Have you ever thought about the expression, “once bitten, twice shy”? It speaks to how we learn through our experiences, which in many ways, is a good thing. For example, a child doesn’t need to touch a hot stove more than once to know if they do it again, they’ll get burned. But we humans tend to over-index on “learning” from painful experiences. Take the more literal example of the expression: a fear of dogs is often born of a single negative experience with a dog. Being bitten once doesn’t mean that all dogs will bite, but tell that to the person who’s been bitten.
This over-indexing on negative experiences shows up in all sorts of ways for us. Take the heart-broken teenager (or adult) who never opens up to loving fully again, for fear of being hurt again. Or the entrepreneur who experiences a setback that evokes such a fear of failure that they give up on their dream and go back to a job they don’t love because it feel safer. Those are ways in which our learning hinders rather than helps us, getting in the way of more joy.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and for some, it isn’t. There are also the broken-hearted who believe “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” and go on to find an even greater love. Or the entrepreneurs who stumble and fall, but learn from their mistakes and become even more resilient and savvier, ultimately succeeding in ways they couldn’t have imagined at the start.
So what’s the difference? A social scientist or psychologist could likely explain this in more technical terms, but I’m considering it from the perspective of mindfulness. At its root, mindfulness is about awareness, and in awareness comes our power to choose: to choose how we look at things, to choose the story we tell ourselves about something that’s happening. I believe a large part of how we experience and respond to life is directly linked to how mindful we are and how frequently we exercise that power to choose. It isn’t always easy, and in many cases it might be easier to default to things like our innate negativity bias, but again, that’s a choice.
To bottom line very matter-of-factly what I’ve noticed in myself and in others:
Scars seem to do one of two things – give us an excuse to stay closed and small, or act as proof that we can heal and grow. Same wound, different outcome. Always a choice.
The next time you experience a setback or disappointment, what will you choose? Remember, you deserve all the joy this life has to offer, and I truly hope you choose that.