Life is about failure as much as it is about success.

My endless fascination with neuroscience. What did Nathaniel Branden, Tony Robbins, and Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live all have in common? They apparently knew what neuropsychology is now able to show – self affirmation enhances performance~!

See the article here:

“They theorized that because self-affirmation has been shown to make us more open to threats and unfavorable feedback, it should also make us more attentive and emotionally receptive to the errors that we make.”

What’s interesting is that the researchers defined ‘self-affirmation’ as a process of  “focusing on the important qualities that make us who we are.” Instead of focusing on self-affirmation as a single thought or incident.

The surprising discovery is that contrary to popular belief self-affirmation can actually help a person ADMIT their mistakes and makes that person more resilient when faced with having made a mistake.

There is an actual neurophysiological response to errors. It’s called the error-related negativity response. “The ERN is a pronounced wave of electrical activity in the brain that occurs within 100 ms of making an error on a task.” Fascinating that there is a wave of electrical activity after making a mistake!! I wonder where this electrical wave originates?

Through this study we can actually see how receiving negative reinforcement after making a mistake as children imprints us with a heavy sense of threat when faced with an error. “To increase the sense of threat in the task, participants were given negative feedback (“Wrong!”) when they made a mistake.”

Not only did the self-affirmation group show more resilience to mistakes but their performance actually improved!

They actually made fewer errors!

We can actually regulate our defensiveness when faced with an error – this mechanism is the key success difference between people who can admit and learn from their mistakes versus those that resist and deny their error. In turn, this openness to threat and receptivity to error also makes us more resilient and better task performers! Such a simple study with far-reaching implications on a cultural level.  Although psychology had previously determined self-esteem to be an important component of living as healthy individuals, there is much skepticism in our society about approaching mistakes with an open mind – in some circles this is somehow considered ineffective.

The cultural attitude is that humility (receptivity) is somehow in conflict with self-affirmation. Also that self-affirmation prevents people from seeing their mistakes. This study shows just the opposite. Self-affirmation can allow us to admit our humanity and our mistakes with it.

Now if we can just find that sweet spot between too much self-affirmation to the detriment of being able to see mistakes.

Perhaps one day we will have a portable EEG sensing device that will track the spectrum of “error response” and we can correlate that to our level of self-affirmation or lack thereof. These are fascinating times!