Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. But the way people deal with their errors is often vastly different. While some people dwell on their missteps or simply refuse to acknowledge them, others view their blunders as unique opportunities for self-improvement and personal growth. According to experts, those in the latter camp may enjoy greater success, more fulfilling lives, and even better health than their counterparts.

Gray Matters and Genetics

Scientists have long known that mistakes can be invaluable to the learning process, and a recent University of Exeter study provides new insight into the ways in which we learn from our mishaps. Although previous research focused on the frontal lobes, this study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, suggests that the the brain reacts to mistakes even before it processes information consciously. The researchers believe an area in the lower region of the brain alerts people in less than a second of an impending blunder so they don't repeat it.

At the same time, other research suggests that genetics may make it harder for certain people to learn from their mistakes. According to a 2007 study published in the journal Science, a common gene variant may affect some people's ability to respond to and learn from the negative repercussions of their actions. More specifically, the researchers found a link between low density of dopamine receptors and an impaired ability to learn from mistakes; a low density of dopamine receptors has also been linked with an increased risk for addiction, obesity, and compulsive gambling.

6 Ways to Fail Forward

No matter what your brain chemistry or genetic makeup, you can start learning from your mistakes today, rather than continuing to slip up or fall behind. To get started, follow these six tips.

  • Accept your errors. According to University of Washington professor and bestselling author Scott Berkun, the first step to fixing a mistake is to admit you made it and accept it-not as a terrible burden to feel guilty about but as a learning experience.
  • Change your perspective. Remember, a mistake doesn't mean that you're a failure. As Berkun explains, when people believe their missteps characterize them negatively, a fear of failure may keep them from taking risks and trying new experiences.
  • Bring it on. It may be helpful to put yourself in situations where you can make interesting mistakes. As Berkun notes, the more interesting your missteps, the more interesting your life may be.
  • Break it down. After you commit a blunder, it's important to look at the situation critically so you can determine where you went wrong. Remember, the more honest and less defensive you are during your critique, the more you'll learn and grow.
  • Make changes. Once you've examined and analyzed your mistake, don't be afraid to make changes that will help you avoid similar errors in the future.
  • Have a sense of humor. Simple, stupid mistakes can be laughed off just as quickly as they can be fixed-and often, that's the best way to fix them. Remember, humor can prevent you from obsessing over the past and help you to move on.