How to Reflect to Improve and Learn from Life Experiences

Experiential Learning: Reflect & Make Meaning of your Experiences to Grow
Make meaning with the power of reflection. Get better at what you do and how you do it through experiential or active learning.

There is so much we can learn about ourselves through our past, and namely, through our specific, unique life experiences. Many of us, though, are just letting this past be buried, and our experiences go by without gleaning any meaning from them. Reflection is the process we take to make meaning and learn from our experiences. If we can deconstruct those key experiences, there is so much to learn about who we are and the path we can create for ourselves in life and work. Meaning is there for the making. Journaling is a great ongoing activity that we can do to reflect on our life experiences.

On the journey to create your path, it is important to build, grow, and adapt continuously. To do this, we need to innovate ourselves and experience things that will help us to grow, learn, develop, and create! Growth is gaining experiences and learning from them – both experiences that are targeted and aligned to the essence of who you are, and new experiences that may tell you something about yourself. Create more key meaningful experiences in your life that are the unique intersection of your skills and passionate interests, and also branch out into the infinite possibilities presented by the new and emerging experiences you can live. Maybe there is something about you you haven’t discovered yet, but a new experience will show you. Discovering the importance of what you bring to the world that no else does is a necessity. A reflected-upon experience can do this for you! It isn’t enough to just have an experience; you need to also reflect on it to make the meaning, learn, and accelerate your improvement.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle is a wonderful tool to do exactly that! Following the model below, you can learn by doing and turn an event into an active, learning experience.

  1. Concrete Experience. We have an experience. It could be a visit with a campus adviser, a meeting with your boss, an interaction with a friend or family member, etc.
  2. Reflective Observation. Here, we reflect upon the experience and observe exactly how it made us feel. Did the experience feel so-so? Perhaps some parts were good and some parts were not.
  3. Abstract Conceptualization. We come to a conclusion based on our observations. Why was that experience important, and why did it make you feel the way it did? What does it mean now?
  4. Active Experimentation. If we were to do it again, what would we do differently? You can run a new experiment. Perhaps next time, you’d ask more questions. The key is to do something different or new with the information you have gained from the experience. Let the experience inform your choices to do things differently the next time.
  5. Repeat. Use the Experiential Learning Cycle again and again. Meet with an adviser, mentor, or coach to discuss the things you realize you should have asked, but didn’t. Check up with your boss or mentor to see what has or hasn’t been working. Try something new again and again as you create your path.

Keep a journal and use Kolb’s experiential cycle to experience, reflect, and get better as a result. Now that we know how powerful reflection can be, we need to remember to keep having more and more diverse experiences to reflect upon, and let the learning and development happen for us.


This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample of the video here, see details on the full program at InnovateYourself.com, and see other programs, speeches, and more at DarinEich.com.


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