Leveraging Your Lived Experiences

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Jack Mezirow, in his 1991 book Transformative Dimensions, suggested that we, If we were conscious enough and tough enough, we could use our everyday experiences as doorways to useful learning. If we also were mindful enough, we could attend to the disappointments and missteps in our lives, and if we’re tough enough to see these experiences as “distant, early-warning signals” and then attentive enough to look for what caused them, we would be able to use the skills available to us to launch the kinds of conscious learning efforts that could transform us. Noticing and analyzing our lived experiences — especially those that confuse, frustrate, or disappoint us — is as we’ve recently discovered the golden key to personal and professional transformation.

The problem is, some of us know how to notice and analyze our lived experience in ways that leverage them 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 notice and analyze his lived experiences. According to Schultz, “Charlie is America’s prototypical looser. He’s the one who suffers.” For me, Charlie isn’t a looser. Rather, he’s a caricature of today’s average person; 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. Consequently, no matter how many times Lucy breaks her promise that she’ll hold the ball in place, Charlie never notices and analyzes her betrayals of her promises and his subsequent expectations. Like Charlie, the “aaughs” we experience in our lives are really notices; instead they become the closest we ever come to analyzing our most frequent disconfirming experiences.

This is sad. For all of us who are real-life “Charlies,” our learning can only begin when we start recognizing the kinds of disconfirming experiences we’re having that are just like the one’s that Charlie is swimming in. Disconfirming experiences, whether in life or at work, are nature’s way of challenging our expectations. They’re nature’s way of showing us when, where, and how, our long-held views of how the world should work are outmoded, made obsolete by events, circumstances and situations never imagined by our moms and dads.

The thing to notice here is that disconfirming experiences are what come into our lives whenever we encounter situations that don’t fit or match with our earliest embedded intentions. Disconfirming experience show up in our lives when things happen to us in that we don’t anticipate. Speaking psychologically, you can say that an event, situation, or experience is disconfirming when it doesn’t sync with your personal models of reality. Or when you experience something that you sense that it’s violating the presuppositions about life you developed early on in your life with your parents and your siblings.  Disconfirming experiences those encounters that confound you, fluster you, put you in a place where confusion, tension, and anxiety tingle just below the surface of your consciousness and threaten your ability to respond effectively.

Without question, none of us rally want to be our own version of Charlie Brown. We are though, whenever we slough off the “laugh!” moments of our lives. When we turn a blind eye to the confusions, tension, an anxieties tingling just slightly off camera, we’re doing just that. Becoming our own versions of Charlie Brown. Noticing instead of ignoring these “aaugh” moments is the way out of this blindspot. These opportunities emerge when (1) we’re able to feel the tingle of our anxiety, (2) name it as a disconfirming experience, and (3) begin wondering just a bit about what the central assumptions or belief systems are that are lying unnoticed in our disconfirming experiences. When we start doing these three things, we’re on our way to being 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.