The Right to Be Wrong; The Only Way We Learn Is By Making Mistakes

January 24, 2011

When learning a skill the journey to mastery is ten thousand mistakes. In other words it takes a lot of learning to become skillful. In our culture we look at mistakes as something to avoid, something to be ashamed of. Judgment gets in our way; self-criticism defeats us.

In reality mistakes are simply variations on a theme. When you observe a baby’s movements, initially they may appear to be random and certainly the child has no opinion about the “rightness” of what she’s doing. However, these random actions are recorded in the infant’s brain and gradually the nervous system sorts and classifies them into patterns that become the basis of functional movement. This same principle applies to learning at any age; the brain needs information in order to improve and the more variety it has the more learning takes place.

It’s been said that variety is the spice of life; so why do we insist on the same old same old in everything we do? As adults we believe that there is a correct way to do something and in order to master it we have to keep practicing that same thing without variation. We also tend to repeat what we do without thought or awareness. When you go to the gym notice how many people are watching T.V. or reading a book while they’re on a stationary bicycle or treadmill? People wonder why when they’ve been doing something for years that they’ve made little progress or worse they’ve lost ground! So here’s something to try that may change how you think about learning.

An Experiment With Variations on a Theme
NOTE: I spent about 3 hours today trying to put this on YouTube so that you could follow along with a video. For some reason it was going to take forever and a day to download the clip from my camera so I finally had to let it go. Hopefully I’ll have it figured out for next week and I’ll be on camera.

Stand up, have your feet comfortably apart and do a forward bend in the way you would normally do it. Notice how far you went and how it felt.

  1. Here are the “rules” for what you do next:
  2. Don’t strain, only do 50% of what you could do and keep it light and fun.
  3. Move slowly and notice what you’re doing.
  4. Relax, breathe and enjoy the process.

The variations:

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider apart than normal and have your arms resting at your sides. Slide your right arm down your side towards your feet and back. Do the same thing to the left. Notice how your ribs fold on alternate sides as you do the movement.
  2. Turn your body about 15 degrees to the left so that you’re standing over your foot and do a forward bend. You won’t bend as far in this position as you did to the front. Repeat the movement to the right.
  3. Sit forward on a chair with your feet back towards the legs of the chair. Bend forward from your hip joints and when you feel your weight shift into your feet, lift your bottom up and drop your head down so that you can look between your legs. Then unfold yourself back to standing. Repeat this a few times.

Back to the baseline:
Stand up and repeat the forward bend as you did it in the beginning. Notice how the movement has changed. You may find that your range has improved and/or the quality of the movement has changed.

Can think of some more variations for forward bending? Notice if your experiments help you to improve even more.

If you have any questions or comments visit me, as feldylady on Twitter or on my Facebook page under Sandra Bradshaw, Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner. 

Looking for Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® Lessons designed for the beginner? Click here to check out my store. 


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Feldenkrais®, Feldenkrais Method®, Awareness Through Movement®, and Functional Integration® are registered service marks of the Feldenkrais Guild® of North America. Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner ™ and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher ™ are certification marks of the Feldenkrais Guild®.