Brain power

How to learn from our experiences

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

It’s generally accepted that having a variety of experiences is a good thing in one’s life and career, but for that experience to be valuable it’s important that we’re able to learn from each one. Research1 from Georgia State University explores how we can effectively reflect on our experiences.

The researchers found two key approaches, the first of which they refer to as “causal analysis of changeable person characteristics” (CA), which is when we try and find causes for any difficult experiences we face within ourselves. Such reflection tends to focus on changeable personal qualities.

The second approach is something they refer to as “developmental action implications” (DAI), which is when we focus more on the implications for improvement of these various personal qualities.  This suggests that when we reflect on an experience, we often look for the causes of the experience within ourselves as these are things we can control.

Reflection tendencies

When the researchers assessed over 800 workers with leadership responsibilities, they found that these reflection tendencies were distinct from a number of other psychological characteristics, such as mindfulness.

What’s more, those people who exhibited these reflection tendencies, also seemed to be rated more highly by their supervisors and were more likely to be given promotions.  This is likely to be because these people were found to be more learning-oriented by nature.  They were also more likely to work in challenging roles, which gave them more opportunities for reflection.

Interestingly, people with higher reflection tendencies also reported working for companies with a more accepting culture towards errors and where they were framed very much as a learning opportunity.  The authors highlight how these findings underline the importance of job and organizational culture to us having productive reflective experiences.

With the research also highlighting the effectiveness of reflection tendencies in helping people find solutions to the challenges they face, it seems clear that if organizations want to help employees develop the resilience to learn from challenging circumstances, then they need to provide the right environment and culture to support it.

Article source: How To Learn From Our Experiences.

Header image source: Kazi Mizan on Unsplash.


  1. Maurer, T., Dimotakis, N., Hardt, G., & Corner, A. J. (2020). Toward better understanding developmental reflection differences for use in management development research and practice. Journal of Management Development, 40(1), 52-73.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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