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March 15, 2022

Lessons Identified Vs. Lessons Learned – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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©© GettyImages/andresr

It was just a regular day when my phone blew up with messages from the neighborhood group chat. Supposedly the police were actively patrolling our town to prevent rioting and looting.

Yolande Conradie

Certain that a fake news article had sent people into overdrive, I switched on my computer. But it was true. There were major riots breaking out across South Africa.

Immediately, my mind was spinning. Is my family OK? Do I have enough fuel in my car? Is the grocery cupboard stocked? Do I have enough broccoli (my food addiction) and milk (for my coffee addiction)? Most importantly: do I have enough dog food to keep a 45 kg Rottweiler going for a few weeks?

Driven to Distraction

So I sped over to the grocery store, followed by a frantic trip to the vet to get dog food, and piled back into my car. But then it all went south.

As I slowly backed out of the parking spot, and my car's parking sensor beeped to a steady rhythm, my mind was racing. I checked items off the growing to-do list in my head, remembered that I had to phone my aunt when I got home, and worried about being home alone since my husband was out of the country.

I looked at the image on the console from the reverse-view camera as I wondered if I should have picked up more bottled water at the grocery store, and how I'd work if the Wi-Fi went down.

But even as the sensor's beeping became faster, and a large metal pole loomed into the camera's view, my mind was on other things.

My car's fender met the pole. My stomach echoed the thud – and my heart, too.

Repeating the Cycle

This wasn't the first time I'd had a small accident when feeling stressed. The car had already suffered a few bumps and scrapes, I'd dropped a weight on my foot, and I'd even been catapulted off a treadmill because I wasn't concentrating. It's funny now. It wasn't funny then.

I was convinced I'd learned my lesson that I needed to be extra careful when I feel overwhelmed – but obviously I hadn't. I'd heard the beeping of the parking sensor and I'd been watching the camera image. But I'd still dented the fender.

I had identified the lesson after previous incidents, but clearly I hadn't learned it.

If it was truly a lesson learned, I would have applied the knowledge. I would have taken a few seconds to breathe, return to the present, and get my thoughts under control before I started the car.

More Lessons Identified


Many people suffer from repeated burnout. They'll tell you that their body often warns them to slow down – and they know that they should listen. Yet, they have to get to the brink of burnout (or worse) before they slow down.


Perhaps you're a people pleaser. Despite learning the hard way that there are some people you can't trust, you continue to compromise your own boundaries for the sake of "keeping the peace." But you can only protect yourself from toxic people if you learn to keep your boundaries firmly in place.


Procrastination causes a specific type of stress: you feel anxious, restless, you can't enjoy anything, and you feel terrible about yourself. After a particularly bad and stressful experience, you promise yourself that you've learned the lesson. You also know how much better you feel when you stay on top of your tasks instead of working through the night. But, slowly, you start procrastinating again until the next crisis hits. Does that sound familiar?

Lessons Identified Vs. Lessons Learned

During Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed the difference between identifying a lesson and learning a lesson. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:

Q1. How do we usually identify life lessons? What happens?

@HloniphileDlam7 When we stumble we learn the most. Pain also teaches us a lot.

@carriemaslen We can only identify life lessons after we've learned them first hand!

Q2 What's the difference between a lesson identified and a lesson learned?

@SoniaH_MT Lesson Identified + Action Taken or Modified Behavior = Lesson Learned

@SarahH_MT  Lesson identified requires looking back. It's reflecting on what happened and what needs to change. Lesson learned is looking forward and in the present moment. It's also active. By changing x, y, z I got a better outcome. I'll do more of that in the future.

@MarkC_Avgi Burning your hand on something hot, once, is a lesson identified. Burning your hand on something hot, more than once, you only identified it. Obviously, you did not learn anything after you identified the initial lesson.

Q3. Why might we think we've learned the lesson when in fact we've only identified it?

@Yolande_MT I think myself to exhaustion about lessons identified. I think myself so tired that it feels as if I've learned them.

@TheTomGReid Until the lesson is internalized and made part of our belief structure, it is not learned. We might be aware of a certain gap in our logic or sentiment and not be able to explain it. Could be due to it being an ugly truth we are not ready to accept.

Q4. When you hear a business or community leader say "lessons have been learned" what do you see happen next? What would you advise?

@Midgie_MT Often times those are empty words because it is not followed up with tangible, visible action to address the problem/ issue. My advice is to take action and demonstrate what concrete things are being done.

@J_Stephens_CPA More often than not, it only means a lesson has been identified.  Corrective actions need to be taken (not blame).

Q5. What type of lessons seem easy to identify but harder to learn?

@Dwyka_Consult It's very easy to identify lessons that other people need to learn... that's my lesson that's easy to identify and hard to learn: to remember that other people will learn what they learn.

@Tanjiskas For me it's the lessons that require me to change my beliefs, the deepest fibre of my being. Those are really hard because most of the time it is something I have learned in childhood.

Q6. What strategies or techniques have you discovered to learn lessons more quickly?

@TheTomGReid Rather than make resolutions based on your "resolve" set up systems that modify your behavior. Keep the cookies on the top shelf until you stop buying them at all. All your goals can be achieved if you set up the systems that modify your behavior. Willpower is weak.

@SoniaH_MT Asking or researching someone else who has successfully conquered the issue you're dealing with can help you learn lessons more quickly.

Q7. How and when do you know if you've learned the lesson?

@lg217 You will know when your life lesson is learned once you are able to identify the lesson as well as understand the life lesson to the point when you know the ins and outs as well if what you learned is right or wrong to do.

@ZalkaB When you are in a similar situation or faced with similar circumstances, and it doesn't trigger you anymore and/ or you react differently, because you've changed.

Q8. What lessons have you identified that you're still struggling to learn?

@J_Stephens_CPA  I keep "volunteering."

@MarkC_Avgi To not get "sucked in" to topics on Twitter by responding to tweets which I have strong opinions about, or to attend every argument I am invited to.

Q9. How do you begin to move from lesson learned to lesson applied?

@yehiadief When you teach the lesson to others.

@SarahH_MT By being more mindful, building in more time to notice earlier what's working and what isn't, building self-awareness, setting personal goals and commitments, creating habits and routines that support/ reinforce the learning, being prepared for imperfection.

Q10. In what way can you help others identify and learn life lessons?

@ColfaxInsurance Ultimately, the power to identify and learn those lessons is up to them. You can offer advice, share your own experiences, and point out patterns, but they will need to do the learning on their own.

@HloniphileDlam7 First, find them; connect to what drives them and you will understand their path, share experience, warn and caution, and also be there when they learn their lessons – usually there are tears involved. By just being there they will learn the most from you.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up

If you're struggling to move from lesson identified to lesson learned to lesson applied, an accountability partner might be just what you need. Next time on #MTtalk we'll be discussing accountability partners. In our Twitter poll this week, we want to know which characteristics you'd like to see in an accountability partner.


Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.

Developing Self-Awareness

10 Common Leadership and Management Mistakes

The Power of Good Habits

Intentional Change Theory

How to Defeat Self-Sabotage Video


How to Learn From Your Mistakes

Breaking Bad Habits


8 Ways to Improve Self-Regulation

Golden Rules of Goal-Setting

Mindfulness in the Workplace

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