You have a boat load of experiences that you can share with others to help them live a better life and build a better career. Do you know how to pull the best lessons from those experiences and lay them out for others to learn?
If you’re anything like me, the lessons—along with the gratitude I feel for all that freshly earned wisdom—doesn’t come until I’ve gotten some distance from the actual experience. Often we have to process our feelings to get useful perspective on our choices.
After a little time, lessons usually begin to naturally show themselves. We think to ourselves, “You know, I believe all of that happened so that I could…” or “I couldn’t see it at the time, but looking back, that experience gave me exactly what I needed to…” or “Well, now I know not to trust THAT guy!”
I want to help you get the most out of your story—for both you and the people you might help. Think of one recent experience, good or bad, and let’s pull out some of the lessons that will help both you and your people.
1. Look for the obvious patterns. The same choices, same people, and same places lead to the same results. We all know this in theory, but in practice, it’s hard to recognize when we’re falling into this pattern, at least while it’s happening. In hindsight, we can usually see we made the same financial choices that got us into trouble last time. Or we talked to that one friend about a topic we wanted kept secret, only to get burned again by their gossiping ways. Or maybe we wound up staying up too late yet again when we had work the next day because every time we hang out at that particular place, we have so much fun we lose track of time.
As you think back on your recent experience, what commonalities do you see with other experiences? Did you follow the same pattern in any area? Have you been here before? Have you felt the same disappointment, frustration, or confusion in the past?
These repeated choices are hard on the ego, but they’re also helpful. They point the way to an opportunity for change.
2. Look for the not-so-obvious patterns. Our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs are sometimes a mystery even to us. We’re motivated by factors we’re not conscious of or not considering in the moment.
Studies show that up to 85% of our decisions are governed by our subconscious minds. [Click to tweet]
That’s a lot of auto-pilot decision-making.
This part of the lesson search requires you to separate your feelings from the facts. You need to be able to recognize the evidence for what it is: fact. This way you can see if your beliefs are lining up with your behaviors.
For example, I used to smoke. (I know, terrible habit. But I’m human.) When I finally decided to quit for good, I told everyone that I was quitting. I tapered off and got to the point where I was going without a cigarette for entire days. It was a great victory. But all the while, I kept a box of “emergency” cigarettes in the glove compartment of my car.
So did I really want to quit smoking?
I would have sworn to you I did. I hated how I smelled, how I coughed, how I was at the mercy of this little “cancer stick,” as my grandmother used to call it. But what did my behavior say about what I really believed?
My behavior said that I wanted to smoke only when I really, really wanted a cigarette—in an “emergency.” Have you ever heard of a cigarette emergency?
“Doctor, get this patient a menthol, stat!”
Nope. Me either. When I examined the facts, not my feelings, what I saw was a whole other motive driving me: I wanted to control my smoking, not to quit entirely.
The lesson I gained from this examination was huge. In fact, I was finally able to quit for good after I learned that lesson. (Yay breathing!)
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3. Write to reveal the lessons that lie underneath your feelings. In case you’re wondering how I came to all those cigarette conclusions, I’ll tell you: I wrote about it.
I use writing to understand what’s driving me, what my hidden motives are, and what facts are plain as day to everyone else but not to me. If you’re having trouble uncovering any lessons in your recent experience, try writing about it.
Start by writing out the whole thing, as if you were telling the story to someone who doesn’t know you, the other players, or the backstory.
Then read the story out loud. What do you notice? What sounds silly or strange or off to you? If you can read it to someone else, even better.
4. Keep a record of lessons as you go. As you uncover the lessons, write them down. Keep a record of what you discover about your experiences so you can return later and translate them into workable solutions for people you want to help.
You might think you’ll never forget that particular lesson, but I guarantee that you’ll forget the fourth, fifth, or sixth lesson if you don’t write them down.
When you go to a conference or a seminar, you take notes, right? You want to remember the lessons from that great speaker or wise trainer. Give yourself the same credit and respect.
5. Work on changing your ideas, opinions, and core beliefs if necessary. Once you identify the lessons, you have to act on them. Knowing not to touch a hot stove does you absolutely no good if you keep reaching out to touch the darn thing.
In some cases, especially when your behavior doesn’t line up with your beliefs, you may have some hard, long-term work ahead of you. Whatever past pain or old ideas are driving you to act against your own mind are lodged inside you tight. Some people call these “old tapes.” Recording over those tapes requires time and diligence and help.
Try starting with the smallest changes first. Give yourself some wins. The small victories will set you up for bigger ones. Then as you gather your wins, you can share them with your people to help them gain the same ground.
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