Scientists Confirm That In Order To Succeed, You Have To First Fail

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If you have ever tried a new sport or attempted learning a musical instrument, you are well aware that the hardest part is getting started. Once you figure out the technique, the skills return fairly easily, even if they are not used for long periods of time. Most experts attribute this to "muscle memory," which means the brain remembers the action and can recall it when needed. Now some researchers from John Hopkins University believe there is another factor that may be as important in recalling previously learned motor skills - the errors made while learning the task.

The study led by Reza Shadmehr, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, involved asking volunteers to play a simple video game: hitting a red target dot with a slightly smaller blue dot, similar to playing virtual darts. What the gamers did not know was that as soon as they mastered the game, the researchers reprogrammed it by moving the blue dot slightly off-course, thereby forcing them to restart the learning process. What the scientists observed was that though the volunteers did make mistakes every time the game was changed, they got successively faster at mastering it.

Shadmehr believes that this has to do with the fact that in addition to committing the task to muscle memory, the brain is also critiquing each wrong move and learning how to correct it. He likens it to having a coach that points out the mistakes and makes suggestions on how to improve.

What surprised the scientists, who published their findings in Science Express on August 14th, is that making mistakes not only trains the brain to perform better at a specific task, but also helps it learn faster from errors, even when the mistakes are made while learning a completely different task. The researchers believe that the brain keeps a general database of errors and draws on them whenever a new motor skill is being learned, to ensure that mistakes are not repeated. This helps makes successive learning processes much faster and probably explains why people who master one sport or musical instrument, are able to pick up others, with relative ease.

While for scientists, these new findings may be a way to help improve rehabilitation methods for people with strokes or spinal injuries, for the rest of us it means realizing that making mistakes is a good thing. So the next time you are practicing musical scales, working on your tennis serve, or learning any other motor skill, don’t get discouraged by the errors - because that's just what you need to become the next Rafa Nadal or cellist extraordinaire, Yo-Yo Ma!

Resources: hopkinsmedicine.org

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717 Comments
  • sushicat_159
    sushicat_1592 months
    This is so true!
    • azie
      azie4 months
      very fun to read and also true!!
      • zachatack
        zachatack8 months
        This is a great lesson for you.You will fail in life but then get better at that as your doing it
        • jazmine2008
          jazmine20089 months
          oh fail ok that's been done. i have horrible grades. i have a lot of c's b's and one a and that is a hard class to fail. so yeah. 💖
          • fancygirl27
            fancygirl2710 months
            it is super! and so cool LOL
            • fancygirl27
              fancygirl2710 months
              it is super! and so cool LOL
              • ivhdyu
                ivhdyu12 months
                cool
                • justletmeusethi
                  I dont know how i feel about it besides i is very inspiaring
                  • sossus
                    sossus12 months
                    i didnt really like it but it wasn nessiserily bad
                    • aapatterson
                      aapattersonalmost 2 years
                      it was the best