Learning from bad experiences

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We all have bad experiences. Something doesn’t go our way. We’re struck with some bad luck. Maybe we even made a blatant mistake. It took practice, but reflecting on bad experiences has helped me make trials and tribulations easier to deal with.┬áBad experiences really are learning experiences. Here’s what I do when I need to process and eventually get over something.

1. Examine how I felt throughout the experience.

When I am in the moment, I’m not always paying attention to exactly how I feel. Recently I had a phone conversation where the topic suddenly created this overwhelming anxiety and I just wanted to hang up! In that moment I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was feeling. But now as I sit here calmly and look back, the moment wasn’t nearly as harrowing as it felt while it was happening.

By looking at my feelings from start to finish, I notice when and what something was really affecting me. It’s also nice to realize that the feelings subsided after a short time.

2. Ask the difficult questions about the experience.

Sometimes it’s tough to reflect on difficult experiences. By difficult questions, I don’t mean, “Why did this happen to me?” I mean, “Was I reacting appropriately?” or “What can I do next time I am confronted with a similar experience?” or “What can I do to prevent this from happening to me again?” and of course “What can I learn from this?”

Was I reacting appropriately?
I know many people that could benefit from reflecting on this question. If you can look back and realize that perhaps you overreacted, then next time you might not be so inclined to go crazy. On the other hand, maybe you didn’t react enough and needed to be more vocal and stand up for yourself? Sometimes no reaction is worse than overreacting.

What can I do next time I am confronted with a similar experience?
The value of reflection is that it helps me be prepared for next time. By looking back and figuring out a better set of actions, I can be better able to tackle future experiences. Whether that’s actually dealing with outside circumstances or handling my own internal feelings, being prepared is ultra helpful.

What can I do to prevent this from happening to me again?
If the situation happened because I didn’t do my research or study hard enough or ignored warning signs, then I like to make myself aware of what I could have done differently. In my earlier example of the anxious phone call, I know now that I could have spent some time preparing and doing a little research. Lesson learned. Answering this question with “There was nothing I could have done” is okay, however I try not to come to this conclusion right off the bat because more often than not there is at least ONE tiny little thing I could have done differently.

What can I learn from this?
I can’t go back in time, so spending a lot of time being anxious over a past experience is not worth it. But it is worth asking what things I have learned by experiencing what I have experienced. In some sense that’s what this entire blog is about — looking at what might be called the “bad experience” of having muscular dystrophy and figuring out all the things I have learned along the way. Personally it makes what some might see as a bad experience, one that has been a tremendously beneficial one.

3. Acknowledge and move on.

I do find a ton of value in reflecting. But for me, it’s important not to dwell too long. Holding onto the feelings associated with a negative experience can make me lose sleep. It’s just not worth it. But when I find time to reflect and then become satisfied with my answers and lessons, I will consciously tell myself to move on.

So that’s how I do it. And of course this doesn’t mean all bad experiences feel like learning ones when they’re happening. I just trust that by looking at my bad experiences I am making my future difficulties easier to manage. And so far it seems to have worked for me.

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