How to Learn from Your Experience, Good or Bad

As you finish the year and begin the next, take a few minutes to make sure you’ve learned from what you experienced. Every day we have experiences, good and bad, yet more often than not, we fail to notice them. Worse, we fail to learn from them. Asking a few questions can draw out learning for yourself or to prompt someone else’s learning.

In my coaching practice, I help smart people think more deeply, figure out problems, and ultimately to learn, grow, and change. As we talk, sometimes clients aren’t aware of the unformed insights emerging from their thinking. Here’s an example,

“Did you hear what you just said?” I interjected.

“What did I say?”

“You said, ‘The only thing holding me back is my own fear of failure.’ What are you realizing here?”

“I think the fear of failure is causing me more difficulty than an actual failure would.”

“Say more about that,” I prompted.

“I’m playing it so safe in order not to fail. The end result is worse than if I went for it but didn’t hit the goal. Failing isn’t just messing up. Failing could be not fully trying.”

“That sounds like a shift in your thinking.”

“It is! I’m realizing I can’t succeed by playing it safe. And I will fail for sure if I do. So, it’s better to go all in, even if there’s some risk of failure. It’s the only way I can succeed.”

Every day we have experiences, good and bad, yet more often than not, we fail to notice them. Worse, we fail to learn from them. Click To Tweet

Questions To Learn From Your Experiences

To learn from our experiences, we need to think more deeply. T.S. Eliot wrote, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

In order to catch the meaning, the insight, the new perspective, we need to become aware of the significance of the experience. In the example above, it took a couple more questions for the client to fully form the implications of their insight and turn it into actionable learning.

You can reflect on your quarterly goals, an event, a conversation, your relationship with your spouse over the past year, a success, a failure, a vacation, an important business meeting—anything you want to learn from.

Asking questions prompts insights, which turns an experience into learning, and learning into changed behavior. Click To Tweet

Ask these questions to reflect on your experience. Or ask someone else in order to help them gain insight.

  • What are you realizing about yourself? Your situation?
  • What does this mean to you? For you? About you?
  • What awareness do you have now that you didn’t before?
  • What principles could you draw from this experience?
  • What perspective needs to shift based on this experience?
  • What will you do differently next time? Why is that?
  • What could you improve?
  • How do you need to change in order to face this situation next time?

Asking yourself these questions will help you learn from your experiences, good and bad. Asking questions prompts insights, which turns an experience into learning, and learning into changed behavior.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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