How to Turn Bad Experiences Into a Win

Our second oldest son used to love playing with LEGOs. He had a big bin of them that he would dig in for hours gathering just the right pieces for his newest creation. Every once in awhile a stray LEGO would get left behind when he was done and had put the bin away. You know where this is going! If I walked by in the dark or if the color of that piece happened to blend in with the carpet and I stepped on it in bare feet … Ouch! That is one kind of painful experience.

There are other kinds of painful experiences. Some create emotional pain that doesn’t go away as fast as the stepped-on-a-LEGO pain. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants pain, nobody looks forward to painful experiences. But they happen. As the late family therapist and author, Virginia Satir said, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Another quote that really resonated with a group of colleagues recently comes from Dennis Wholey. He said, “Expecting the world to treat your fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.”

No Pain No Gain?

We’ve all heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s usually associated with physical exercise. The idea is that when you stretch (see my last post), and then exercise your muscles, your muscles feel sore afterward. That soreness is an indicator that you have worked your muscles sufficiently to strengthen them. “No soreness, no gain” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “no pain, no gain.”

If you injure yourself during an activity, that also hurts. But the no-pain-no-gain model doesn’t apply then. That kind of pain sets you back. Injury pain is more like the emotionally painful experiences I mentioned above. But, let’s talk about how to turn that kind of pain into gain.

John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Pain” in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. That law says, “Good management of Bad experiences leads to Great growth.” Even the pain of injury can be turned to gain if we keep a few things in mind. the first thing is that turning pain into gain takes action. It won’t just happen because you had the bad experience. John McDonnell said, “Every problem introduces a person to himself.” When the painful experience or the problem comes, I need to be willing to look in the mirror and ask, “How did I contribute to this?” We usually can’t change the circumstances of the problem and we certainly can’t change the other people involved. But, we can change ourselves.

How To Turn Pain to Gain

Try taking these practical steps and see if you can’t change that pain into gain:

  1. Define the problem – without a clear understanding of the actual problem, I’ll never be able to solve it. Remember, for this exercise, the problem I’m defining is not other people or the circumstances, it’s what’s going on inside me?
  2. Understand your emotion – call it by name. Am I angry, scared, frustrated, hopeless? Calling the emotion by name helps you gain mastery of it.
  3. Articulate the lesson – what, specifically, have I learned? Is it that I shouldn’t say this to that person? Is it that I should do this in that situation? What is the lesson?
  4. Identify a desired change – OK, so, what do I want to be different next time? What words should I use or what actions should I take or avoid?
  5. Brainstorm numerous pathways – I shouldn’t give in to the belief that I can’t get there from here. In fact, there are many routes between point A and point B.  I should think of at least 5 things I can do to bring about the desired change.
  6. Receive other’s input – ask around. Others are often willing to share their perspective on my actions if I ask.
  7. Implement a course of action – planning a trip is great, but if I don’t actually make the journey all I have is a marked up map. I need to start moving in the direction of my growth plan.

Bad experiences don’t have to be just bad experiences. They can become a win when they are catalysts to growth. It all depends on how we manage them.

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