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The Value of Reminders Over “Life Lessons”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsually my morning runs take me around the blacktop trails near our house, but up at the lake, we’re experimenting with trail running. The paths wind in and out amongst meadows, ponds and woods, sometimes grassy, sometimes weedy, and sometimes rather rocky.

My second time out, I tripped on a hidden root and sprawled across the…grass, not the nearby gravel! Barely a scratch. Yes I need to pick up my feet, but isn’t it nice to receive a reminder instead of a “life lesson” once in awhile?!

What kinds of lessons do you offer those you lead or teach? Sometimes, we leap to “life lessons,” leaving others scraped and bruised, when “reminders” would better fit our purposes and lead to better learning.

  • A “reminder” is a warning from a cop to a sixteen-year-old who accidentally parked in the wrong place. An ineffective “life lesson” is a ticket that consumes most of the teen’s summer income…
  • A “reminder” is two options to a student who hasn’t completed an assignment, either one of which will result in its completion. An ineffective “life lesson” is failing the student. (As one teacher put it, “Our students don’t need any more lessons in how to fail. They need to be taught to succeed…”)
  • A “reminder” is requiring an employee to come up with a plan for being on time–and making them hash out that plan with someone else if they think it’s impossible (I’ve coached many an employee to success in this area…). An ineffective “life lesson” is firing them for being late without helping them learn to be on time.

There are effective life lessons. Too often, though, the person doesn’t learn what we hope they’ll learn and instead becomes resentful, rebellious, or more helpless. I think I learned my lesson about picking up my feet when trail running without getting all scraped up. How might you use reminders instead of life lessons?

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Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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