(10) Mistakes as Seniors’ Stepping Stones

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If we seniors aren’t willing to be a bumbling beginner we’ll never likely become a magnificent master.” Treated as stepping stones, our mistakes become the hallmark of mental growth. Our basal ganglia (one of our brain’s memory systems) opens wonderful windows into past memories, mistakes and events on one hand, while it can also shut down our ability to risk change and avoid adventures the next. Think of the brain’s basal ganglia as a backpack that contains everything we ever did or experience. It holds our best advances and our worst mistakes.

When we reach for an object without much effort or step up stairs without having to think about each step, we can thank our basal ganglia’s built in memory for movement.  The opposite is also true, when we face criticism for faring poorly within broken systems we can blame our basal ganglia stubborn resistance to change.

While we still have much to learn, science is shedding light on how our basal ganglia can work for and against us with regard to mistake making. How so?

1). It stores remarkable memories on one hand, and plagues us with horrific past errors on the other.

2). It provides us with usable stored facts to thrive on one day and locks us into rigid ruts the next.

3). It holds invaluable traditions with one move and shuts out rejuvenation insights with the next.

4). Its routines can add reliability today, and then prevent peak performance possibilities tomorrow.

5). It helps us to override fear with old habits, but then creates fear from standstill stagnation stored there.

6). It can collaborate with our vibrant working memory in the long run, yet compete with memory in the moment.

7). It leaves us solid and predictable one day, and unable to change or improve the next.

8). It offers us lifetime friendships on one hand, yet prevents us from opening to new relationships on the other.

9). It gives enjoyment of music with one stroke, while locking out new or differently sounding genres with the next.

10). It renders us as a faithful and understanding friend on one day, yet can render us inflexible and closed-minded soon after.

11). It maintains our mastery in some skills, and prevents us from learning others we many need to prosper.

While it offers us a level of comfort from the ease of familiarity, the brain’s basal ganglia can also hinder our mental and emotional growth when we seniors crave success or relevancy.

 Remove it and we might land at a meeting naked, if we get there at all. Fall prey to it’s lack of change, though,  and we may find ourselves locked into dangerous ageism, racism, sexism and other mistakes acted on over time, with regret and stored without reflection.

Where are we today, in relation to our brain’s basil ganglia and our ability to walk past mistakes with useful lessons learned and hope for a finer future?

Leonard Cohen could have been thinking about the gaffes we all make and our senior brain’s response to these past blunders when he wrote, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” It takes a growth or open- mindset however, to see lit up advantages or feel warmed by this light. 

In contrast, a fixed or closed mindset succumbs to fear too often and has us run from errors, hide our handicaps or pretend we mostly get it right. Even though we may be tempted to hide mistakes in the dark or capitulate to their tombstones of regret, our senior brains offer far better options. We can take vital lessons from mistakes and resurface, grow resilient and retry a newly minted approach to move forward and thrive from lessons learned.

Sure, we’ll likely sit for a time with the gloomy blow-back that flaws can bring. It’s normal to feel down initially when mistakes hang us up. Emily Dickinson described it as, “After great pain a formal feeling comes. The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs.“

We may not be able to control stress that hits us when errors arise, yet with a growth mindset we gain awareness of how we can control our reactions. With each of the 22 average stressors or slip-ups that hit us on an ordinary day, for example  we grow aware of how to  choose options between fear or calm.

Reactions to personal blunders are learned, and stockpiled in the brain’s amygdala (or storehouse for moods and emotions) and reused.  Simply stated, mistakes can be managed in ways that benefit rather than bash us over blunders. Fear driven reactions however stir up and store cortisol chemicals that shut down brainpower for the innovative answers many of us  crave, to repair what breaks. Fear also blocks mental courage to go after new possibilities when mistakes remain our focus. So it is no surprise that fear causes mental and emotional reactions such as venting, if these toxins are stored in our amygdala. From that last use and storage, stress driven reactions will resurface in similar difficult situations.

Now consider seniors who engage the whole brain to draw meaningful lessons from past problems. You may be aware that our left brain fosters logical, sequential, objective, rational, detailed, analytical, and fact oriented functions. A healthy or functioning left brain includes visual perception, language, attention, memory, focus and speed for completing tasks. To use more left brain list all of today’s priorities and then add in one key hour to improve an innovation that works.

Our right brains are innovative, whole picture oriented, subjective, holistic, intuitive, synthesizing, and emotionally alert. To use more right brain draw a map of the big picture- and then sketch in your details.

With our growth mindset we seniors tend to use, develop and keep using many or all of these mental and emotional approaches toward building resilience to move beyond mistakes.

“To keep a lamp burning we have to keep putting oil in it,” Mother Teresa said.

Our brain’s limbic system, for example equips us with a set of primitive brain parts located near the top of the brain stem. It’s the limbic system that kicks in to react emotionally so that we feel both pleasure or pain, and we react to both.

Among structures such as normal operations for breathing, reacting to cold and so on, this area also controls molecules that make us feel excited, fearful, angry or sad. It’s here we often blunder, err, lapse or slip. So how do a senior’s mistakes impact brain health and healthy emotional function?

The limbic system holds operations that transfer short term into long term memories, and then acts to retrieve them when required. See the room for inaccuracy both mentally or emotionally? Damage the limbic system and we also lose our ability to resolve some problems, fix mistakes, own up to imperfections, or create new memories as it contains our working memory.

Our brains do well to block one mistaken approach such as cynicism whenever we replace actions with another approach such as kindness with sincerity. We may not always have answers to fix our mistakes. As Maya Angelou reminds us,  “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. “

To make no mistakes is not a worthy objective and not even in the power of most seniors. But from our errors and missteps the wise and noble seniors learn wisdom for their future.  Cynicism, criticism, nay-saying and gossip are toxins that curtail the very innovation brainpower it takes to move forward after sustaining slips and slides along the way.

One way to replace barriers, barbs and blunders is to look at a controversial situation or conflict through the eyes of the person on the other side. Let somebody know we see lessons in their ideas and we grow past the broken parts between us.

When it comes to self, we laugh at the little things and encourage others also to turn around a toxic climate. Cynicism (much more than mistakes that we admit) can destroy a setting or team with its subtle toxins, while sincerity and kindness holds the opposite impact to foster growth and wellbeing. We replace one by doing another.

It’s also the limbic system that helps us to regulate behavior to avoid aggression, and offer sympathy – for instance.

To learn from mistakes we  develop innovative capacity with evidence of

  • Multiple intelligences engaged to learn and express ideas
  • Curiosity and openness to new ideas
  • Supportive encouragement of talents
  • Reflective movement forward
  • Targets for a shared vision
  • Collaborative plans to offset weaknesses
  • Risk-taking to try new initiatives
  • Generosity to build goodwill across differences
  • Harbinger of well-being chemicals – such as serotonin
  • Humor and willingness to laugh at self
  • Controlled approaches to tame amygdala

Change helps us bounce back and prevents our brains default to ruts, stored in the basal ganglia’s storehouse of traditions, ruts, habits and fixed opinions. Change rarely comes easily, especially when we stockpile more than usual in our basal ganglia warehouse. Yet, change keeps our brain alive, fosters a growth mindset and allows us to move forward in ways that solve real world problems with innovative improvements.  

Imagine a diverse group of seniors to discuss one outmoded practice, with a shared solution in mind. Can you think of a key approach to facilitate the group past problems faced in past?

Can you see any possibilities for breaking from our basal ganglia and drawing upon our working memory, or energizing the brain’s equipment for growth and change?

For instance seniors might rainstorm from diverse angles to create a clearly stated plan that they would attempt to apply and track their solution.

When we focus more on possibilities and less on the problems alone, we sidestep cortisol chemical dangers. With mistakes nursed as regrets for instance, cortisol acts as a potent chemical that surges and slips seniors into stress and anxiety.

Short term, cortisol and its partner stress,  can lower sensitivity to pain, help you survive grief, or pull you through a brief pressure project.

Long term, harmful levels of cortisol set off dangerous patterns that lower our ability to advance beyond barriers. You may remember that cortisol …:

1. Lowers our immune system

2. Slows down our thinking

3. Creates blood sugar imbalances

4. Raises our blood pressure

5. Weakens muscle tissue

6. Decreases bone density

7. Increases fat to stomach areas

No wonder we may react negatively under cortisol chemicals, to regret past or present mistakes we seniors make. No wonder we lack strength and grit to step beyond our blips.

Brain Chemicals that fuel our movement forward beyond mistakes that hold us back.

Serotonin or the brain’s molecule of happiness, adds well being and fuels learning, encouragement, and inspiration to try again.

Cortisol as a dangerous chemical that comes with stress, triggers negativity, stomps out creativity, and attacks the immune system, can be managed when we learn to be aware of its presence.

Dopamine stirs up adventure and risk, and that offers seniors the fuel we need to take risks in a new and better direction after mistakes shut us down or rob our courage. It  speeds our brain’s synapses, and is stimulated by rewards. Too little leads to boredom – too much leads to compulsive behavior.

Oxytocin  as a chemical that increases in deeply intimate relationships, and passionate activity, offers us supports and relationships we need to keep moving forward after we blunder or slip. Increased levels of oxytocin lead to increased levels of trust.

When discouraged after making a mistake or blowing a good opportunity, we can raise supportive chemicals.  Take a brisk walk around the block with a trusted colleague. Brainstorm a solution to solve a problem. Offer a few words of support to a peer and watch the shift in shared rigor, due to a shift in brain chemicals.

That fixed mindset may hold some seniors into lock-step repairs that rarely work, but a growth mindset looks to diversity and diverse people for ideas that reach beyond past failures.

It’s also true that people dislike diversity training according to the MacKinsey report. Five troubling toxins kill variety. First, flawed approaches become habits that hold participants hostage. Second, trust erodes as some feel threatened by newcomers’ talents. Third, workshops without specific applications or follow-ups, cause jaded mind-sets and prevent diverse offerings. Fourth, progress is not tracked so poor habits tend to return. Fifth, naysayers dominate and impose narrow-minded views, so diverse thinkers retreat.

To foster diversity among seniors is to engage many different parts of our brains. The Mita Growth Mindset Model emulates diversity approaches that  include:

1. Questioning possibilities across differences.

2. Targeting improvements by integrating talents

3. Expecting quality from within a wider community

4. Moving multiple intelligences and brain facts into action

5. Reflecting where to from here to ask – How can we foster diverse and caring senior communities?

Seniors improve a thing by doing a thing. To hear or read directions is not enough. Growth mindsets  are learned by doing what follows a mistake differently from what we did that precedes a mistake. Improvements are not automatic, simply because we admit mistakes.

While we used to assume that what we learn will rarely get used in practice, yet it’s not so for seniors who step up again and move beyond blunders. We now know more about how what we learn can improve what we live. It takes active engagement and practice in the real world at the same time new facts and skills are being learned.

To gain new insights in a technology session for instance,  is to engage working memory, which holds these facts for brief periods of time until use. To use and implement what we learn also takes very different intelligences, and that process is what transfers the information from our working memory into our basal ganglia – where it sticks and is stored for future reuse. Let’s not forget the lighter side of surviving slips too.

Mistakes call for senior brains on humor! Mistakes fade from center stage whenever we belly-laugh at the little things. Even in a smile, we can gain benefits from humor that respects all, laughs at self and diminishes none.

Humor  trumps regrets over mistakes because laughter …

1. Releases endorphins into the brain in ways that happily distract you from difficulties.

2. Stimulates your immune system and links mind and body exchanges in healthier ways.

3. Increases relaxation through added oxygen, better air exchange, and fuel for learning

4. Alters brain chemicals to reduce stress, and sustain well being.

What if we seniors laughed at ourselves first, or shared at least one joke a day? Would others laugh with us more? Would we get more benefits from laughter to offset stress that comes from those pesky problems we can create more than we desire?

Could we help transform mistakes that cast cynicism and chaos into healthier habits that create humor?

Curiosity can also cultivate new possibilities beyond the lapses we seniors sometimes lament. Opposite ruts and routines lie opportunities to generate curiosity through good questions. Rather than regret mistakes, let’s instead ask “what if” and our brains will do the rest.

Einstein said it best: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Take financial follies we’ve made, for instance. Curious seniors wonder how they can move past  financial losses and target brainpower for financial growth. Curiosity looks beyond setbacks and sees all we still have to grow as seniors? When confidence is weakened, it takes our intrapersonal intelligence, and curiosity to get past negativity and grow.

Brain chemicals boost serotonin for the curious. Cortisol diminishes wonder and takes away incentive to try again. Where well being is nurtured and stress lowered however, curiosity stands a chance to risk new gains. Stress defaults us seniors to ruts and works against curiosity that hands us courage to sustain any foul plays that life sometimes send seniors.  Curiosity keeps us alive and running the good race with ideas and offerings at every age.

But what about errors in health or habits that we seniors see in relatives and fear that these flaws may also lie waiting in our DNA? The senior brain holds good news on that front also, in the form of a new discovery about regenerative growth in brains. It’s called Kinase A protein. Good news is that research shows how our brains come equipped with an extraordinary  healing potent. Kinase A protein can literally overtake or replace poorly formed, negative or mistake-ridden genes in our DNA. How so?

One of two gene functions can change a senior’s gene pool or DNA, if we act opposite to our natural tendency. How so? Each cell in our body contains all our DNA. Genes make a new protein (Kinase A) when turned on or expressed, which alters the structure and function of the cell. Simply stated – those actions we seniors choose and do today could literally build into our DNA new improved traits for the elder we’d like others to see in us. 

When we seniors  long for a life without difficulty, it helps to remember that oak trees grow strong in contrary winds and that diamonds are made under pressure, as Peter Marshall reminds us. What see good tone in seniors who use their mistakes as stepping stones into a better way.

Tone tools are evident in seniors who step beyond mistakes and are more defined by growth:

1. At gatherings these seniors lead participants to all speak up and feel heard.

2. Across differences seniors inspire brain friendly exchanges in calm, clear and kind terms.

3. In learning circles seniors draw on multiple literacies to engage voices on all sides.

4. On projects seniors expect solutions that support each one within diverse communities.

5. Through innovation, seniors ensure quality access for all, set high standards and care for all

6. In finances seniors open new opportunities for fair practice by guaranteeing ethics for all.

7. In conflict seniors seek kind tone to build goodwill among those who disagree.

8. Across genders seniors call upon, respect, and act on insights equally from guys and gals.

9. Within leadership seniors choose humility and resist arrogance by supporting others.

10. In change seniors act boldly and avoid ruts to favor growth and improvements for all.

Treated as stepping stones, mistakes become the hallmark of our mental growth and grit. When we work with our brains we can turnaround more mistakes, as we seniors:

1. Admit we blew it. We will thereby avoid the cortisol that enflames mistakes.

2. Risk a novel fix, since novelty adds increased intelligence past errors.

3. Shift up directions forward by asking  for and acting on different people’s wisdom.

4. Create rather than criticize. Creativity jolts chemicals for growth passed problems.

5. Ride shotgun for risks such as encouragement that changes the chemistry of our senior brains.  To fuel new profitability  after financial failure or other life-altering mishaps, we might look to an encouraging serotonin-filled senior adviser, for instance.

What mistake will build stepping stones forward today, beyond blame or regrets from our past errors? Let’s forget our perfect offering as Leonard Cohen said, and let’s remember that there is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Not surprisingly, seniors who achieve great dreams, tend to recover from mistakes that lead  less successful elders to give up or drop out . Why though, do some seniors still  fear making mistakes, and why do some still criticize other’s mistakes? Will we seniors ever be able to say with Robert Altman, “I’ve got to the age now where the only things I’m proud of are my mistakes.”

Mistakes can be especially useful as errors allow our brains to scoop up lessons from our past in ways that can help us to launch an even better start.

Author, Henry Link said it best: “While one person hesitates because of feeling inferior, another is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.”

Reflection is one mental tool that transforms missteps into mental growth. It’s a bit like a litmus test. By looking beyond poor tone spoken to a cranky cousin in past, for instance, why not try a new approach with terrific and caring tone this week? Human brains make the best use of bloopers according to neurological research, when we learn and change through their muddles.

Check out a few skills that help us mentally to turn mistakes into stepping stones that shape new successes …

1. Focus on new possibilities rather than regret lost opportunities. When it comes to the brain we truly do become what we think and do, and mistakes make better stepping stones when we learn from them by shaping new approaches that help us move on.

2. Step back from each mistake we make and reframe a new approach for a similar situation in a more effective way. Ask others for advice. See evidences for success by imitating people we respect. Refuse to remain in ruts, or blame others. Risk courage for the change it takes to convert tragedies into triumphs.

3. Be good to ourselves, because we seniors need the mental chemical serotonin to succeed. Make a decision to stop beating up on ourselves for mistakes and then stick to that decision. Admit our mistakes quickly before cortisol takes us down. Apologize if others get hurt by errors we make and the mental freedom that gives will help us to leap and dance ahead. Mistakes become capital for successful people, yet can bankrupt seniors who rewire brainpower more for failure than triumph. What skills move us beyond failures?

Revisit Mistakes to Boost Brainpower

Starbucks brewed winning coffees, and drew many of us together, to brew similar successful ventures. Then, after recession struck and customers lacked the $4.00 daily fix, they nearly crashed.  That’s before Howard Schultz set out to reboot Starbuck’s success.

Most seniors would agree that to capitalize on the brain’s known abilities is to create a climate for high performance minds.  Most learners agree that  care and support can transform ordinary learning into fun-filled adventures and delightful discoveries. Sadly though, science about brains and observation of failed cultures sheds light on 5 mistakes that prevent growth and persist in controversy. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,”  Martin Luther King maintained.

Sadly we seniors sometimes fail to

Spot differences as a place to launch new ideas. Our seniors differ vastly in how they start, grow, and manage new learning journeys. Imagine each senior coming to any session with at least eight distinctive intelligences, for instance. Now imagine these in different proportions for each senior, and growing stronger daily in some. This mental mix should showcase the necessity of creating clear targets and facilitating multiple ways to engage all seniors.  I tend to start with a quick multiple intelligence survey,  and then seniors help to build practical tasks based on their differences and our growth mindset targets.

Build relevancy through fostering practical applications. For instance, seniors often come to our tables with curiosity, interests, talents and questions rarely expressed. For that reason they  increasingly find talks and lectures sadly irrelevant to their lives beyond that  social circle. The result?  Alarming new research shows seniors giving up and shutting down in their golden years where wisdom gets buried and mistakes mostly mark their past.

Hone in on poor tone, and intervene when curmudgeonese emerges. When even a few outspoken seniors toss out poor tone – even cracks spotted in pop culture, they can work against building blocks that rely on healthy tone practices.  On the other hand, to miss tone skill’s potential to be genuinely inclusive,  is to bypass a shared pathway forward for entire groups. I name best tone practices, and seniors  love to give specific evidence of using at least one during sessions. Seniors will speak up and enjoy feeling heard when good tone allows us all to build stronger cultures together.

Ask and converse rather than tell or demand one way. How often do we engage disengaged or bored seniors to discover what they need to get ahead in our group? I invite stories to remind us how to build a healthy mental and emotional climate where all seniors  learn at times and all seniors teach at times. Have you seen it happen?

Laugh at the little things and especially giggle at ourselves. Laughter that generates respect and fun for all acts like an elixir to boost senior brains. So it’s not surprising that even a belly laugh can promote mental and emotional health. The opposite is also true. Sarcasm, cynicism or cutting up over others’ weaknesses – deepens the anxiety or depression trap and prevents a healthy mental or emotional climate.

Finally, we choose and apply kindness and wisdom that saves us all from stress and hatred because it improves our options. We choose health in our actions by how they influence ourselves and others.  We welcome diverse possibilities by acting on truth and compassion for all. As kindness and wisdom mix we create a finer future for ourselves and others. We rise from ashes of brokenness – a phoenix of humanity and harmony with emotional and mental health.

Two – Footed Questions to Address Mita Growth Mindset Senior Sessions

1). How can we choose lessons rather than yield to laments over mistakes?

2).  Are regrets normal in mentally and emotionally healthy seniors?

3). How do we handle mistakes within a growth mindset?

4). What does a fixed mindset bring to our mistakes?

5). What changes do mistakes infer to ensure we avoid mental decline through stress?

6). How do some seniors seem more prone to mistakes than others?

7). What do past errors have to do with current wellbeing?

8). What lessons can be drawn from conflicts to impact family and friends?

9). What mistakes do we hear most about from seniors?

10), How would we advise a younger person to approach life after mistakes?

FINAL Question:  What’s one activity we can do to remove a fixed mindset and add a growth mindset for this topic?