Alexis Ohanian Has Some Wise Advice About Mistakes, and Science Backs Him Up

The Reddit founder shared some wisdom about messing up, pain, and personal growth.

Julian Finney / Staff / Getty Images

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit — the world’s third most visited website — and husband of Serena Williams, spoke to Quartz about masculinity and mistakes. And he had some powerful insights into the way messing up can lead to growth.

Mistakes are inevitable, and as Ohanian’s interviewer pointed out, some men feel paralyzed by the prospect of “getting it right” when it comes to talking about gender issues in the era of #MeToo. Ohanian had an amazing response for those men (and for anyone who feels stuck or unable to speak or act out of fear of being wrong):

“Think about it the same way you think about your workouts — pain is growth. If you’re feeling discomfort because someone is criticizing an example of your bias, think of it like finishing that set that’s just above your regular weight. It stings, because that’s where growth happens. If you really hear it and process it, you’re growing and you’re getting stronger because you’re becoming more aware.”

Ohanian’s workout metaphor taps into our understanding that when you feel your muscles burning, they’re growing, too. He points out that realizing you’ve made a mistake can be deeply uncomfortable, but that discomfort can be an incredibly fruitful propulsion towards growth.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s easy to face those mistakes or transform them into growth. Scientific research into the subject of mistakes has some useful advice on how to make that transition:

Foster a growth mindset

A 2017 study published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience linked a “growth mindset,” or the understanding that intelligence isn’t static, to “greater attention to mistakes and higher post-error accuracy.” Remembering that your mind is a malleable, powerful thing that can stretch and adapt in new ways can help you to face your mistakes and improve your behavior.

Know that giving yourself space to learn from your mistakes will feel good

When participants of a 2015 study, published in the journal Nature Communicationswere given time and information to review their mistakes and understand where they went wrong, the reward centers of their brains were activated. It actually feels good to learn from your mistakes, so give yourself the time and space to process your errors and learn and grow from them.

Remember that you’re more likely to get it right next time

The element of surprise we encounter when we make a mistake actually helps us remember the right way to do something next time, found research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. And our minds are exceedingly speedy on the uptake: the study authors identified that a mechanism in the brain reacts in just 0.1 seconds to correct things that have resulted in us making errors in the past!

So the science backs up Ohanian’s assertion: the discomfort of making mistakes is worth it, because we’re extremely likely to do better next time.

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