Learning From Our Mistakes: How to Kill Zombies

Nathan Ota - Hearts
Hearts by Nathan Ota
Wouldn't it be nice to go through life never having to learn anything "the hard way"? There's something to be said about failure that makes a lesson stick in your head. In fact, it's actually an evolutionary tool to remember negative emotional events more clearly than positive emotional events. Primitive man would have had a hard time surviving if they did not remember that the nearby river had crocodiles in it. Or a more modern example would be that if you asked someone where they were on September 11th, 2001 they could probably tell you where they were and even details of that day. I know that I can.

So why can't we remember the positive events as clearly? Well, some people can. They still remember the bad events, they just don't focus on them as much. You know what they say, when life gives you lemons... And that really is the key to it, focus on the good events while they happen, take note of those small details so that later you can recall them just as easily. Be mindful of these events.

Why You Should Keep Learning/Failing

But you shouldn't stop taking risks just because you failed in the past. If you had your heart broken in the past doesn't mean you should never try again. I'm guessing that most business owners had tons of other ideas that failed before they found something that worked. Each time you try something again you approach it differently or change the variables so that you don't fail in the same ways.

Keeping Your Brain In Shape

A life without failure is impossible to avoid, we all grow up and have to learn new things, and failure is a part of that. But once we reach our adult lives we usually don't need to take as many risks. Many people get stuck because they are comfortable not trying new things that they are bad at. But there are many reasons why we should do things that we are bad at. Learning obviously makes us smarter but it also helps keep our brains in shape as we age. If we don't try new things or keep learning then our brains will lose their "sharpness" as we age.

Life Will Seem Fuller

Another reason to keep trying new things is that it will make your life seem longer and fuller. According to a study by the Journal of Consumer Psychology they suggest that the more we pay attention to an event the longer the interval of time will feel. So if you keep sticking to only doing things that you know then time will fly by. Months and years will pass before you even realize it. That's why when you were growing up and learning a lot of new things, the school year the school year would seem so long. Your brain was taking more time to process new information so it seemed like time passed slower and you had more time.

It Will Help You Kill Zombies

Huh? What? Zombies? What does that have to do with anything?

Think about someone that has been at the same office job for 10 years. My guess is that their days do not vary that much, they know what they are doing so they can put themselves into a "zombie" state where it takes little attention for them to complete the task that is needed. Before you know it, the years start blending together as time passes more quickly. The zombies have taken over. If you don't keep doing new things the zombies win.

This zombie state happens more often than you probably realize too. Have you ever started driving to work and before you knew it you were there without really remembering the drive. That's because you got into this zombie state. According to neuroscientist David Eagleman it didn't require you to put much concentration into the task at hand and nothing new happened along your daily route, so you didn't make an effort to remember it. Here's another situation, what did you have for lunch today? If you bring the same thing to lunch everyday then you probably know, but if you have a "standard" rotation of 4 or 5 different things you might have for lunch then you probably didn't commit which one it was to memory.

We obviously can't remove all zombie's from our lives. There's many days when I leave my house and the next thing I know I'm at work and I didn't really realize that I walked to the bus stop, got off at my correct stop, and finished my walk to work. I'm actually very thankful for that zombie state. But at to try new things if you can, both inside and outside of work. Don't get stuck in the same rut for long periods of time.

Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try new things, even if they scare you. Don't let the zombies win.

Related Post: Learn from Others Mistakes


  1. Hi Zee

    I'd never heard the 'zombie' thing before but I can totally relate to the driving to work bit - I get in my car in the morning and then I'm pulling into the company car park yet I've driven 15 miles without even thinking about it!

    The same office job example is a little different though - I've been in my current role for 6 years and whilst there's some routine stuff, I really have to think about what I do otherwise critical mistakes can be made (as in legal). The 'fear' of making such a mistake stops me from going into zombie mode!

    As we get older, we need to keep our brains in shape - at the moment, I'm trying to educate myself about financial stuff regarding investing. It feels like I'm doing homework at times but at least it's interesting!

    1. Yeah, it's amazing what your brain can tune out if it's not stimulated. Though I'm glad I can tune out mundane tasks sometimes I've had jobs in the past where I was occupied enough to keep me busy and make the day go by quick but after a while months would start merging together and I would wonder where all my time went.

      I'm glad that you're keeping your brain in shape by getting on top of your finances, that's a useful skill to know. I've been doing that for a handful of years now but this is the first year that I've been writing about it. It really is a tough task to try to find new ways to explain things or new spins on old ideas.


  2. Hi Zee,
    You mention in the beginning that "just because you've had your heart broken, doesn't mean you don't try again". You're right, we do try again, and many of us do change our approach, but we try again with many more walls and caution signs than we had before. This can both help us and significantly hurt us, and the new relationship (be that a business or lover). With business owners, I think specifically of first time restaurant owners (seeing how many of them fail within the first 3 years), they may take more time learning their market, adjusting their expectations, finding (perhaps better) business partners or consultants, and really learning the industry rather than thinking, "I can do this". In our personal lives I think it is more about self-growth. From my own personal experience I will never love someone the way I loved my first "love". After a nearly 6 year tumultuous relationship based on passion (my heart leading the way) something in me snapped and I have never been the same since. I have never been able to "follow my heart" rather than thinking about every detail so I can to try and decode my love and connection to a person. Since that first time, my heart has never won again. I use my "love" life in this because I can see why you mentioned heartbreak above. Many of us have our identities tied to our work and when we perceive "failure" it can cause a wide range of reactions and emotions. Just like a heart break we can become depressed, devalue our self-worth, and even change careers in some cases. (A friend of mine was just laid off again and was actively suicidal this week, even though being laid off a lot comes with the territory of labor union jobs, it still crushes him ever time.)

    I disagree with your "once we grow up we don't need to take as many risks". I don't think it's a need, but rather a desire and decision from learned experiences. We have had our heart broken and we have learned from it, so those caution and stops signs go up and the childlike innocence, curiosity and even some heart is gone. I remember being a kid and swinging really REALLy high and jumping off as far as I could. Now I get woozy even swinging on a swing and that feeling of flying has turned into a fear that I will break something. All the "what ifs" start rising and become a huge barrier to what could possible make me even happier than I am now. And where I am now is in a comfortable zombie state.

    I think some zombie states (not the ones that get us to work) are a protective mechanism, it's where we are comfortable, it's where we know we are the safest- "sure I could quit this job, but I like the people here so even if I don't get a raise, at least I don't hate going into work" The question rises of "what will I gain and what will I lose?" This has gotten me to stay in zombie states for a very long time.

    The comfort of the zombie state is true in relationships of all kind (again love and work). Our identities are tied into many relationships and having those disrupted can make us really look at ourselves in the mirror and this, especially being zombies, can be scary. So while as adults we will take some risks, the older we get, the more cynical we become so many of our risks will be based on need rather than curiosity or passion.

    I have struggled "what if" questions for as long as I can remember and is currently a cause of my own heartache and zombie state. Sometimes I wish I really did eat brains just so I could get someone else's passion and drive myself towards really big changes without the fear of disrupting all that is known to me.

    1. Ah yes, heartbreak... I briefly mentioned this wondering if someone would delve deeper into this subject. We do always try again on that one, and usually, like you said with more guards and walls. Like I mentioned before, it's an evolutionary tool to remember negative events so we can protect ourselves in the future. Our first loves may be some of the most potent ones we have because we haven't learned how to protect ourselves yet.

      This can be a good thing or a bad thing. It's good that it protects us from being hurt as badly or easily in the future, but if you protect yourself too much to the point where you don't let anyone get to know you... Well, then you may end up alone. I'm guessing that you've heard of natural selection. Where the tallest giraffes can eat the higher leaves and they mate with the other tall giraffes and have tall offspring that will be taller and therefore more well fed and stronger than the others so this trait lives on. Well, there's also negative selection. If you choose to protect yourself to the point where you don't let anyone in then you may not pass on this trait to protect yourself to these extremes.

      There has to be a balance in how far you take things. On a standard bell curve 95% of the population should fall within 2 standard deviations. If you are one of the extremes you will be part of either the 2.5% on the top of the curve or 2.5% on the bottom of the curve. Let's think about this in terms of giraffes, the extremes of the 2.5% tallest giraffes will probably do just fine. They would be like our superstar athletes that posses physical gifts that make them desirable. But the bottom 2.5% of giraffes that are extremely short may end up starving and will die out and not pass on their genetic code.

      So for good or bad we remember how to protect ourselves in relationships. Hopefully you learn to listen to both your heart and your head and find a solution that works well with both.

      As for "once we grow up we don't need to take as many risks", perhaps I didn't phrase this the way that I should have. Sometimes I admit I edit my posts down to a more reader friendly length since 2,000 word articles don't fit well with many peoples attention spans on the internet. I know sometimes I give up mid-way through... What I meant by the comment was that when we are growing up everything is first attempt. The first time you took Algebra, that was a risk because you could pass or fail it. It was a learning experience. The first time you asked someone out on a date. That was a risk. The first time you drove a car, went to a school dance, took tango lessons, snuck out of the house, ate a strange new food that you learned to love, rode a rollercoaster.... The first time you do anything is a new experience, you learn what it's like to do that activity. As we get older you have less of those "first time" moments because you can only learn to tango dance once, after that you're just improving your very new skill.

      Or what if I put it this way, you can only learn to whistle once. Once you can make a sound by blowing air in a way that produces a sound by the shape of your lips and teeth you know how to whistle. But you can become a better whistler with practice and produce more appealing sounds.

      Zombie states can help protect us, but you can never know if the safe route is really the safest route or even the best route. I saw this speech the other day that seems to fit this sentiment in a better way than I can probably describe.


      And as for the what if questions... What if you made decisions based on what you think your future self, 10 years from now was making the decisions?

  3. I worked in a company before for 4 years and then one day, I felt that I was a get bored for my daily routines and I think that time "zombie mode" is on me. I asked my hubs about what I felt and I told him that I want to stop working and tried different things, thankfully after a few months, my very first client contacted me if I could work with him on his blog.

    1. Getting bored at a job is not a good feeling. I hope that your new job is working out well and that you stay interested with your new work!

  4. Yes Zombie mode, i've certainly been there, it especially happens when it's been a busy week and you have no idea what day of the week it is or if you closed the windows because it's raining.

    1. Yeah, losing track of the days is a weird occurrence. It makes sense on weeks where there's a holiday so your week is broken up, but on normal weeks where you just seem to not be paying attention, "oh wait, it's Thursday?"

  5. Zee,

    Good stuff. I remember at my last job I would look around in the shop and see people going through the same motions over and over again. And I definitely thought of how sad that was. However, it became even worse when I realized I was becoming one of the zombies!

    I killed my zombie self a month ago by quitting that job and living life on my terms. Not sure if it will work out for the long haul, but I feel more alive than ever!

    Best wishes.

    1. Dividend Mantra,

      Yeah I had an old job where I did a lot of IT support where it might have to look into accounts to figure out billing discrepancies. Each case was unique but it was the same approach to every one so it didn't take a lot of thought or attention.

      I think that if things get too routine then I start daydreaming more about vacations and the weekend. Basically anything to help me escape work.

      I hope to one day leave the workforce behind and live life the way that I want to approach it. I envy your position, in being able to quit the regular work force to pursue the things in life that you desire the most. Do a favor for me, live an awesome life and blog about every minute of it so it will motivate me more to reach that level!

      Thanks again for mentioning me over at your site!


  6. It's funny that you say in our adult lives we don't need to take as many risks. For me, it's been the complete opposite. I had a very sheltered life with overprotective parents, so I feel that as an adult I need to make up for lost time and take more risks.

    I get bored easily and like to keep busy. I am always trying to learn new things (perhaps too many at the same time) and trying to push myself out of my comfort zone both physically and mentally. Life is only boring if we make it boring. Sometimes I think not only people are comfortable but they are afraid.

    Does the whole zombie killing aspect have to do with the Walking Dead? I don't watch the show, but I'm guessing the post has a connection to it?

    1. As adults we probably take bigger risks, buying cars, houses, taking serious steps in relationships. But when we grow up I still think that we have more risks. Learning how to drive a car, first experiences dating, if you went to college you had to pick a school, possibly leave home for the first time, be somewhere that you didn't have your old support. Even growing up you have to learn how to be social. Every time you learn something you risk the chance of failure. And when you're young there's more things to learn because you have less life experience.

      Some people are good at continuing to take risks and learn more as they get older but not all. I think it's great that you're taking more chances on things.

      Being afraid to risk is probably one of the biggest reasons why people don't keep trying new things. They just chalk it up as "oh I'm not going to be any good at that, I'll just give up before I try." it's too bad really because it helps us stay sharp by trying new things.

      This actually has nothing at all to do with the Walking Dead, I just happen to be into psychology so understanding people is interesting to me. I was reading a book that talked about zombie states and that's what inspired me to write about this.

      But I do watch the Walking Dead, and I know that most people happen to be interested in anything about zombies :)

  7. Nice post :)

    I completely agree with the Zombie point :D

    I sometimes look around and see people that are so afraid of change and clinging to routine like it's the ether of life itself. It's a bit weird, especially today where things seem to progress along at a hell of a pace and change is all around us. Yet a lot of people would be happy bumbling along in the same routine.

    So many times you see resistance for no other reason than it being a change from routine. I'm not saying change is good for changes sake, but it's certainly not always negative.

    I enjoy new things, so I've changed career a couple of times and I'm sure I will again once I'm a qualified actuary. Perhaps....a carpenter next.

    Keep up the awesome blog, and I'll join you in FI once we escape the Hordes out there :)

    Mr Z

    1. Mr. Z,

      If anyone agrees with zombies then I would suspect it would be you!

      One thing that I think is scary is that there are so many people that retire then don't know what to do because they are used to their routine. It's not bad that they are used to their routine, but instead of finding something else to occupy them they decide to actually go back to work. They prefer to follow someone else's direction and rules because they can't make up their own.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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