When was the last time that you learned something new? School, work, on the bus?

Most of us when we are asked this question have trouble pin-pointing our last personal lesson but the reality is we are all learning new things about ourselves and the people who surround us every minute of every day. One of the primary things that I get the people I work with to consider is ‘life as a learning experience’. The difficult meeting at work, conflicts with our partners or kids or the flat tire on the car, are all opportunities for us to try out new strategies of dealing with these challenges and find new and creative solutions that help us to grow and improve as a person.

The key question that helps us to focus on these opportunities to learn is ‘what could I do differently or better next time?’

The Flat Tire Story…….

To pick the flat tire example, this is certainly one of life’s annoyances that when it strikes, can prompt the most unruly two-year old tantrum from the sanest of us. In my case, this was exactly what happened when I came back to my car after a long day at an NLP seminar in Bristol facing the prospect of a 90-mile journey back to my home on Oxfordshire.

Having noticed that my tire was flat (after only having replaced it two months earlier) my first reaction was a welling up of what can best be described as hot, burning frustration mixed with a healthy dose of ‘why me’ victimitis. This was then followed by repeated kicking of the tire in question and the urge to cry when in an attempt not to be girly, I tried to loosen the wheel nuts manually and they remained glued in position like cement. It was just as I was dialling my partner’s number, fully intending to let out a tirade of annoyance that a fragment of the days seminar drifted back through my mind.

Earlier that day the group had been talking about negative emotions and what happens when no matter what you try (being the good self-development people that we are) you can’t seem to shift your state. Our teacher had suggested that instead of trying to get rid of the negative feelings and thoughts by ignoring them, pretending to be calm or adopting a Buddha-like cross-legged position and chanting ‘Ohm’ repeatedly, that we should instead try to go as deeply as possible into the source of the feeling and notice what it might be telling us.

After considering this for a moment and taking a few deep breaths, I decided that I would try to be somewhat more productive. Instead of ranting at my boyfriend, I rang the RAC who were with me in 15 mins. The burly Bristolian mechanic sauntered up to me and with his ‘mechanical socket’ had removed the offending tire within seconds and replaced it with the emergency tire in my boot. After a few reassuring comments that despite the fact it said quite clearly ‘do not exceed 50 miles an hour’ on the tire rim, that I should be fine going 80 all the way home, he departed. ‘Just slow down if you feel it shaking love’ was his parting comment.

Feeling a little calmer and more level-headed, I decided not to dice with death and follow the instructions on my temporary wheel (which will come as a shock I know to those of you who are familiar with my natural driving tendencies). This meant covering the whole 90-mile trip at 50 miles an hour, which is pure agony for anyone who had not had this particular form of punishment. The opportunity this provided however was plenty of time to reflect on my massive over-reaction in the car park. So as crawled up the motorway, waving at grannies and lorries that were over-taking me, I started to consider what particular life lesson I was being offered.

My reflections turned up the following:

  • I am one of life’s more impatient people and when something happens that prevents me from moving as fast as I would like to I get frustrated (sometimes throwing temper tantrums)
  • A year or so previously I had a tire go flat on me on the way to work and the process of dealing with this had turned into quite a painful ordeal. I won’t go into the details but I was still associating the pain of this past experience with any new ones that happened regardless of the changed circumstances.
  • My VW blue motion golf really can get amazing miles to the gallon when you do a steady speed of 50 miles an hour (an all time best of 92 miles per gallon!)

So I guess what I am saying to you is this. Next time you find yourself having your own version of a two-year old screaming fit at something that life has thrown in your path, try and take a moment to see what it is teaching you. What can you learn about your deeper beliefs and thought patterns from the way you reacted this time and is there anything you would want to change?

Personally I know next time I have a flat tire, I will certainly be taking some deep breaths and calling the RAC within seconds to save time and emotional hassle. I will also use the time whilst I wait to reflect on ‘how much better I am doing with handling this situation this time’!

I have even started carrying around a stack of personal development CD’s in the car for opportunities like this one.

Have fun observing the lessons that life presents to you.

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