Learning from our past

A man sits at a table that is decorated as a clock

A time of change pushes us to take decisions without knowing how things are going to turn out.

One approach that can help us to get better at doing this is to learn from our past — especially to learn from a time when things didn’t turn out the way we wanted.

Before Thomas Edison finally invented the lightbulb he first tried thousands of approaches that didn’t work.

He saw these attempts not as ‘failures’ but as successful steps towards the outcome he wanted:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

In a time of change this attitude will be extremely useful.

To apply this wisdom in your own life, think back to a time when you made a decision that didn’t turn out the way you wanted.

Then ask yourself five questions:

  1. What was the choice I made? What did I expect to happen? What did happen?
  2. What story did I tell myself about it at the time: did I judge it as a ‘failure’ or did I interpret it as something else?
  3. Was this a mis-blink? What alternative lessons or interpretations are also possible?
  4. What other opportunities might I have had — to ignore, leave, fix, improve, or transform the situation? Or to learn from the situation?
  5. Knowing all this, would I still make the same decision again?

To get the maximum benefit, answer these questions before you read on.


If you decide that you would make the same decision again then you know you can trust the choices you make now, even if things don’t turn out the way you expect them to this time either.

And if you decide that you would now make a different choice then that means you have learned from your experience. And that means you can still trust the choice you make today because if that doesn’t turn out the way you want it to either, you will still be able to learn from the experience.

In this time of massive change, many things are not going to turn out the way we expect or want. This means the most important thing is no longer to get it right each time. The important thing is to increase our ability to make the best choices we can, even when the outcomes are uncertain, to implement that choice, and then to keep moving towards a goal that is important to us no matter what then happens.

This is a skill we can learn — if we practice.

In the future, do you expect it will become more important or less important for you to be able to take decisions without knowing how things are going to turn out? What are you doing to address that?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Markus Binzegger via StockPholio.net

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