Let it go, they say when you screw up. Move on, forget about it, what’s done is done. No, says a recent study, you need to feel bad in order to learn.
Image by Jay Cloud.
The study, published in the Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, suggests emotions should be involved during your self reflection post-failure. Why? We tend to justify what happened when we only look at things rationally. Basically, we make excuses instead of taking the necessary steps to adapt and avoid the same mistake in the future. When you “let things go” so easily, you trick yourself into thinking it’s the universe’s fault and never yours. What’s worse, though, is that even if you do let it go, you’re still likely to assume you did learn something. That leads to repeating the same mistakes over and over, as well as constantly shifting blame.
As it turns out, it can be beneficial to feel negatively about your failures, which sort of flips the old self-help notion of “Failing is good! Don’t feel bad!” on its head. The researchers suggest emotions play a key part in learning from mistakes, and that you’re better off focusing on how you feel in addition to what happened. That terrible feeling in your gut is partially what motivates you to learn and make an effort to be better next time. That said, there’s a difference between being in tune with your emotions and punishing yourself. You do not need to make yourself feel worse when you make a mistake — you just need to feel something.