We learn from mistakes.

Some of us learn from our own mistakes. This is fairly effective as a way of discerning processes that work from those that don’t. The main issue with this is that we often delude ourselves about what did and didn’t work, forgetting the failures and only remembering the successes. This is referred to as confirmation bias. We try various things, remember when they work and not when they don’t, so we over estimate the effectiveness of the strategy. We also involve emotions that don’t belong, biasing what we think happened with what we want to happen.

We can also learn by observing someone else. When they succeed, we know it is a viable method. When they fail, if all goes well, we learn that that is not a viable method. The unfortunate thing is, if the person who is doing the failing action is emotionally close to us, we feel the emotional bond is more important than the intellectual recognition of viability, so tend to repeat the mistakes that those we love or grew up with do.

We can also learn from an educational facility, book or some other coldly set up lesson. This has the greatest chance of being accurate in the ways of success, but has the least emotional connection, so tends to stick the least. We are, after all, emotional learners.

When we are pushed, we have an emotional response. The feeling that we have now is what we look for in our past. The odds are, the solution that kept us alive last time we felt like this is a winning strategy this time too. After all, it worked last time, right?

As a quick response to a stressful situation, this strategy certainly has positives. However as a means of improving our long term safety, long term comfort and so on, it is not a good strategy. We always tend to do what we have always done. This makes it hard to change.

All of the book learning in the world does not help weigh against our instinctive reactions. Neither does observing someone else make mistakes, or even good decisions. They just don’t have enough emotional hold on us.

What makes the real difference is pausing before we act. Using this pause, we can evaluate the difference between what we want to do, what we think we should do, the consequences of both and then choose what we are actually going to do. Afterwards we should review how effective this version is to reinforce to our future selves whether this strategy was good or not.

If we do this, slowly we learn – not just in theory, but in action too.