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Would You Rather Learn Your Lessons -- or Pay the Price?

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Making the same mistakes over and over again is costing us more than we can afford. Just look at the governments of Europe and the U.S. -- what has been the cost of their failure to learn from the past? But let's zero in on our own lives, where we can stop paying the price of repeated mistakes, where the cost is highest.

It's embarrassing to consider how often we repeat the same mistakes, time after time, and then are surprised when the same thing happens yet again. As Albert Einstein said, "Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Doing something that doesn't work, that results in suffering, that brings stress and that causes problems for others is a high price to pay. It is so easy to see this hamster wheel behavior in others, so let's start over there -- what price are these folks paying?

  • The woman who stays in an abusive relationship, believing things will change.
  • The CEO who longed for the job in order to change the business, who instead spends most of his time in meetings.
  • The politician whose clarity about what needs to change dissolves once he's elected, wasting time in trying to win the political game.
  • The sales person, who knows how to generate interest, yet fails to follow-up.
  • The unfit guy who longs to look great, procrastinating about getting to the gym.

When I ask myself what lessons I need to learn now, here are some of my responses:

  • Trust
  • Breathe
  • Be grateful
  • Keep promises

For example, I've always been proud of my ability to get things done, stay on top of things and keep my promises. But too often I catch myself not doing what I told others I'd do.

What's my lesson? To keep my promises? I do pretty well with that one, so that's not quite it. When I thought about it, I realized that I'd just made too many promises. As hard as it is for me to admit, I just can't do everything that people want me to do. I have to let myself say no more often if I'm going to survive at this busy time of my life. What's my lesson? To make wise choices.

What can you do to stop paying the price for not learning your lessons?

First, notice that in the list of my responses and in my lesson to make wise choices, they are each stated in the form of a guideline or a short piece of advice. Also, notice that the guidelines tell you what to do, not what to stop doing. Telling yourself what not to do sounds too much like criticism, and who needs more of that, right?

The following exercise can have a profound effect on your ability to learn your lessons and move on to better results. What follows is not just a good idea I made up for this article. It's based on 30 years of personal and executive coaching and has proven itself, again and again, as a vital step toward personal transformation.

15 Minutes to Learn Your Lessons

  1. To discover your most useful lessons, review what's been happening in your life. Make two vertical columns on a piece of paper or computer document. In the left-hand column, list your recent disappointments or failures.
  2. In the right hand column, write a guideline for each of your disappointments -- a piece of advice you'd give yourself to start having better results.
  3. Choose the best three guidelines on the list -- the ones that could really guide you to move past the same old mistakes. Write these on a card, a Post-it or wherever you will see your guidelines frequently. Now, read through them and visualize yourself behaving this way -- see the difference it would make?

I invite you to demonstrate to yourself that this time you mean business, that you're ready to stop paying the price of repeated mistakes. Remember: Choose just three guidelines. Once you produce the evidence that you've learned these lessons, then you can repeat this three-step process.

And whenever you need some extra motivation, remember the cost of not following your guidelines.

Please leave a comment or question here. Let us know how you're doing. By doing so you'll inspire the rest of us. Or you can email me at

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