How to Learn From Any Event

By Jay Forte, Coach, Author, Educator

We’ve been taught to define things as good or bad, right or wrong. If our team wins, it’s good. If we lose, it’s bad. If people like your presentation, it’s good. If not, it’s bad. If you get high grades in school, it’s good. If not, it’s bad.

We are masters at labeling and labels create judgments.

Despite this inherent human need to label and categorize, the truth is that we can lose clarity with labels. It causes us to focus on how we feel about an event instead of focusing on what the event can teach us. As a result, it becomes challenging to effectively use the information from the event to develop, learn and grow.

Here is a technique I use with all of my coaching clients to help them move past the limitations that come with affixing labels: focus on what worked and what didn’t work, what’s productive or unproductive.

To get started, draw a line down the center of a page. The heading on the left side of the page is What Worked; the heading on the right side of the page is What Didn’t Work.

As an example, pretend you just finished a call with a customer. Instead of labeling the call as good or bad, spend a moment to reflect on what worked about the call and record your thoughts. Then do the same for what didn’t work about the call. You now have information which you can use to consider options to do more of what worked and to improve on what didn’t work.

This approach removes the emotions associated with the call and instead gives you data you can work with to develop a more successful response.

Notice one other thing: always start with what worked before you move on to what didn’t work. Historically, we bypass our successes. This is dangerous for two reasons. First, successes have information for you about what you are doing that is already working, so how can you do more of it? Second, as you use this approach with others, starting with what’s working instead of what’s not working wins them into an opportunity conversation instead of a defensive one. How open are you if your manager, friend or parent starts a conversation with “Here’s a list of things you need to improve?”

Try this approach in all areas of your life, such as:

  • This year’s vacation
  • The morning staff meeting
  • Your latest presentation
  • The rules about technology (at work or at home)
  • Your conversation with your child/ren about their grades
  • The way you manage your money
  • What you eat
  • The way you share how you feel about the important people in your life
  • The way you celebrate your holidays
  • The way you provide feedback

Every event in life has much to teach us. If we get distracted by the emotion of the event – whether that emotion is positive or negative – we will lose the lesson(s) of the event. Consider reviewing the events of your life by assessing what worked and what didn’t work. Then, with greater clarity, decide how to use that information to make your next event, response, interaction or encounter better.


Consider reading Be Impressed With Your World

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