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Learn From Your Past, Rather Than Being Defeated by It!

By Charlie Badenhop

One thing is clear in regard to many highly successful people - they failed once, twice, or even three or four times before finally hitting upon a plan that worked. And what highly successful people do is learn from their mistakes and then do things differently the next time around. The same is true of successful athletes. People who are successful in the long run tend to use their early failures to be more successful in the future. In fact they use their early failures to help motivate themselves to be more successful in the future.

But when mere mortals like myself wind up not being successful in a certain task or relationship it can be all too easy to ask "Why didn't things work out?" and often when I ask myself such a question, I realize I am looking to assign blame rather than looking at what I could do differently and better the next time out.

Often when I am coaching people they say something like, "I keep asking myself why my relationship with my spouse turned bad." And usually it is rare that they come up with an answer that will help them to form a plan for how to do things differently in the future.

You see, if you are going to focus on what went wrong, or what someone else did wrong, you will do well to also focus on what went right and what was well done. You need to learn from both the good and the bad if you are to succeed in the future. So instead of asking yourself "Why?" something didn't turn out well you will do better to ask yourself "What could have led to success here?" When you ask yourself this question you won't need to wind up staring at the negative side of the coin. When you focus on what went wrong you will tend to only see and realize the negative while missing out on the positive.

Also, when debriefing the past consider whether or not you are focusing on what you do truly want, or if instead you are focusing on what you would like to avoid the next time around.

For instance, asking yourself "What did I do that led me to remain overweight?" will yield different answers and a different future than asking yourself "What is my best current plan for achieving a healthy body weight?"

There is meant to be a tribe in the Andes mountains where the people gesture in front of themselves when talking about the past, and behind themselves when talking about the future. I am not sure how they came to think and talk this way, but I certainly find what they do to be very interesting. If I am not mistaken, I remember reading quite some time ago that the ancient Greeks had a saying which was, "Your past lies in front of you, and your future behind you." So perhaps both cultures shared a similar wisdom.

My thinking goes like this- Everything that we see and everything we experience is subjective in nature. What we see or experience is predominantly based on what we believe to be true. This is particularly so when we are looking at or experiencing something that is new or unclear. We tend to "see" what we expect to see. When I write this now I can recall numerous scientific experiments that make this quite clear, but when I am in my everyday experience, I find this concept much harder to fathom.

Just today I was in a restaurant in Tokyo for lunch and there was a group of students who had just graduated high school and they were out celebrating. When they left the restaurant their table was looking quite messy. One Japanese customer remarked, "Gee the kids of today have no concern for keeping everything in order. I would be highly embarrassed to leave the table looking as it does." The master of the restaurant replied, "Gee, I wish I was as young as them and had so much enthusiasm for what lies ahead." Same "messy" table, yet two very different points of view.

Or even consider this… most other folks in Tokyo and I are very much waiting for spring to truly arrive. I was talking to a neighbor at around 8 this morning and we both remarked, "Gee, it is still pretty cold isn't it!" And just about that time a happy looking kid walked by wearing a T shirt and no jacket. Obviously the kid's concept of "cold" did not match the concept of "cold" that my neighbor and I had.

So do your best to remember that everything is relative, everything is subjective. And remember that even when you have failed in the past you did not do "everything" wrong!

Another idea is this - think of your past as an experiment that occurred and your job is to change the results of the experiment the next time around. It is your job to decide what needs to be done differently, and what needs to be done the same.

Use your past failures to motivate you to do better in the future, rather than using your past failures to defeat you a second time.

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