4 Kinds of Experiences

Experiences are just experiences. It’s what we do with them that matters. Here are 4 ways to shift your thinking about different experiences!
person on a mountain celebrating

4 Kinds of Experiences

Experiences are often categorized in one of two ways — good experiences or bad experiences — and we typically use outcomes or external factors to determine where each one falls. For example, if we plan a family cruise and the flight is delayed, and we end up missing the ship’s departure, then we think about it as a bad experience.  By the same token, if we are at a hotel and the manager finds out that it’s our wedding anniversary and sets up our room with bathrobes, champagne and chocolates, then we think about that as a good experience.

It might appear that these cases are both fairly straightforward – falling easily into good and bad categories.  However, in both of these cases, the only thing that categorizes them as such is how we view them. When we interpret an event as negative, then we experience it as such. The reverse is also true – when we interpret an event as positive, we experience it as positive too.

Both of the events above happened to me.  A few years back, my husband, Allan, and I decided to take our 5 kids on a cruise over the winter break.  At the time, our kids ranged in age from 10-15 years of age, and they were super excited about the trip. We were scheduled to take an early morning flight to Florida to board our ship from the port in Fort Lauderdale. At first the flight was delayed… and then it was cancelled outright due to weather conditions.

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How do you explain to 5 young kids that the ship would be leaving without us?

Without missing a beat, Allan and I decided that we would stay calm and make the best of it. I sat at the gate, playing chair aerobics with the kids, while Allan waited patiently for every complaining customer to take their turn at the counter. After everyone was done, he approached the gentleman at the counter asking if he could use a cup of coffee. Instantly, the Air Canada Rep softened and asked how he could help.

After taking a moment to understand our situation, the gentleman at the counter went out of his way to put us up at a hotel for the night, provide us with 7 dinner and breakfast vouchers, get us on an early morning flight to Cozumel (on another airline!) and make arrangements for us to stay at an all-inclusive resort for a night so that we could meet the ship at the next port.

If that wasn’t enough, he also gave us seven $250 vouchers for future flights AND to top it all off, our insurance covered the cost of 2 ½ lost days on the cruise.  We turned a potential disappointment into a fun adventure and still have a story to talk about many years later. Good experience?  I would say so.

By the same token, just a couple of months ago, Allan and I traveled to Kelowna, British Columbia to set our daughter up for a summer internship at a plant nursery.  It happened to fall over our 10th wedding anniversary.  Allan shared the news with the manager at the front desk and upon our return from lunch, we found the room set up with bathrobes, champagne, and chocolates. Wow!  How thoughtful! Except… I had been on a no-sugar, no-alcohol nutritional plan for the previous six months and decided that it was a sign to splurge. After all – it WAS my 10th anniversary!

Boy did I regret it!  Not only did I feel bad physically, it took me some time to get back on plan.  And to be completely honest, I am still struggling to stay on plan.  

What seemed like a great experience turned into one that was not so positive after all.  I learned that spoiling myself was precisely that – spoiling myself.  I was actually treating myself poorly rather than giving myself what was perceived as a treat.

So… what’s my point?

Experiences are just experiences.  It’s what we do with them that matters.

4 Ways to Think About Your Experiences

Being able to turn your experiences into something valuable is key.  And every single thing you experience in life falls into one of these 4 categories:

1 – A Joyful Experience

A joyful experience is one that instantly makes us feel happy and at peace – one that delivers pleasure, fun, engagement or satisfaction. Joyful experiences leave us feeling fulfilled and appreciative. We often consider this type of experience to be the most ideal. The truth is that many more of our experiences can fall into this category if we choose it’s really a function of how we take them on.

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2 – A Learning Experience

This is the type of experience that teaches us something valuable about anything, including ourselves.  This can unfold from a negative encounter or an adversity. These types of experiences leave us wiser and clearer about where we are going and what we want.  Sometimes these experiences are challenging and can be difficult to recover from, but when categorized as a learning experience, they can help us grow by leaps and bounds.

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3 – A Stretch Experience

A stretch experience is one where you are called upon to be more than you imagined, to do more than you thought possible, and to perform at a far higher level than you knew you could.  These experiences are ones where you are invited to step up into a more empowered and capable version of yourself.

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4 – A Gateway Experience

A gateway experience is one that doesn’t appear to offer anything at all at face value, but one that provides a passageway to something much, much better. Often times, gateway experiences can be disappointing and frustrating but looking back it becomes clear that they were a necessary stepping stone to a more optimal situation or outcome.

Being in the middle of a Gateway Experience can be one of the hardest places to be. Not understanding a ‘bad experience’ or why it happened can be upsetting and can leave you feeling pretty trapped.

At the end of it all every experience we experience is a function of our thinking. And every one of those experiences boils down into one of the aforementioned categories. Think about an experience that you have had that you would classify as a ‘bad experience’. Which category can you now classify your experience as?  Try it!


Here’s an example:

Not too long ago, one of my coaching clients was describing a big change in her life that she wasn’t quite sure how to process. After working for a law firm for 3 stressful and abusive years, she finally decided to quit. Now, she couldn’t believe how it had taken her so long to move on and she wondered why she stood for all that abuse.

“What was the point of the last 3 years of my life?” she asked. “I gave my heart and soul to a company that did nothing but treat me poorly.  I just wasted the past 3 years of my life.”

Imagine feeling like you wasted 3 years of your precious time.  Imagine feeling like you walked away from such an intense experience smaller than when you started.  Her sentiment did not sit well with me.  I knew, based on both my personal experience and the experience that I’ve had with hundreds of clients, that her perspective was keeping her trapped and feeling like a victim. I needed to find a way to help her see things a little bit differently and move past her discouragement.

This is what I told her…

“You say that you gained nothing from your last job, but that’s not necessarily true.

Did you know that before I started Frame of Mind Coaching™ I worked for another coaching company? It wasn’t a good fit for me at all. My personality, my perspective and my values clashed with theirs and I was miserable.  As an entrepreneur at heart, I did not do well working for someone else. I had too many ideas of my own and I felt like there were so many things that they could improve. I felt stuck and frustrated.

But… you know what I did? I started my own coaching company!

Working for that other coaching company gave me four things:

  1. The CLARITY to know that coaching was a field I was drawn to (Joy);
  2. The CONTRAST that allowed me to figure out how I would rather do things (Learning);
  3. The COURAGE to step up and start my own coaching company (Stretch);
  4. The UNDERSTANDING that allowed me to see that working for this other company was an important step that led me to pursue my own vision in the coaching industry (Gateway).

If you are open to it, you will see that your last job probably provided you with those four benefits as well.  At some point you were excited to work there (Joy); you probably learned a LOT about what you want and what you don’t want in your future career (Learning); your role dramatically expanded your skills and built your resilience (Stretch);  and the experience you acquired will most likely be very valuable in helping you get to the next place (Gateway).”

Just like that, my client was able to see what doors her last job might open for her in the future!

Are You in the Same Boat?

I would bet that you, too, have endured seemingly frustrating and even adverse experiences, only to have them be the catalyst for a positive change in your life.

Nothing that you go through is ever pointless. It just takes a trained eye to see where an undesirable experience might take you.

You may find that you need some help leveraging situations for all they’re worth. Our Frame of Mind Coaches can help you get there!

Click here to start the process by setting up some time to chat with us – you will have a conversation that will instantly help you travel to a new point of view. I promise that it will be an experience you won’t forget!

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