One Question That Could Change Every Average Day

Every day most of us are presented with opportunities to learn something, but we ignore them.

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What if I had told you when you woke up this morning that you would have the opportunity to learn something today that could propel you towards success, but that you would probably ignore it? Would you have started looking at the day a little differently? Would you have started paying attention consciously, watching for that tidbit of knowledge to pop up? What if I had told you that you would have the same opportunity tomorrow? And the day after that?

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Every day most of us are presented with opportunities to learn something that will increase our potential to create the career and the life we want--sometimes incrementally, and sometimes by leaps and bounds. And every day, most of us leave those insights sitting there on the shelf, not even noticing that they exist.

How is that possible? Because most of us (yes, including yours truly much of the time) aren’t paying attention. So often, we are operating on autopilot. Things happen–some good, some not so good–and we move on, our eyes on whatever is next. And as we do, we ignore the potential insights those events and experiences have to offer. But there’s a question that, if we make a habit of asking it regularly, can change this. The question is, “What can I learn from this?”

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As a recovering–and occasionally relapsing–perfectionist, I know all too well how disheartening and even disabling less-than-perfect results can be. It’s tempting to avert your eyes and pretend they didn’t happen. But if you do, you lose out on the investment you just made. Instead of rushing on and ignoring your mistake, blunder, or failure--stop and ask, “What can I learn from this?” Look at what happened and why. Ask yourself what you would do differently so you have the ability to apply that insight in the future.

But it’s not just the mistakes and failures that merit that kind of attention. The successes do as well. Next time something goes well, instead of immediately turning your attention to whatever is next on your to-do list, stop and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” Why did it go well? What was key to making it happen? What was the secret ingredient to the positive result? How could that apply to efforts you make in the future?

[See 10 questions to ask when you're burned out.]

In essence, you’re mining current events for tools to put in your toolkit to help you build your future. One way to do this more consciously is to keep a “key learnings” journal. On a regular basis (as regular as is doable), look at your experiences in your work, both positive and negative, and ask, “What can I learn from this?” Explore where things went wrong and the insights you can glean for how to do things better in the future. Explore where things went right and identify the key factors to that success.

Each time you do that, add it to a summary list of lessons learned. As time goes on, keep referring to that summary. Scan back through it to remind yourself of what you learned so you can keep applying those insights. Make it a habit to ask occasionally, “How does any of this apply to what’s happening now?”

Turn life into your learning laboratory, and reap the rewards.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.


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