We all learn from experience. That’s a matter of fact. It was once said the definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’. We are purpose built to avoid this cliché. We know to react and evolve as we progress. But, there are different ways of learning lessons. Some are shared through communication; we make a mistake on our own and then help others around us to avoid it. This is great, right? Sharing is caring after all. Or is it? Does telling a person how to avoid the mistake also ensure they miss the lesson? Does it set them up for even greater falls in the future?

The swing of life

When you think about it, being told how to do something, or in this case, how not to do something without experience of actually doing it is quite strange. After all, you’re receiving a set of random words in the mind that have no history with the body. You jump off the swing and you feel pain when you land, so in the future you don’t jump off the swing. But, being told you shouldn’t jump off the swing because it will hurt, is that really enough? Does that resonate? The reality is, the learning is weak because it is based on another person’s knowledge or experience. It doesn’t stop it being good advice, but it does weaken the underlying lesson. The mind cannot associate the action with a reaction, so there’s always that element of doubt.

‘Being told how to do something without experience actually doing it, is just a set of random words in the mind disconnected from the body.’

Through experience, we’re able to learn definitive lessons with context. We know that in certain situations, it may actually be ok to jump from the swing, maybe it doesn’t hurt when landing onto tarmac instead of concrete? But how do we know, unless we try? Being told to not jump off the swing under any circumstance limits our experience and reduces our ability to test and iterate. Now it’s not so important in this example, but the wider principle could have more significant impacts if you’ve prevented from taking risks because of someone else’s experiences.

Just do it

So, how do you find that balance where you’re still taking wider opinion and contributions into consideration without letting them hold you back from learning yourself? Well, the answer is simple (and copyrighted): just do it. Go out there and learn for yourself. Told something you’re not quite sure about? Recreate the consequences as best you can and conduct your own learning. Go out of your way to find someone else who’d doing it too, watch, see how they react, anything you can do to improve the correlation between action and genuine reaction is valuable. If you can’t do that, consider creating an image in your mind of the situation and how all the sources and stakeholders involved would react based on your logical understanding.

The Natural Learning Process

So, just why is this experience the greatest teacher? What is it that helps us use past events to scope and influence how we perceive the future and take action? Well, it’s called the Natural Learning Process, and it’s something we all possess. Remember when you learnt to walk? The Natural Learning Process was guiding you every step of the way. You were seeing people around you do what you wanted to achieve and this helped to bring your ambition to life, and the great thing is, it can be applied to almost anything you put your mind to. We are hardwired to learn through experience and this gives us the upper hand in the food chain, unlike the majority of animals, we have the capability and capacity to learn relentlessly. All thanks to the Natural Learning Process. With this in hand, our potential to grow is truly limitless.

The key to success? Learning through experience.

Whether it’s Steve Jobs failing with various product launches (remember the Mac TV?) or Thomas Edison failing (over 9000 times) to create the light bulb, the majority of the world’s most successful people had to fail first, before they could succeed. This failure set them up for their long-term prosperity, they learnt lessons that then helped them avoid mistakes when it mattered most. Sometimes failure is the best preparation for success. It may sound corny, but it’s true. We often need to fail in order to recognise what’s required to triumph. Our failures are the best teachers. As we live them, they become a part of us, and in the end, it’s this part that helps us to make better decisions into the future.

Remember, embracing your failures really is the best way to achieve success.