Do You Learn From Your Own Experiences?

These days Australians are inundated with external sources trying to guide us and point us in the right direction. Self-help books, TV personalities, and the endless array of information offered to us online has never been so well received as it is at this very moment.

And while it’s always helpful to look outwardly for unbiased assistance in your personal and professional growth, you’d be amazed at how much you can learn from yourself. But  most of us aren’t well practiced, or conditioned to look inwardly for a solution.

You have the potential to come up with your own solutions

Experience-based learning is nothing new. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984), defines experiential learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.”

This type of learning has been well received – and actively practiced – in the world of education. But once we leave our student lives behind, we forget how effective it is to learn from our own experiences. We fail to make the connection between life within the classroom, and life outside of it.

In Kolb’s theory, there are four elements presented in a learning cycle:

  1. Concrete experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualization
  4. Active Experimentation

The cycle begins with a person has an experience (we all have those), and is followed by an opportunity to reflect on that experience (this is where many of us fail to follow through). From that reflective period, a person can then draw conclusions that might lead to future actions where you behave or think differently.

Let’s look at experience-based learning through the eyes of a non-student. Let’s see how we can use it to better ourselves and help us to grow professionally and personally.

Dealing with a difficult situation at work

Australians have to deal with difficult situations (and people) at work, thus it’s a good place to convey the effectiveness of experience-based learning. Let’s say, for example, that you experience a conflict with a co-worker, based on some type of professional argument. The result was a lost client, but he blames you for the loss, while you see things differently. What might typically happen here is that you become defensive, point fingers back at your co-worker, and escalate the confrontation, to the point that it causes a rift at work, lack of productivity, and perhaps a cycle in which you start experiencing unhealthy levels of workplace stress. But by incorporating Kolb’s theory, you might not only be able to gain a better handling of this initial confrontation, but you can also learn from it to help you become better prepared for future altercations.

Concrete Experience – You and your co-worker start to argue.

Reflective Observation – Think of this as your count-to-ten moment. When you realize you’re having an argument, take a moment to remove yourself from the situation and reflect not just on the argument, but the steps taken to get to that point. You’ll be surprised to see how an argument could have been prevented long before it ever began. This includes not just the signals your co-worker gave off that likely got under your skin, but it also involves your part in the confrontation. What did you do, think, or feel, to allow this to come to head?

Abstract Conceptualization – Now that you’ve seen how an argument began, you’re better equipped to nip it in the bud next time. Rather than viewing your initial argument as a defeat or obstacle, you can now look at it as a learning opportunity for the inevitable next argument (either with the same co-worker, or someone else).

Active Experimentation – Put your good work to use. When you find yourself in a similar situation as that initial argument, use your observations and conclusions to dictate a different outcome. Become a master of the moment. In other words, learn from your experience. While you may not have been able to master the initial confrontation in the moment, you have now rewrote its purpose in your life. It no longer is a reference point for stress or hostility. It’s a learning opportunity that allowed you to grow.

Using your skills as a professional in your personal life

Why is it we feel that what we learn in our professional lives can’t be transferred into our personal lives? The skills you used to make the most of your workplace confrontation can be used at home as well.

When we argue with family members, friends, or the person behind the counter, we either attempt to write it off (though it always festers), or we allow it to assume the role of a dark cloud in the room. It lingers and weighs heavily on our sanity and happiness.

Arguments are inevitable. No one sees eye-to-eye at all times. But if we can master the moment of an argument, and learn from our experiences, we can grow and change – personally and professionally – so that when that next argument arrives, we’re much more prepared to handle it the way we want to.

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