You've heard the saying
"experience is the best teacher", right?
The great Roman leader Julius
Caesar recorded the earliest known version of this proverb,
"Experience is the teacher of all things." around 52
The Roman author Pliny in 77
A.D. wrote, "Experience is the most efficient teacher of
all things." (Sounds like he copied most of it
What I think they really mean is
most people learn more by doing than by reading or
Would you agree
If experience is the best
teacher, then why did I spend all those years in school? Was it
to gain knowledge or gain experience? Shouldn't I just have gone out and
gathered lots and lots of experience?
If experience is the best
teacher then why aren't those with the most life experiences
the most successful?
Will Rogers once said, "The trouble with using experience as
your guide is that sometimes the final exam comes first,
then the lesson."
Og Mandino wrote, "In truth,
experience teaches thoroughly yet her course of instruction
devours men's years so the value of her lessons diminishes
with the time necessary to acquire her special wisdom. The
end finds it wasted on dead men. Furthermore, experience is
comparable to fashion; an action that proved successful
today will be unworkable and impractical tomorrow."
Do you agree
with those statements?
So which is it then? Let's
look at axiology first and then we'll take a peek at how
neuroscience and the
brain work to answer the question "Is Experience the Best
The Value of Experience
Knowledge (thinking) lays the
foundation for experience, yet axiologically knowledge is
infinitely less valuable than experience. You see, knowledge
is systemic. By definition, it only exists in your mind.
Experience is extrinsic... you can measure it and you can see it.
Something that is tangible is infinitely more valuable than
something that only exists in your head.
So, experience is infinitely more valuable
than knowledge. But is it the best teacher?
Because you have measured
it, seen it, and experienced it, does that mean that you
have learned from it? Of course not!
It is implied in the saying
"Experience is the best teacher" that if you experience a
lot, you will learn a lot. Now I'm not going to tell you
that experience isn't a good teacher but it is only a good
teacher if it brings about change.
A rich and wise man once told
me, "to know and not do is not to know". Sure I was
confused at first, but then I realized what it meant. For
example, to say
you KNOW you should exercise more and not DO it, is exactly
the same as not knowing you should do it. Why? Because the
knowledge changes nothing.
Quoting Og Mandino again, "My
dreams are worthless, my plans are dust, my goals are
impossible. All are of no value unless they are followed by
action. I will act now. Never has there been a map however
carefully executed to detail and scale which carried its
owner over even one inch of ground. Never has there been a
parchment of law however fair which prevented one crime. ...
Action, alone, is the tinder which ignites the map, the
parchment, this scroll, my dreams, my plans, my goals, into
a living force. Action is the food and drink which will
nourish my success."
Many folks that I talk
with believe that their experience is important. They will say "I have 15
years of project management experience." Truthfully that
tells me that they have been in the profession for 15 years
but it tells me very little about their knowledge and abilities
managing projects. You see,
some have had the same one year of experience fifteen
You may assume that because you have experience
you also have learned from that experience. But,
have to DO in order to truly learn and grow (change) from
your experiences. What have you DONE with your
Changing through Experience
It's been said that Benjamin Franklin was a master at learning from his experience.
He was number 15 of the 17 children in his family and the
youngest son of his father, Josiah Franklin. Josiah wanted
Ben to attend school with the clergy but only had enough
money to send him for two (2) years and his schooling ended when
he was 10 years old. How did he accomplish so much
throughout his lifetime? How did he take advantage of all of
Good questions, but first, let's look at you...
What experiences have you had?
in the last year? last week? last 24 hours?
Did you learn from these
experiences? Can you remember them?
What are the common
traits of the experiences that you learn from?
Have these experiences been
viewed as successes or failures?
What can you do to better
learn from your experiences?
To answer that last question, let's go back to Ben for some of
his methods which line up quite nicely with what we
now know from neuroscience.
Daily self-reflection was a
fundamental aspect of Franklin’s life. He developed a list
of thirteen virtues and each day he would evaluate his
conduct relative to a particular virtue.
Changing through experience
isn't simply brought about through the experience. Ben
Franklin kept a diary of his daily events. He also believed
in the virtue of ORDER and he created a scheme for his daily
life. Read through his plan below...
He started every morning by
asking "What good shall I do today?"
He reflected ("looked over his
accounts") during his lunch hour.
He ended every day in reflection by asking
"What good have I done today?"
techniques positively reinforced his good behaviors. He
developed a habit of creating good habits!! In order to change
thinking and valuing habits and learn from your experiences,
A.C.T.!! You must give ATTENTION to the experience.
must CONCENTRATE on what you would like to learn and
do this over TIME.
Your Next Steps
What should you do to make your experience count?
Here are 4 steps on getting value and
producing positive changes in your life from your experiences...
- Spend time each day jotting down the things that you
did, the experiences that you had. Did your mind just
tell you that you don't have time for this? Then, you'll
want to check out this FREE online tool called
(EVERNOTE allows you to
easily capture information in any environment using
whatever device or platform you find most convenient,
and makes this information accessible and searchable at
any time, from anywhere. Did I mention that it's free?!?)
Once you've collected your thoughts and experiences ask
yourself the question "What
good have I done today?" Look for value in
each of the three classes of value.
Did you come up with
some great ideas (systemic) today?
Did you do
great deeds (extrinsic)? Were you productive in reaching your
Did you value
another human being today? Did you make a positive
For many, your systemic thoughts cause problems. You
have developed thought habits over the years that tell
you that your ideas are the best and that your
expectations are completely reasonable and realistic.
However, for most, that usually isn't the case. (Do
you still believe that you can drive in rush hour
traffic and not be cut off?) Use the creative and
imaginative powers of your systemic mind to
imagine yourself performing the best steps and actions. Replay
the events of the day in your creative mind.
- Mentally rehearse the good things that you did and
pre-hearse the good things that you will do or change
for tomorrow. Practice, practice, practice.
Then, go back to step one again tomorrow and ask
yourself "What good shall I do
I must warn you... sincere
self-examination of our experiences is not an easy task. It
requires attention. It requires a willingness to face your
experiences - the successes and failures. It requires you to
concentrate on your actions. It requires you to recognize
what you may have neglected in thoughtlessness. It leaves
little room for blaming others and complaining about the
events of the day. This exercise focuses you on the only
person you can truly change in this world... YOU!
But, I must also tell you...IT
IS WELL, WELL WORTH IT. (You may even get schools, roads,
bridges, and companies named after you some day like Ben did.)
Remember, it takes all 4 of these steps to
bring about real, lasting changes. To change you must A.C.T.
Focus on your natural thinking and valuing strengths.
You are worth the effort! Those around you are worth the
Don't know your
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