

You may never get over the feeling of nervousness (I haven’t!!!)
but having a history of surviving those feelings of anxiety
can give you the guts to feel that fear and create anyway.

That’s been my journey.

Now… If you want to help others  make those new movements, feel less afraid of failure,
there’s something else you can do to help.

That’s in the next month’s article.

Til then,


“The price of inaction is far greater
​​​​​​​than the cost of making a mistake.”

– Meister Eckhart

(click the image to download this pdf!)

Saying it in a cheesy way (my favorite way!),
if you want something new to happen,
you’ve got move it, move it  🙂 🙂

Neuroscience for new mindsets

Get free new tools every month on how to use neuroscience to spark emotionallly intelligent innovation.

We respect your privacy.

Mistakes ‘neurobiologically’ grow your brain.

“We don’t passively forget that something is scary.
We actively learn that it isn’t anymore.”

– Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky, Behave


We aren’t born afraid of failure.
We learn to become afraid of it.

Why does this matter?

Because, according to IDEO’s innovation experts David Kelley and Tom Kelley,

“fear of failure […] is the single biggest obstacle
people face to creative success”.

This is one of the most important issues of our time.


Because creativity and innovative problem-solving are the only ways
we, as a species, will evolve beyond our outdated systems, structures and
patterns of history repeating itself.

So what can we do about this?


To ‘actively learn’ that mistakes aren’t scary means we have to shift the way we SEE them.

When we see something as helpful instead of harmful,
we are more likely to approach it.

“The difference between greatness and mediocrity is often how an individual views a mistake”  – Nelson Boswell

To actively learn that mistakes aren’t scary
we need to know what a mistake actually is –
NOT the meaning we’ve learned to make about it,
but what it is actually is, on a bio-mechanical level.


Mistakes lead to electrochemical activity in the brain
called the ERN response.  

Go to this AMAZING Stanford website with exciting research related to this:

This ONLY happens when we make a mistake.
It does NOT happen when we get an answer right.

In fact, we don’t even need to realize we’ve made a mistake
in order for this ERN activity to happen.

When we understand how the brain learns, this totally makes sense…

If we’re answering a question correctly,
It means we’ve already activated
the neural circuitry needed to perform that task.

Let me repeat that…

Getting an answer right,
or doing something well is
just repeating neural activity that has already happened many times.

So, the ‘re-frame’ or ‘mindset shift’ is:

a) Mistakes literally (‘neurobiologically’) grow your brain.

b) A mistake means you’re a performer ‘in the arena’.

Not a bystander.
Not a critic.
Not just passively posting a ‘like’ or an emoji.
You are actually, actively, sparking new activity that is literally growing your brain.


c) A mistake is therefore a sign of growth and opportunity,
NOT weakness

In your own life, organization, school, or classroom…
whatever you collectively choose
to reward, to praise, to notice*,
becomes a group-mindset.    

(*in fact – there’s science that shows us testosterone helps amplify what we collectively reward and value.  Testosterone is not inherently an ‘aggressive’ hormone, it’s just that is what we have socially rewarded for a very long time)…  more on that later.  Read Robert Sapolsky’s book, Behave to find out more).


(click the image to download this as a pdf!)



When we choose to value things like mistakes, effort,
and even being someone who is ‘outside of the herd’,
we create ‘Psychological Safety’
to do those things we’re normally afraid of.

According to Frederik Pferdt – Google’s Chief Innovation Evangelist,
(who I heard as a keynote speaker at the d.confestival in Berlin a few weeks ago),
‘Psychological Safety’ is one of Google’s keys to foster innovation.

The safer we feel about something, the more likely we are to approach it.
That’s how our brain works.

If we feel safe about making a mistake,
we’ll more likely try something we’ve never done before.


Re-frame mistakes by acknowledging what they actually are,
NOT the story that’s been passed down from previous generations.

According to the laws of nature,
mistakes are related to growth and evolution,
not weakness or inferiority.   

They are the very ingredient of anything NEW.


The more deeply you get this, the more sincere you’ll be when you tell people (including yourself) to try something new even if you might fail.

Ok… So that’s a piece of the puzzle —   a new way of seeing mistakes.

But then what?
Just keep saying mistakes are great without making any adjustments?
Of course not!
We then need to adjust, pivot, refine and try something new.


In next month’s article, I’ll give you key #2 to doing that NEW thing that moves us out of repeating our past and into a mode of creating a new reality.


Click on the image below to download it as a printable pdf



If you’re a parent or teacher, 

Read this ‘mistakes grow your brain’ article
specifically geared to educators, parents and caregivers!


If you’d like these monthly articles sent to your inbox, subscribe below!


Creating Safety through Vulnerability

I was asked this question recently by someone who is a member of a nudist colony:


Yes,  you read that correctly..


“What is the neurobiological reasons people enjoy social nudism? What is its social impact?”
Many of you know that I LOVE getting asked new questions,
so I was very excited to explore this topic and see how it relates to neurobiology.
This may seem like an unrelated to the science of mindset
and empathy, but similarly to those topics,
the deepest root of this question is about
a sense of safety and vulnerability:
the two most critical ingredients every human needs to grow and evolve
(and have access to the brain architecture
needed for self-awareness,
so that we can shift our mindsets and behaviors).
A sense of safety is our absolute most primitive, foundational state

that must occur before any other brain activity can really happen.


Safety is a relative term, though: it’s based on each individual’s experiences.

When we feel safe, our most evolved system of interaction comes online
– it’s called the ‘social engagement system’.
It’s actually a cranial nerve that allows us to express our voice (vocalization),
use facial gestures and tense our middle ear muscles in order to hear a human voice.
We use this system to let others know two things:
our internal state, and our intentions.

This is called the Polyvagal theory –
it was discovered and coined by one of the most brilliant minds I admire: Stephen Porges.

When we feel safe, our most evolved brain architecture
is also accessible for us to be ‘conscious’ of what is happening,
and create what we call ‘explicit memories’.


This is very different than what happens when we don’t feel safe.

When we don’t feel safe, for example, with another person,
we attempt to first use our social engagement system –
we will use words and facial gestures to create safety.
If this doesn’t work, our next, lesser evolved system
comes online – our ‘mobilization’ system, aka fight or flight.

If we have experiences trying to use either of these systems
and they aren’t successful in creating safety,
our most ancient system is then recruited,
– the fold or freeze system, which is embodied by the ‘shame posture’…
Our folding over, heads bowed, in submission.
This is a system that we do everything to avoid being in
because it is almost like a resignation to whatever the threat is.
(The shame, or fold/freeze posture in mammals can often be fatal
because the heart actually stops, or the predator gets us).


That was a long way to say –

that we do everything possible to avoid shame.


And one way to do that is to seek to feel vulnerable and safe
at the same time.

If there is one area that we are born loving
and then learning to feel shame about, it is our bodies

– and in particular our nudity and sexuality.
(Much of this due to the societal influences,
including the dominance of religious doctrine over the millennia).

One way we can ‘create safety’ with each other
is to attempt to use our social engagement systems
during situations where our more ancient systems would normally come online.

So – ‘play’ is our way of using our mobilization (fight/flight)
but with vocalization and facial gestures.

We can play a sport or game, or other adrenaline-inducing activities:
adrenaline rises, blood flow to our skeletal muscles increases,
but we know we are ‘safe’ to use that system with those other humans.
(p.s. – All mammals engage in play – rough housing, chasing, etc.)


And so – the nudist situation would lead me to hypothesize

that it is a way of ‘creating safety’

using the social engagement system (talking, eye contact, facial gestures)
in a situation that would normally induce feelings of shame.

This gives us a sense of control over our nervous system –
which is incredibly empowering because our nervous system
can often be influenced by unconscious triggers.

The more we make those unconscious triggers conscious,
the more power we have over our life experiences.

​​​​​​Now… This does NOT mean I am promoting
social nudity in your workplace or classroom..

BUT what I will propose is the idea that you find some way
to allow for vulnerability and safety at the same time.

This could take the form of you – as a leader – talking about feeling nervous or embarrassed, about how you have no idea what you are doing sometimes.
Things like improv, spoken word, creating some type of art (which can be using words or objects) That lead your staff to feel ‘like a beginner’,
Like they have no idea what they’re doing..

But they’re doing it in a space that welcomes
Their vulnerability of being a novice or expert
And that expresses feelings – whether they are sad, nervous, joyful, raging, embarrassed, hopeful.

Find some way to allow for the people you are leading
to shed layers of what they think is the ‘approved of’ version of them.

And model what it looks like to really be who you are
– embrace your weirdnesses,
those things that don’t seem to fit with anyone else.

What a RARE thing to feel… And yet we all need to feel it,
the more the better: Safe AND Vulnerable … AT THE SAME TIME.


Why do I think thoughts that make me feel bad?


The brain does not know which thoughts
make you feel “bad” or “good”.

To the brain, thoughts are just electro-chemical pulses used to react to your environment.

There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thoughts.

Unfortunately, though, this means that we have thoughts that make us feel bad
– even if that doesn’t seem to be what we want.

How does this happen?


Your brain created pathways a long time ago
that affect how you see the world

Your first thoughts about the world came from what was around you.

As a child, you probably got the same messages over and over again

For example, if as a child, you grew up in a household
where there was a lot of yelling and fighting, you may have had the thought more than once
that “the world is a negative, angry place”.


It may have even been more subtle, like

“people are easily irritated by me,”

“I’m the reason people are unhappy”.


Each time we have a thought, cells in our brain send ‘pulses’ to each other.

It could look like this:

X –   –   –   –   X

The more we were around those people,  the more those cells continue to ‘talk to each other’.

X- – – – – – – -X


Since we’re in the same environments over and over again, those cells tend to ‘talk to each other’ a lot.

The brain then starts to ‘invest’ in those pathways by sending white fat to cover the connection between those cells.


That white fat covering (called myeline) makes it so those cells have faster connections and are the first to activate when we are in different situations.


This means that… if, say, you were around really stressed out or angry people growing up…

there’s a good chance you have opinions about yourself based on those stressed out/angry/ depressed/anxious people’s beliefs about life and you.


Because you were around them a lot, you may have these ‘thick connections’
in your brain related to negative thoughts about yourself.

These pathways are not the ‘truth’ about you –
they were just created based on you reacting to the stress/anxiety of other people around you.


When you are really upset, there’s a good chance
you’re having negative thoughts that are coming from the past
– and those ‘thick connections’.


One way to lower the stress that comes from all of that ‘negative’ wiring is to simply be more aware…
you can do that just by asking this question the next time you get really angry or depressed about something:

“is my reaction to this event based 100% on what is happening only in this moment…  Or is it possible that part of my reaction comes from stuff that happened before this that makes me think this thing is worse than it is?”

This video explains this idea even further!



Forget the growth mindset (for a moment): where do fixed mindsets come from?


Enthusiasm is building about ‘growth mindset’ and how it helps students persevere and stay open to new challenges.

But what about the ‘fixed mindset’?  Why do we have them?  Where do they come from?

And what can we do help students push through their fixed behaviors and fears of failure?


Find out here in my article for BAM Education Radio blog here!






Growth Mindset Goal-Setting Workbook – free pdf!

don't just stand there

I created this recently for a group of teachers, and wanted to pass it along to you.


It’s a mini goal-setting booklet to help strategize how you will
spark growth mindsets into your classroom this school year.


There are three points of focus that are backed by research
to help motivate students to become more self-regulating,
persistent and conscientious when it comes to their academic
and out-of-school behaviors:


1) Celebrating Mistakes
2) Praising Process
3) Cultivating Purpose (specifically: “self-transcendent purpose”


The workbook has links to downloadable activities,
a summary of how these three pillars improve student performance, and
space for self-reflection and goal-setting.


Subscribe to get the Growth Mindset Goal-Setting Booklet

Neuroscience for new mindsets

Get free new tools every month on how to use neuroscience to spark emotionallly intelligent innovation.

We respect your privacy.


(if you’re already a subscriber, check your inbox!)


Based on cutting-edge research from Harvard & Stanford University, my own research
and my personal experience with direct counseling to young people,
I feel very strongly about point #3:


‘Self-transcendent’ purpose is about a recognition of a contribution
you are making to something or someone other than just yourself.

I think this sense of purpose is one of the most powerful,
transformative catalysts that can change a young person’s trajectory.


It is becoming an important focal point in my own work,
and reflects this uplifting and fun-to-watch TED talk by Simon Sinek,
The Golden Circle: How Great Leaders Inspire Action


If there are any of you out there who would like to explore this concept further with me, please email me!


Let me know if you have any suggestions for tweaks I can make to the goal-setting workbook make it more useful to you!

Teacher empathy reduces school suspensions: 7 keys to growing today’s most important skill


A recent study from Stanford University showed that training teachers to have more empathy
towards students reduced school suspensions by more than 50%.


And guess what? The training for teachers consisted of a mere two online sessions – a 45 minute and a 25-minute session.


Empathy is also rated as “the most valuable thing they teach at Harvard Business School“.


Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab, lists Empathy as an essential skill
that helps students become innovators (he even talks about it on twitter)


So how can we bring this to our school?

Here are a few suggestions inspired by a paper from the Harvard School of Education


1. Model empathy


2. Teach what empathy is and what it isn’t


3. Practice it


4. Discuss how and why students should expand their circle about who they care about
(watch my youtube on what this does in the brain)


5. Make school/classroom climate and emotional safety a high priority


To help you with a few of these points, here are 7 keys to understanding what empathy is,
what it’s not, amd why it matters.


What is empathy?


#1) Empathy is not a behavior. It’s not a strategy.


It’s a way of seeing.


It’s seeing someone as being more like you than unlike.


#2) Empathy is not sympathy.


As Brene Brown puts it, sympathy is the feeling of “you poor thing”, which puts you
as the ‘strong one’ and them as puny and weak.


#3) Empathy is about the feeling of “me too.” “I’ve been there”.


It’s about digging deep into your own vulnerable psyche, past the ego, to the place where you can say
“I can see myself feeling just like you are feeling right now.”


It’s about seeing life from their eyes.


When we do this, it becomes natural to, as resilience expert Dr. Robert Brooks puts it,
“rather then deny or dismiss their struggles, see their strengths and beauty”.


#4) Empathy is a strengths-based approach.


Empathy is about seeing a person who is behaving ‘badly’ as someone who is overwhelmed
by their own feelings. And when you can say “I’ve been there too”, it confirms that you know
the other person can handle and survive what they’re going through- because you have done so.


#5) Empathy is a muscle that grows with use.

(just like all other skills and character traits, we can develop ‘high-speed’ brain pathways for them
by intentionally practicing them over and over).


#6) Empathy is not a proclamation, it’s a process of courageously seeing
how alike you are to another person.

It requires you to drop your ego.


The more regularly you can “say me too”, the more you’ll see how much vulnerability we all share as human beings.


Empathy is about allowing yourself to try to feel what another person is feeling to the point
where you gain access to the subconscious parts of your own experiences.


These subconscious memories can then help you come up with the words that
you most needed to hear when you felt that way too.


Which then gives you the awareness of how to say something to someone that can actually
help them move through what they need to.


#7) Empathy is not a ‘bonus’ skill to teach or work on only when you have time.


Particularly in today’s digital world, it should be a mandatory part of curriculum and teacher training.


Increasing numbers of research studies show that a huge factor of student happiness, engagement
and success is tied to a teacher’s ability to empathize.


It’s also considered by top business schools like Harvard and Stanford, as one of the most important skills
to learn for the “Connection and Innovation Economy” that we now live in
(very different than the old industrial economy of our parents and grandparents).


To sum up Harvard’s suggestions about bringing empathy into your school:


Model it. Teach it. Practice it. Discuss it. Make it a priority.


“We are more alike my friends, than we are unalike”. – Maya Angelou


Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever experienced the difference between sympathy and empathy – how did it feel?



Want to spark more empathy and growth mindsets in your classroom or community?

Join the Growth Mindset self-study course!

for educators and parents who want to increase social emotional skills and growth mindsets in young people.

How kids absorb adults’ knee-jerk reactions


You as a parent or teacher, are influencing the neural pathways that will be laid down and become second nature for the young people who are regularly in your presence.


These are not just pathways about things like language and movement, or intelligence, but also pathways devoted to how they respond to life and how they see themselves and others.


For example, through your modeling and biofeedback, they may acquire:

a  “scared to try new things” pathway,

an “easily overwhelmed‘ pathway,

a “seeing the problems not the solutions pathway”,

a “some people are superior to others” pathway,

or a “oblivious to the problems of people less fortunate than me” pathway.


They are watching and learning with every one of your reactions.  And they will continue to teach others what you teach, and probably even amplify it.


For those of you who are not parents, or teachers, reverse this insight and you may be able see yourself – and the patterns of your life – more clearly.


Your parents influenced your neural pathways that have become your second nature, your knee jerk reactions and fixed ways of seeing yourself and others.


With a simple spark of recognizing this and knowing that you can, through your decision and consistent intentional attention, you can erase pathways that don’t serve you and build new ones that do.


You can then model

the “I’ll always try my hardest” pathway,

the “I intend to see the humanity in others” pathway,

the “I’ll seek to innovate my way out of challenges” pathway,

and the “I learn about others’ struggles and experiences so I can help more than just myself” pathway


That’s what meditation, social emotional learning (SEL), emotional intelligence, growth mindsets and mindfulness are all about.  You can google those words, and practice using your intuition to guide you in exploring them further.


If you’re curious about these topics, you can also sign up to the self-study course I offer that focuses on introductory neuroscience, growth mindsets and SEL.


For those of you who are already learning about this intentional way of using the mind, it is up to you to spread the word!


The more of us who learn and teach about this, the more power we have to live life on purpose.  This will help us disrupt the status quo of knee-jerk brain pathways that have been absorbed by us from the people around us who didn’t have the skills or the knowledge to know any better.


Let me know what you are doing to promote social emotional learning, mindfulness or growth mindsets in your home, community or workplace by sharing in the comments!