Why I’m Creating a “What I’ve Learned List” and Why You Should, Too

There's no shame in saying you've made mistakes.
I've done it, your mom has done it, your significant other has definitely done it...
But what is the secret between those who "fail fast" and continue to fail; and those who fail and persist to success? A friend once offered some great insight into this topic in the form of a question: What did you learn from that experience? 

I was dealing with a difficult situation at the time. I was unsure I made the right decision by offering a free class to a large group. It was about 30 people that signed up, more than I expected, and I wasn't getting paid for my work. Occasionally, I'll offer a complimentary class to companies that would like to pursue a weekly class as a way to help generate interest and reassure clients about our service. However, this class was not going to be compensated, and there was about a 95% chance it would be a one-time gig. The class itself was fun, but afterwards I wasn't sure my effort was worthwhile. When I was describing the situation to my friend, she surprised me.

"It's okay if it didn't go well," she replied. "What did you learn from that experience?"

I was caught off guard. I expected her to reassure me of my decision-- to pat me on the back saying, "It's okay, you've got plenty more irons in the fire".  I was even more shocked by my own lack of response. I couldn't think of anything I learned from my mistake.

"Let me get back with you on that," I said, a little embarrassed I hadn't put much thought into it.

I realized, I had been making decisions unconsciously for years. And therefore, allowing myself to continue failing. Even outside of the yoga business, I was encountering the same errors-- something needed to change. I wasn't utilizing experience to its fullest potential. It's as though I was repeating the same negative patterns over and over, because of some sort of failure amnesia.

Charles Duhigg's book Smarter, Better, Faster , calls the inability to use data, "information blindness" . While Duhigg referenced information blindness in terms of raw facts or data, I believe we can also be blind to our own intuition or experience. Just as Duhigg asks the question, "What good is the information if we can’t figure out what to do with it?"; I echo back the same sentiment, "What good is our failure if we can't figure out what to do with it?".

Duhigg says the key to handling information blindness is to force yourself to look at something. Write things down. It helps you process information, and absorb it faster. The more you break things down and interpret it-- the faster you learn. I honestly despise writing stuff down, mostly because either I never refer back to what I write down or I loose the paper I'm writing on (I'm a disorganized disaster). However I'm willing to put my biases aside, because writing is essentially an exercise in mindfulness.

To write a piece of work, you must recognize what lens you are seeing the world through. It requires awareness of your situation so you can identify key points you'd like to write about. To be a writer, you must be willing to investigate and relate your situation to others. And above all, writing is cathartic. Through writing, you can let go of old patterns that may be holding you back. Yogis, does this not sound like RAIN to you?! RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Non-identification) - an acronym for a Buddhist mindfulness tool.

So, long story short, I'm starting a list this year-- a list of lessons I've learned. I guess it's sort of a reflection for myself-- a reminder that it's okay to make mistakes as long as you've learned something. I expect to add, modify, or even remove a couple lessons as I go about this year.

A very rough draft of what I have so far:
  • All the best advice I've ever been given was in the form of question. How do you make yourself a better teacher? You ask your students to think.
  • Don't identify with your mistakes. Once you make a mistake, don't let it mess with your head. Don't let anyone use your mistakes to create a false identity.
  • Don’t let other people tell you how something should operate if you have experience and ideas that suggest otherwise. Find a way to communicate.
  • Don't get so overwhelmed by good news, that you loose sight of how you’re going to make it happen.
  • Don't hit send until you reread the entire message.
  • Admit when your wrong, and come up with a solution instead of just saying, "I'm sorry".
  • Track how much time you actually work each day.
  • Make deadlines for yourself.
  • Make to-do lists.
  • When you feel uninspired or sad, read spiritual teachings.
  • When you can't articulate verbally, write it down. This way you can solidify your ideas and thoughts.
  • I am bad at details.
  • I am not a good communicator.
  • I have an intense fear of being perceived as incompetent-- which sabotages me.
  • I like big projects rather than small tasks.
  • I am good at finding overarching themes.
  • I am good at immediately applying what I learn-- if I perceive the benefit.
  • I have a good memory.
  • Reflection is natural to me. Introspection is natural to me.

Leave a Reply