We do not
learn from experience;
we learn from reflecting
~ John Dewey
It is often said that we learn from our experiences, yet frequently we repeat the same experiences over and over again, like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. We may be mystified as to why this is happening, as we continue to repeat or respond to situations or people in the same or similar ways that usually don't serve us. A popular saying is that the definition of crazy is repeating the same thing and expecting different results. Although stated in a crude and blunt way, it is true!
We don't in fact, learn from experiences themselves, but from reflecting on these experiences. A first step is thinking about them in an introspective way (rather than obsessively ruminating about them), wondering about their origins, looking at triggers, exploring how we feel during the experiences as well as while we are thinking about them. It is useful to inquire into why and how we repeat something that is no longer useful, productive or desired. Usually we will get to an early experience where we learned to respond in a way that was self-protective or adaptive at the time.
Reflecting on the experiences may at times be enough to learn from them and effect change. Sometimes deeper work such as psychotherapy and/or body therapies are needed to get to the root of the experiences in a way that will bring the repetitive cycle to an end, allowing you the freedom to truly have new and different experiences!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley