We’ve all experienced situations that we disliked, did not deserve, or got hurt by. Any experience can foster new learning. Learning is important if we are to develop into updated versions of ourselves, fixing bugs and updating our systems.

How can we promote this? By chats I have with clients, friends and myself, we tend to experience difficulties in digesting our experiences, reflect on them and use them to forward ourselves. As with any situation, if we utilise our experience to update our world views and ourselves we are essentially forming a list of guiding principles and objectives which help our future decision making. These objectives are never truly static and need ongoing revaluation.

Let’s use a straightforward example to begin with. Let’s imagine we are sitting in a cosy room with a wood stove. We have never seen a wood stove before, so we do not know what it is. We might be able to delineate the fact that it’s probably piping hot when its lit, especially when we see the flames being contained by the wood stove. We might also not delineate anything. We might be fascinated by the enclosed fire and approach the stove.  We touch the handle with our bare hands and it burns. We experience pain. The learning curve? We understand that wood stoves are typically hot and should not be touched. Is the stove always hot? Can we never touch it? Can we touch it when wearing heat protecting gloves? We go through a series of questions and possible experiences to understand how such stoves can be appropriately handled and then we know that:

  • Wood stoves are hot when there’s fire.
  • Wood stoves are probably hot even after the fire has been out for some time.
  • Wood stoves can be touched when lit by using the appropriate tools.
  • Wood stoves can be touched when cold.
  • Wood stoves differ in the amount of time they need to cool down.

These form your guiding principles regarding wood stoves and produce more effective and appropriate responses to the situation. The more complicated the situation we find ourselves, the more complex our line of exploration, and the more intriguing the list of principles. To break this down, imagine that this process has 3 steps.

  • Step 1: ask yourself- what have I learned from this experience?
    • Guiding phrase: I learned that I do not like/want/deserve/expect/prefer “xyz” because….
  • Step 2: phrase your learning “conclusion” without any negative vocabulary. Stating what you dislike for example, is not the same as stating what you like.
    • Guiding element: Since I do not want “x”, this could mean that I want “y”.
  • Step 3: how will you know that your objective will be met?
    • Guiding element: by seeing …..By experiencing…..By being treated like…..

Imagine that Bob is newly employed in his “current” dream job (current because dreams and wishes change). He starts attending to his new duties with excitement and motivation. Somewhere along the line, he finds himself feeling de-motivated, stressed out and frustrated.

Step 1: After reflecting on why he feels suffocated by his new job, Bob realises that his distress is caused by the organisational management style. He now doubts the potential of being content in his new job. He thinks to yourself that rather than being evaluated on results, the management seems to employ a micromanagement style where they are preoccupied with his method of doing things, when he does things etc. This is the element causing most of his frustrations. Through coaching, Bob understands that the specific organisational management style does not match his preferences, and he goes on to explore whether this preference could be set as a priority in future job searches.

Initial outcome: Bob thus, realises that he doesn’t like to be micromanaged because it stifles his creativity.

Step 2: if Bob doesn’t like to be micromanaged, what does he prefer?

The answer could be anything ranging from “I prefer a working environment where my creativity is appreciated and developed” to “I prefer being allowed to influence the organisational culture”, “I prefer being supported rather than controlled”, “I prefer being rewarded by a bonus system where the KPIs are highly individualised for my position” etc.

Secondary outcome: The new guiding objective or principle is now thought through, clarified, exemplified and prioritised. Bob has turned his experience into learning and he now knows of another personal preference.

Step 3: how do you know your new objective will be met?

How does a supporting work environment looks like? How do you imagine it to be? What is the best-case scenario in being supported at work? How would that feel? How will you know you are supported, as being supported can take many forms? Are all forms of support equally important for you? Are some preferred over others? Which are those and what makes you think that? What would the bare minimum of being supported look like? How much of the bare minimum are you willing to tolerate?

The most important element in this learn-ing experience is the ability to use these guiding principles to inform judgments and decisions, to help problem solve faster, to know what is need and recognise whether or not one receives it. Perceiving the receiving is almost as important as receiving.