Our brains have the ability to create “plans” or shortcuts that we use over and over again to make decisions in our daily lives.
However, these shortcuts, called heuristics, can also lead us to repeat our mistakes. While children tend to repeat actions to learn, we are also the only animal to trip over the same stone multiple times. Mistakes we frequently repeat include being late for appointments, putting off tasks until the last minute, or judging people based on first impressions.
The laziness of our brain
Our brains are lazy and it takes a lot of cognitive effort to change those shortcuts we have already built. Thus, we are more likely to return to the same patterns of behavior and action, even when we are aware of repeating our mistakes. This is called confirmation bias: our tendency to confirm what we already believe, rather than changing our mindset to incorporate new information and ideas.
The role of the ego
Sometimes we become attached to certain patterns of behavior and repeat our mistakes because of an “ego effect” that causes us to cling to our existing beliefs. It is likely that we selectively choose the information structures and feedbacks that help us protect our ego. One experiment has shown that when individuals remember their past successes, they are more likely to repeat those successful behaviors.
The importance of cognitive control
We have a mental skill called “cognitive control” that can help us overcome heuristic shortcuts. Recent neuroscience studies with mice give us a better idea of the parts of our brain involved in this process. Researchers have also identified two brain regions with “error-monitoring neurons”: brain cells that monitor for errors. These areas are located in the frontal cortex and appear to be part of a sequence of processing steps, from readjusting to learning from our mistakes.
Feeling comfortable with our mistakes
Although we don't have a perfect understanding of the brain processes involved in cognitive control and self-correction, there are simpler things we can do to learn from our mistakes. First, we need to become more comfortable with our mistakes. Our society often denigrates
I'm a big fan of short stories about people – I'm a pro at tech and smartphones, serial literature, and writing in my spare time.