Learning From Experience Rocks!

How do you learn to do tasks or different aspects of your job? Does reading a manual work for you? Is it better if you can watch someone demonstrate it? Can you read a case study and learn from other’s experience? Or do you simply need to try it yourself? Research proves that the majority of how we learn comes from “on-the-job training”, aka – learning from experience. Being in the moment and applying concepts we’ve read about or seen demonstrated is when we “get it”.

What I don’t see many people do is think about what they can learn from past experiences and apply it to a current situation. Maybe because we rarely take time to stop and reflect on the past experiences, but I’d like to challenge you to take a trip down memory lane when you are stuck or struggling to develop a skill or behavior.

One technique I’ve used with coaching clients comes from a method I learned from Carol Goldsmith. It’s called the ROX (Return on Experience) Model.


The idea with this model is understanding that all of our experiences are in our memories and we need to pull them forward and think about how that previous experience is relevant to the current situation. You can tap into what you already know and apply it. The model leads you through a series of questions to bring those memories to the surface.

Suppose you’ve been asked to participate on a panel discussion on a topic you know well, but you’re not great at thinking on your feet and can get a bit tongue-tied in front of big crowds. In thinking back on your life experiences, this is how you would apply this model:

  1. When have I experienced that? Tap into the first experience that comes to mind, and fully relive it.  See what you saw, hear what you heard, and feel your personal power again. Memorize that empowering state so that you can tap into it on demand – SELF-EMPOWERMENT. Maybe you’ve not had the experience of being asked to participate on a panel discussion before, but there could be a similar experience. Remember being on the winning debate team in high school? You had to think on your feet in that situation, know your facts and make your argument. What can you apply from that experience?
  2. How did I do that? Experience holds the clues to success. Re-live your experience from ROX 1 and again translate your experience into a step-by-step process.  Pretend that you are describing a movie scene to a friend. Write down what you did, thought, and felt in that experience in 6 or fewer steps. It worked for you then, so is a proven process that can work again – SELF KNOWLEDGE.
  3. How can I apply that? Success is versatile.  The success process that worked  before can work again in a variety of different contexts. Simply transfer your knowledge from ROX 2 to the current situation – debate team to panel discussion. Devise an action plan that takes advantage of the strengths, skills, and steps that you know from direct experience work – MINDFUL ACTION.
  4. What results am I getting? Success is a practice. It results from taking action, comparing what you want with what you’re getting, and making adjustments until you’re successful. You achieve results by continuing to take mindful action. You can revisit any part of the ROX models to change your objective, access a new experience, or think through the experience from ROX 1 for additional clue – DESIRED RESULTS.
  5. How can I help others succeed? Success inspires success. Now that you have used the ROX model as a self-coaching tool, you can play that coaching role to help other people increase their Return on Experience. Use this model by asking others the questions that you  have learned to ask yourself – LEADERSHIP.

So don’t make accessing your favorite online search engine your first step in researching how to tackle a challenge or build a skill. Look in the mirror, look back in time and appreciate what you already know. Whatever is self-taught has proven to have great sticking power.

Remember, you can be one of your own best resources for knowledge!


Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @MDuesterhoft or connect with her via email at mduesterhoft@www.people-results.com.