If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – or so we are led to believe. How many times have people told you that if you don’t fail at something you never learn? How often have you heard that Edison failed 10,000 times before he came up with a successful light bulb? How often do people say that making mistakes is essential to success? Failure is seemingly vital to learning and to improvement.
Tosh. What if you write a daily blog and each day you make mistakes? Perhaps your blog fails to attract any real readership each day; does that failure spur you on to write even more? Perhaps your blog attracts large amounts of negative comments; does that failure make you love your readers? Perhaps your blog doesn’t get listed or ranked in search engines at all; does that failure make you more determined to keep on adding content?
For most people, failure is demotivating. Teachers have known for years that if you praise children for their successes they improve much more than criticising them for their mistakes. So if your attempts at blogging have led to negative comments, low search engine ranking and poor readership levels, you are hardly likely to learn how to produce a better blog.
New research from the Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT shows us why success breeds success and failure doesn’t help us. Their study shows that there is more neural activity in our brain following a successful action than there is upon failure. Indeed, it seems that brain cells become particularly active when we succeed, but don’t do anything very much when we fail.
What seems to be happening is that when we succeed at something, our brain confirms the successful action with extra brain cell activity, laying down nerve cell pathways that helps us repeat the success. But when we fail, our brain cells simply don’t do anything. In other words, success breeds success, but failure leads to nothing.
For bloggers this means you should concentrate your analysis of what you do on your successes. Often, people tell you to look at things like web analytics to see where you went wrong so you can improve it. Or you might be told to look at your blog’s negative comments to see where you can change things to connect in better ways to your readership. However, this new MIT research suggests that you won’t learn anything by doing so.
Instead, what you need to do is look through your comments and find the positive ones. Look at your web analytics and find what achieved the most readership. Look at your blog posts which get high search engine ranking. By doing so your brain will be concentrating on your successes and you will learn how to further improve your blog as a result.
Edison may well have failed 10,000 times before he came up with the light bulb. But it seems that he didn’t learn from the mistakes; instead he would have concentrated on what he did right in each of those 10,000 light bulb attempts and learned from the successes. You need to do the same for your blog – concentrate on what you do right and just assign any failures to history.