What happened the last time you looked back at your life or your career? Did you question any decisions made because of outcomes received? Do you believe your life or career should have or could have been different?
The best strategy to take is to look at the past and view it as old news or something beyond your ability to control now. However, many people cannot let go, or will not let go of the past, even knowing it cannot be undone or changed. As a career coach and educator, I have had heard many negative statements made about past decisions during self-reflection exercises and these comments can be summarized as follows.
I wish that I would have:
Made a Better Decision
Listened to Reason, Instead of Acting on Impulse
Followed My Heart, Rather than Listen to My Mind
Taken a Logical Approach and Weighed the Options
Been Courageous, Instead of Fearful
Had Confidence in My Own Abilities
Trusted My Instincts, Instead of Given into Doubt
Believed in the Possibilities, Not the Improbabilities
Without question, life teaches us many lessons. Some of these lessons we remember, especially when there are strong, positive or negative emotions associated with particular events. We learn more about who we are, what we could have or should have been, what we are capable of and afraid of, what brings out the best and worst in us, and what we still need to learn.
While those lessons can be hard to accept, especially when there are negative emotions associated with past circumstances and events, it is possible to use what was learned to your advantage, especially if it is related to your career. By doing so, you will find you have the knowledge necessary to make different, and possibly better, decisions the next time you are given choices or options to select from.
Looking Back at Your Life
Looking back and making an assessment about past events, and considering how wisdom gained over time could have helped to make better choices and actions, is known as hindsight. It is often a matter of looking back and stating to yourself you "should have known better because of details or information available" or something similar. This frequently happens whenever someone feels unfulfilled in their career and unable to advance despite their best efforts.
The challenge for looking back in hindsight, which is a natural response when present circumstances are less than desirable, is that it can lead to feelings of regret, and that can create a pattern of becoming stuck or focused in the past. Hindsight can either work for or against you, depending upon your mindset and frame of reference you are examining. If you use it to confirm you have failed at something, you will find it only perpetuates a negative mindset and feelings of self-doubt.
5 Strategies to Help You Learn from Life Lessons
The lessons life provides can make a person better, rather than continue to hold them back and focused on the past, with the use of any one or all of the strategies provided below.
#1. Create a Plan of Action
The next time you feel regret or strong negative emotion because of looking back or thinking about past events, ask yourself what was learned, what you can do differently now, and how this can make you a better person. That begins a change in your approach to self-reflection as you can now develop a plan of action and build from your strengths to address areas of needed development.
You may also find it helpful to consider how to make better informed decisions, whether it means taking more time (when possible), finding additional resources or conducting research, or simply knowing you can trust your ability to make the best decision when needed.
#2. Face the Hurdles
What trips people up, when trying to work through past events which continue to be replayed are the "what if" questions. This can lead to analysis paralysis where making any decision is difficult. For example: What if I try this new approach and I fail?
To help my clients and students I will ask them to answer those questions and imagine the worst possible scenario or outcome. Why? To help take the uncertainty and fear out of the questions. That is when someone can begin to truly prepare for making decisions and minimize any natural fear.
Trying to get to the bottom of a particular situation and why a decision led to a particular outcome is another natural hurdle to overcome. Consider this perspective: Whatever happened cannot be changed. This sounds very simplistic; however, the reason I state this is there may never be a valid reason for the outcomes of past events, and trying to figure it out can lead to frustration and staying focused on the past. If you feel strongly enough about something which occurred, now is the time to change course, set new goals, and even make amends if it applies.
#3. Create Statements of Determination
Some people find the use of resolutions helpful as it is making a statement that from this day forward, they are going to hold a different view of an event or change their mindset or attitude. Below are some resolutions you can use now.
Resolve today is a new day and a fresh new start. You can make today, and every day thereafter, whatever you want it to be. There is one thing you can control every day, even if everything else around you may seem uncontrollable, and it is the attitude you hold.
Resolve to be better in some manner, whether making informed decisions, learning not to make emotional or quick decisions, or something which helps you feel better about yourself. For people who have negative self-talk, this can create a sense of changing their internal focus.
Resolve to use what was learned from a life lesson in some manner so you can begin to change your focus. This may lessen the fear of looking at the past and help you begin to develop a positive approach towards evaluating past decisions, events, and circumstances.
#4. Develop Future Thinking
The memories you hold keep the past alive and for some people, the more they think about the past, the more those memories are kept active. How do you address memories which never seem to go away? You need future thinking to change your perspective.
Whenever I am reminded of a past event, and I have already discovered what could be learned, I understand there is a reason for the reminder and it is often due to feelings associated with it. Instead of replaying the memory again, I turn my attention to the future and something I am working to accomplish. This allows me to switch to a productive frame of reference. What you may also find with this approach is when you look for positive aspects about the past, frustration or anger you are holding begins to subside.
#5. You Can Change How You Feel
Ask yourself these questions as you start a new day:
How do you want to feel today?
Does it feel better not to think about the past every day?
There are going to be positive past events you may want to continue to cultivate and remember, and anything positive from the past may help to conquer negative thoughts, along with negative self-talk. If you can shift your focus from a negative to a positive perspective, you will begin to feel better about yourself in general, along with your ability to address anything that comes along. If you are working on your career plans you will begin to make a shift and focus on development of your career, and how you are able to work towards new goals.
Developing a Stronger Sense of Self
If you are going to learn and grow as a person, you need a strong sense of self. This means you are willing to accept the outcomes experienced life, both positive and negative, and learn from life lessons. For example, if you believe you have made a mistake, you also realize your future outcomes can be changed through the development of new plans and goals. In other words, you can take what you have learned and work towards a different result.
This is how I have helped many people change careers or even feel better about their current jobs. For students, it translates into an improved sense of self-confidence and a feeling of self-empowerment; such as becoming aware their grades don't happen to them and what their role is in the learning process is. When students learn to take responsibility for their outcomes, their attitude begins to change as they focus on their involvement in the learning process.
Overall, learning from life lessons is about being able to face the past without judgement and fear, while maintaining a positive and future focused mindset. Yes, it can feel unpleasant to fail at something, especially if it is related to your job or career, and have that memory lingering in your past. But when you can learn from these many lessons that life is willing to teach you, the successes you experience will empower and enable you to keep growing, and create a sense of personal and professional fulfillment. Perhaps it will take courage to examine a life lesson for the first time, but the more practiced you become at using the past to inform your future, the more confident you'll become in your ability to face a new future, ready for what lies ahead and unafraid of failure.
About Dr. Johnson
Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, online teaching, career management, and career development. Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. Presently Dr. J is a Core Faculty member for one of the premiere online universities, fulfilling his life's mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others.
As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.
Dr. J published the following resources:
• Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators,
• Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs,
• Appreciative Andragogy: Taking the Distance Out of Distance Learning,
• Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Adjunct Faculty Who Teach Business
To learn more about these transformative professional development resources, please visit: http://www.drbruceajohnson.com/resources-and-store
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