5 Steps to Find the Learning Points in Every Experience
In the last blog, we discussed looking at all we go through as learning experiences. Here, I’m sharing with you the five-step plan I use to analyse events and find the educational points.
Step One – Let’s Get Specific
Take a piece of paper and draw and line vertically down the centre. This leaves you with two columns, which you are going to label as ‘Facts’ and ‘Emotions’. Now you’re going to go through every thought you have about an experience, and decide whether it’s a fact or an emotion.
Distinguishing between factual and emotional statements can seem difficult, but it isn’t. When you know what the statement is, look at whether you can substitute an ‘I feel’ into it.
“I feel abandoned by my significant other.”
“I feel sad that I was dumped.”
“I feel angry with my partner.”
None of those are facts. They are emotions and judgments that you have put on the situation. On the other hand, facts are what actually happened. If it involves an argument, for example, neither side would disagree on these.
“My partner and I split up.”
“There was an argument.”
“My significant other didn’t empty the dishwasher.”
Some of your thoughts may need to be split into two. Statements are not always as neatly packaged into facts versus emotions.
“I’m heartbroken that my partner and I split.”
Fact: “My partner and I split.”
Emotion: “I’m heartbroken.”
“My significant other didn’t empty the dishwasher, which made me angry, and then he didn’t even apologise.”
Fact: “My significant other didn’t empty the dishwasher, and didn’t apologise.”
Emotion: “I was angry.”
Facts can’t be changed, whereas emotions can.
Step Two – Analysing the Facts
We are now going to concentrate on the side of the paper you listed the facts on. It’s time to ask some questions that will help us dig to the root of what happened, and how you can learn from it.
Have similar things to this happened to me before, or is this just a one-off occurrence?
What is the context around what happened? (For example, losing a job during a recession, or your partner arguing with you when his father’s just died).
We are looking for patterns. Often similar situations keep repeating in our lives until we learn the lesson they’re there to teach us. This experience might, for example, be like a string of partners who never do housework.
We are also making sure that we are contextualising what has happened. To determine the learning points, we need to look at what environment the experience occurred in. It’s different to lose your job because of redundancy in a recession than to be fired for stealing. The context teaches us very different life lessons.
Step Three – Finding the Message
There is always a message to be found in the things that we endure, whether they feel pleasant or painful to us. We are going to look at each fact on our list, and write down at least one message to take from that fact.
Messages can be easier to find in some cases than others, and patterns are especially useful for finding a common learning point.
Fact: “My partner didn’t empty the dishwasher.”
Pattern: “My partners never seem to do things in the house.”
Learning Point: “I am attracting people who don’t want to do housework. I normally pick up the things they don’t do, without questioning it. Perhaps if I was more assertive and asked for their help, they would do so.”
It can be more difficult to find learning points when things are a one-off event, but there will still be a message there. It just might take some more digging!
Fact: “My husband and I argued.”
Pattern: “None. This was completely out of the ordinary for us.”
Context: “My husband has just lost his dad.”
Learning Point: “Perhaps I should give my husband the benefit of the doubt, as he’s going through a tough time.”
Fact: “My girlfriend cheated on me, but I believed her when she said she hadn’t.”
Learning Point: “If I had listened more to my intuition and gut feeling, I would have realised she cheated.”
Another way to find learning points is to think about what you’d say if it was a friend who’d been through it. If a friend asked you for advice, based on the facts, pattern, and context, what would you say to them?
Step Four – Next Steps
Looking at the learning points you’ve found, how can you use them in your life going forward? Even if the same situation never crops up again, the learning points will prove useful elsewhere.
We might simply generalise the learning point: in the examples above, we could be more compassionate or listen to our intuition.
Are you feeling hesitant at this point? It’s all well and good finding the learning point, right, but now you have to use it, and that can be very daunting!
What do you gain from taking no action based on the learning point?
Don’t let yourself think this question is rhetorical – it’s not! We don’t avoid taking action when we get benefits from the opposing behaviour.
Let’s think about the woman with her pattern of men who choose not to help her with the housework. There are many potential benefits to her not taking action:
1) Her partner will stay with her – she might scare him into dumping her if she brings up her issues;
2) She has the opportunity to blame her circumstances, and not take responsibility;
3) Her friends show sympathy for her when she talks about her relationships;
and many other reasons besides.
It is perfectly normal to recognise benefits in things we allow to keep happening. If we didn’t see any advantage in them, we would have ended the patterns before. We must be honest with ourselves, and willing to accept there are behaviours we engage in that are unhealthy.
It’s time to ask yourself the question of why you want to hold onto these benefits. When the advantages of using the learning points outweigh those of your current behaviour, you’ll find ways to adopt new ways of living.
Step Five – The New Story
It’s time to write out the full story of what happened – the new story, the real story. Try to write only the facts of the story and the learning points, not allowing yourself to get sucked into describing the negative emotions. You’ll want to include the learning from seeing patterns and contexts of experiences.
This is also the place to write about how you’re going to use the learning points in current situations in your life. You can also highlight where they’ll be useful in future situations. Remember, this new story is the version of yourself that isn’t held back by the old stories and discomforts. Now you know the messages, you get to choose to behave differently.
It is hard to change and to listen to the messages from experiences that make us uncomfortable. I am so proud of you for even contemplating this journey to better understand yourself and the things you’ve gone through.
I know that this five-step process works for me, and I hope that you’ll give it a go too. If it feels too difficult to start with a more painful event, you can always start with a joyous one. An enjoyable experience has learning points on how to get more of the same. That’s a great way to get to know this process when you’re not quite ready to bring up uncomfortable memories.