This post is from a colleague of mine in the men’s work and personal development trainings. Dmitri Bilgere writes a simple, yet powerful way to transform our screw-ups into breakthroughs.
Can you relate to this? On a beautiful winter day, my wife Fawn and I put our skis in the car and drove to a nearby frozen lake to ski. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and cold, our clothes were keeping us warm, and we couldn’t wait to get out on that snowy ice and ski.
But as we were unloading the skis, Fawn said, “Oh no! I’ve forgotten my ski boots!” This wasn’t the first time she’d forgotten them. In fact, it was a remarkably common occurrence. We’d go skiing, she’d forget her boots, and we (or she) would drive home to get them. Then, the next time, she’d forget her boots again, unless I reminded her to bring them.
No matter the inconvenience, she didn’t seem to learn. I don’t tell you this to single out my wife — far from it. We all have areas in our lives where we consistently DON’T learn from experience. We mess up, it causes us pain, and we SHOULD learn. But we don’t. My wife does it, I do it… and so do you.
There’s a cost to not learning
This isn’t some trivial topic. You may continually not learn to pack your ski
boots — or you may not learn in an area that’s much more important. For instance…
– If you don’t learn from the experience of overeating, you can become overweight.
– If you don’t learn from the experience of bad relationships, you are likely to have more bad relationships.
– If you don’t learn from the experience of skipping exercise, you are likely to get unhealthy.
– If you don’t learn from the experience of bouncing checks, or not filing your taxes on time, you are likely to have major financial problems.
To put it mildly, not learning from experience can cause BIG problems. In fact, the most upsetting problems you have may result from your not learning from experience. I hope I’ve convinced you that finding a way of handling the areas in which you don’t learn is worth a little effort. It can make a huge difference in your life.
How most people handle not learning
When people don’t learn from experience, they tend to take on one of more of these strategies to “fix themselves” so they finally learn. As you read this list, ask yourself: which ones you tend to use?
– Punishing yourself, criticizing yourself, and beating yourself up.
– Suffering the consequences. (This is the “it’s the only way he/she will learn” approach.)
– Trying harder to be different next time.
– Thinking harder to figure out why this is happening over and over.
– Trying to stop “sabotaging yourself.”
These approaches all add pain… but if you’ve been having trouble learning from
experience, I can guarantee you one thing: You’re already experiencing plenty of pain. Pain to make you change hasn’t worked. And it WON’T work in the future. You need something different than trying harder and “kicking yourself when you are down.”
What does work
Despite your best efforts to punish yourself into learning, this remains true: -It’s hard to learn while you are hurting. And when you are in pain, learning happens best after compassion. I often put it this way: -First comes the love, THEN comes the lesson.
But most of us try to do it the other way around… We reserve compassion for ourselves for AFTER we finally get it right… If we ever do.
Here’s what my friend and mentor Jim Keeley told me about learning and compassion:
Think about a little child,” he said. “If you tell a child not to do something, and they do it anyway and get hurt, simply telling them ‘I told you so’ doesn’t work. First you have to bring the love and compassion to the pain they are suffering from that experience. You need to bring the ‘Aww, you got hurt,’ energy. It’s only after you give compassion, that you can teach a lesson about behavior.
In my two decades of working as a personal-growth facilitator and coach, I’ve
seen the truth of that over and over. It’s only after a people find compassion for themselves — even when they’ve screwed up — that they are able to heal the hurt in their hearts, and really learn. That’s the shift you want when you are repeatedly not learning from experience.
So how do you do it?
Here’s a simple process for finding your compassion (an example follows, below):
1) Visualize yourself having not learned, again, and acknowledge that you are hurting.
2) Notice what you have unconsciously decided must be true about yourself or your life because you didn’t learn, again. (Hint: This will be negative.)
3) Open your heart in compassion to how difficult it is to live believing that negative thing. Let that compassion flow to the image of you that you are holding. Step aside from your judgments, and let your compassion flow to this part of yourself.
4) Feel the love and compassion, and see what (if anything) changes.
In Fawn’s case, here’s how it went:
1) She saw herself having once again forgotten her ski boots. She imagined seeing herself in front of her, and opened to the truth that she was hurting.
2) She saw that she had unconsciously decided that this repeated mistake meant that she was “just a screw up.” She saw how believing that was really hurting her.
3) She opened to her compassion for herself, and for how hard it was for her to go through life believing that she was “just a screw up.” She let herself step away from her self-judgments, and reach out with her heart to really bring love to that part of herself she was imagining before her.
4) As she felt that love, she started to relax. A part of her that she’d turned her back on started to feel like it belonged, and that it was okay. As that started to sink in, she began to see that her thinking she was “just a screw-up” had made it too painful to even think about her ski boots — causing her to forget them even more often, and making the whole situation worse.
Her pain lessened, and yes — the next time we went skiing she REMEMBERED her ski boots. As you can see, compassion is a real key to opening your ability to learn and grow from your life experiences. Find your compassion for the part of you that is suffering, and your life experiences can teach you, rather than keep you stuck.
Dmitri is one of the original four founding Shadow Work facilitators along with other leading men trainings, a trainer, a personal coach, and author of “Beyond the Blame Game“. To get his newsletter and to get a free mini-course from him, please visit .