Jack Mezirow, in his 1991 book Transformative Dimensions, suggested that we, IF we’re conscious enough and tough enough, could use our everyday experiences as doorways into useful learning efforts. If we attend to the disappointments and missteps in our lives, and IF we’re tough enough to see these “failures” as “distant, early-warning signals” and smart enough to look for what causes them, then we we’ll be able to use the skills we already have to launch the kinds of conscious learning efforts that transform us. Analyzing our lived experiences, especially those that disappoint us, Mezirow said, is the key to personal and professional transformation. The problem is, some of us know how to leverage their lived experiences into successful learning efforts. And some of us don’t.
Charlie Brown — the lead character in Charles Schultz’s cartoon series Peanuts — is the prototypical example of a person who doesn’t know how to turn his lived experiences into useful learning efforts. According to Schultz, “Charlie is America’s prototypical looser. He’s the one who suffers.” For me, Charlie is a caricature of today’s average person; he’s someone who’s never quite aware enough of his missteps and shortfalls to ever marshal the energy it takes to do the things that would transform his fate. No matter how many times Lucy breaks her promise to him that she’ll hold the ball in place, Charlie never turns into any of his misplaced trust of her. Like Charlie, our “aaughs” are the closest many of us ever come to digging into their most frequent disconfirming experiences.
This is sad. For all of us real-life “Charlies,” real 21st Century learning can only begin with our recognition of the kinds of disconfirming experiences that Schultz’s Charlie is swimming in. Disconfirming experiences, whether in life or at work, are nature’s way of challenging our expectations, our long-held views of how the world should work that our lived experiences are quietly disproving over and over again.
Disconfirming experiences happen when we encounter situations that confound embedded intentions. They happen in ways that bring into view new disconcerting results. In other words, disconfirming experience always show up in your life in ways that you don’t anticipate. Speaking psychologically, you can say an event, situation, or experience is disconfirming when it violates your personal model of reality. Or when you experience something that seems like it is violating the presuppositions about life you developed early on in your life with your family-of-origin. Disconfirming experiences can be easily recognized because they disorient you, put you in a place where confusion, tension, and anxiety threaten your ability to respond effectively.
The way out of these situations emerges when (1) we’re able to name the central assumptions or belief systems that are embedded in our disconfirming experiences, and (2) are able to examine our faulty beliefs and reframe the specific behavior patterns that have created our disconfirming experience in the first place, To learn more about your disconfirming experiences and what you can do to reframe them, click the navigation button below.