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7 Practical Steps to Turn Around a Bad Experience

7 Practical Steps to Turn Around a Bad Experience
Face

Failure sucks. But if your planning on doing anything important you are going to have to get used to it. Embarrassment, frustration and even bad situations you can’t control are going to be part of life. What can you actually do about them instead of just having a “positive attitude?”

I definitely haven’t reached the pinnacle of human enlightenment. So I can’t boast that harsh criticisms, the accidental blunder or bad experience never get to me. But I’d like to offer the practical steps I take to move past it.

1) Find a Meaning

Ask yourself how you can use the bad experience. Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, found meaning in his suffering while in a Nazi concentration camp. Here are some ways you can find a meaning in your situation to move past it:

  • What has it taught you?
  • Has it made you stronger/kinder/wiser?
  • Even simply enduring a bad moment has meaning in making your happy moments better.

2) Keep a Failure Log

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Keep track of any failures, embarrassments or blunders. Using a failure log you can give yourself a little checkmark of accomplishment. It may seem odd to reward failures in this way, but rewarding your failures serves two main purposes:

  1. It makes you more willing to take chances when the only risk is to your pride.
  2. It causes you to focus more on learning and growth than external recognition.

I’ve even heard from other people that if they don’t have at least a few major failures each year, they don’t believe they were trying hard enough.

3) Find a New Goal

Don’t dwell in the past. The best way to get out of a rut is to start building momentum again. Get a new goal or pursuit. A new challenge will get you to stop thinking about your failure and get you to focus on something positive. A new goal will also give the opportunity for future successes instead of dwelling on a current stumble.

4) Remove Chronic Sources of Stress

You ability to handle big stresses depends on how well you handle the little ones. If your life is constantly driving you crazy, you need to reconstruct it to better handle stress. There are already many resources on handling stress, but here are a few quick tips:

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  1. Keep your energy high by staying in shape.
  2. Fire people from your life who are a source of chronic negativity.
  3. Find outlets for your stress that help you recover instead of intensifying the frustration.

5) Build a Support Base

Building a support base of colleagues and mentors will help you when times are rough. This is definitely a situation where you need to prepare in advance. Even if you aren’t having to deal with a particularly difficult situation right now, you might need some reinforcement in the future.

Have the right peers and mentors who will encourage you past your mistakes. Here are some tips for attracting the right people into your life:

  • You give what you get. Be extra attuned to the needs of your friends and they will do the same.
  • Join Toastmasters. I’m a Toastmaster and I can’t say enough about the great people I’ve met there. No large group will be consistently good, so you might need to try one or two clubs. But overwhelmingly, I’ve found Toastmasters to be a great place to make positive connections.
  • Spend less time on negative people. If you can’t eliminate them entirely, reduce your interactions so you can focus more on better relationships.

6) Be Humble

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A sense of humility and humor can keep you moving forward when things are tough. I’m not a follower that says overwhelming confidence is the approach to success. Being humble in your abilities but confident in your chances to grow will let you shrug off failures. I never would have stuck to blogging unless I had cultivated the humility that told me it would be a lot of hard work.

Humility doesn’t necessarily mean you have low self-esteem. It just means you are focused more on doing things without expecting immediate success.

Many Eastern philosophies emphasize goalless action. This doesn’t mean that you should not strive for anything, but that you should detach yourself from the outcome. If you win, great. If you lose, then you are one step closer.

7) Stop Analyzing and Start Doing Something New

There is a maximum limit to how much you can learn from an experience. That limit is actually fairly small with an isolated incident. If you give one speech and it fails, you might be able to learn one or two points of improvement. That’s it. Anything you “learn” after this threshold is just speculation which is often incorrect.

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I’ve seen people in failed relationships, goals that went sour or broken commitments, try to learn everything from just one failure. Unfortunately, the only way you can learn isn’t just to fail once but to fail dozens of times. Trying to scoop up too much information on a bad situation just leaves you feeling miserable with the false sensation that you are accomplishing something useful.

After you’ve gathered a couple learning points, stop. Start doing something new. Pick out a new goal and move forward. After all, isn’t that what failures are for? To give you a small learning point and direct you towards bigger and better things?

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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