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August 30, 2019

Should you trust your experience?

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I wanted to pose this question because there are a two opposite angles to it that I’ll get into. Should you trust your experience? We’ve been told from a very young age to have confidence in our abilities and believe that we have the right answer within us. Is that good advice?

Yes, experience is a great teacher, and it is something that is powerful when evaluating how to move forward in certain settings. By living through a situation, you have a set of expectations that will service you moving forward. But, no two situations are the same, so it’s not everything. 

Let’s look at the limitations our experience has that needs to be accounted for. With no two situations being identical, there is always so much more to know and learn that you didn’t get from the previous experience. So, it is natural to seek to learn more. However, you get in a slippery slope of never being completely prepared for any situation, so this approach has its own shortcomings as well.

The truth of the matter is, it is not clear whether you should act on experience or seek to learn more. The way I like thinking about this is as an athlete. It’s the difference between practice and training. In practice, you run through the exact same play, because the situation is going to be consistent enough that following strict guidelines will be effective. In soccer, this is like a corner kick or a goal kick, meaning those areas of the game that are predictable. Then the majority of the game is a group of elements that requires real-time decision making. This is where training comes in, because it helps you gain experience making decisions in a dynamic environment.  

As David Meltzer puts it in his new book, Game Time Decision Making, this can be thought of as situational knowledge, which is basically a learned experience from being in the situation before. Your experience turns into situational knowledge that can be applied to a dynamic and new setting. You can expand your situational knowledge through learning, and when you find confidence in your situational knowledge, you begin to act into your fullest capabilities. 

So, to answer the question, don’t rely on your experience, build situational knowledge.

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