How We Really Learn

Do you think we learn from mistakes?

We don’t.

Not when we’re told we’re making a mistake.

Not when we know we’re making a mistake.

Not even when the mistakes we’re making negatively affect our lives. (Just ask smokers about that one.)

Only the smartest people learn from mistakes, and only geniuses learn from the mistakes of others. The rest of us learn from pain. We don’t realize drinking too much is a bad idea until we wake up the next day with a throbbing headache. And once the pain goes away we forget and make the same mistake again.

Decisions aren’t made rationally (as much as we’d like to believe that), they’re made with emotion. Afterwards we use reason to make ourselves feel better. Sadly, knowing what’s right doesn’t equate with doing it.

So how do we learn?

Pain. But pain isn’t enough. We need the fear of pain to scare us straight. Pain alone is bearable. It’s certain, finite, manageable. Fear of an unknown pain, of an unbearable future is the real motivator.

I asked the most positive and productive individual I know what keeps him motivated.

“I’m afraid of wasting my life,” he said. “Afraid of growing old and seeing myself as a missed opportunity, as someone who could have been what they wanted, but didn’t want it enough.”

Life is now, and it’s all real. This moment has no second chances.

Scare yourself straight.