We all have experience. You get experience by simply living life. However, our experiences really don't matter if we fail to reflect on and learn from them.
Over the last few days, I have been reading a fascinating book titled The Brain that Changes Itself. I haven't finished the book yet, but I really like what I've been learning so far. I'll likely have more insights from this book in the next few weeks.
The key point of today's post is this, experience without reflection is rather pointless.
Here's a quote from the book referencing a study on brain plasticity (changes in brain structure and function) done by mapping brain activity in monkeys:
…Merzenich (the researcher) discovered that paying close attention is essential to long-term plastic change. In numerous experiments he found that lasting changes occurred only when his monkeys paid close attention. When the animals performed tasks automatically, without paying attention, they changed their brain maps, but the changes did not last. We often praise “the ability to multitask.” While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention doesn't lead to abiding change in your brain maps.
In short, failure to focus – reflect on your experience – does not lead to long-term learning and improvement.
I have often noticed that some people have 20 years of experience and other people have 1 year of experience 20 times.
I'm guessing that the former group thinks about and reflects on the lessons from their experiences and the latter group keeps having the same experiences without ever stopping to reflect or focus on them. The former group “changes their brain map” and the latter group doesn't.
To become a better communicator, parent, teacher, student, or leader, I suggest that you stop to reflect on your experiences so that you can learn from them rather than consistently experiencing interactions on autopilot so that you have the experience but not the learning.
Remember, experience is mandatory but learning is optional.
Photo courtesy of www.sxc.hu.