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. If we can’t do this easily we can easily get stuck.

Several approaches can help us move forward. One is to learn from our past, especially a time when things didn’t turn out the way we wanted.

Before Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb he tried thousands of approaches that didn’t work. He saw these attempts not as ‘failures’ but as  successful steps towards getting the outcome he wanted:

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

To apply this wisdom in your life, first 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 would happen? What did happen?
  2. What lesson did I teach myself at the time: did I see it as a “failure” or 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?
  5. Knowing all this, would I still make the same decision?

If you decide you would make the same decision again then you know that you can trust the choice you make today, even if things don’t turn out the way you expect.

If you decide you would make a different choice then you can trust the choice you make today, because even if it doesn’t turn out the way you want, you know that you can learn from the experience.

In a time of massive change, things are often not going to turn out the way we expected. The important thing is to increase our ability to make the best choices we can, even when the outcomes are uncertain.

Think of a time when you made an important decision. Did you have lots of information to help you predict how things would turn out or were you able to make that decision under uncertainty? In the future, do you expect your need to take decisions under uncertainty to become greater or smaller? What do you plan to do about that?


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

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Photo By Markus Binzegger via StockPholio.net

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