Contrast Ratio.

While the year is not yet over, 2009 has ultimately been a lesson in contrast.  In 2006 I went into a relationship with unique optimism, hope and love (marriage) to end up with feelings of terminal loss, distrust and despair (death).  Fortunately this experience has served as a catalyst to help me advance to a new level of consciousness and awareness.

While the phrase “experience” leaves considerable room for any sort of time measurement, for reasons of simplicity let’s assume there is a measurable start and end to the experience at hand.  For those who go into a situation that turns out similar to their original expectations, one can leave the experience with a sense of increased confidence in her/his ability to predict an outcome.  If these experiences repeat themselves – i.e. one is able to repeatedly predict an outcome – their confidence can grow.  In essence, these “positive” experiences begin to build a self-fulfilling prophecy where predictability and success go hand in hand.  After all, if I can look into the future, by default I have greater “control” over that future and my own destiny.

If, however, the experiences in which I partake have a different outcome than originally foreseen, then I may find myself taking part in an alternative self-fulfilling prophecy where “failure” and “unpredictability” are the norm.  In essence, I am losing the ability to predict the future and thus my feeling of “control” over my own destiny can and will likely erode.

Of course, what I am describing here are macro views and do not address the numerous nuances that can affect either scenario.  For example, one “bad” (or “good”) outcome does not necessarily mean that all subsequent outcomes will share a similar fate.  In addition, my ability to learn and adjust after each situation can significantly affect future experiences and their eventual outcomes.  While a continuous string of failures will eventually have a negative impact on one’s self-confidence, failure of any frequency or magnitude can be a powerful catalyst for action and innovation.

The ultimate goal is to find a balance between predictability and unpredictability, the latter of which resulting in some form of “lesson” that maintains this equilibrium.

So, what does an experience entail and how does one build the skills to achieve positive and more predictable outcomes?

An experience has a beginning, a “core” and an end.  A determination of whether the experience is going as originally planned or is deviating “off course” can occur in any of the three phases.  At a fundamental level, the basis of an experience is time.

While one can argue that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” path for a given experience, at a basic level you have a sense of where you want that experience to go.  For example, if a relationship is showing signs of erosion, not doing anything may eventually lead to its failure.  Thus, making corrections to the experience “course” to enable its long-term success may be right thing to do.

Whether to begin a new experience depends a lot upon your values and your goals.  While this decision is usually subconscious, if you don’t have a clear sense of either, your experience will be somewhat random. However, if your goal is to experience things with purpose, then your ability to choose experiences that provide a foundation for the “predictability/unpredictability balance” will become that much greater.

Let’s assume that you have chosen an experience with purpose – you are now operating within the experience “core”.  Your next logical goal is to participate in the most meaningful and positive way that you can – i.e. striving to reach a “self-actualization” phase of consciousness and operation.  In order to achieve this state of being, you need to pay close attention to the “hierarchy of needs” structure – not only in its original definition but one that is applicable to the experience at hand.

Focusing on the concept of self-actualization – and the supporting hierarchy – are both important because they can determine the quality and duration of the experience.

For example, in attempting to reach self-actualization, the mind becomes overly concerned with reaching that pinnacle, and virtually ignores everything else.  When layers of the hierarchy become eroded, and you no longer have the direction that your goals were providing, your reality crashes to the ground.  It’s similar to climbing a mountain, reaching the apex, and then realizing that you are out of oxygen (i.e. your support structure).  How are you going to get down?

The aspect that is central to avoiding this dilemma is time.  Time is the only thing that is constant through your journey across the hierarchy.  It’s the measurement that you need to be focused on to ensure your long-term “survival”.  What is happening in the “core” of the experience?  Is the hierarchy “intact”?  If it is not, what are you doing to ensure its overall stability?

If you are able to identify with these questions and answer them objectively, the quality of the experience for not only you, but others that may be involved in that experience, will be that much greater.  At a basic level, it’s synonymous with an individual vs. team mindset – focusing on the former is appropriate, but not focusing on the latter is not.

It’s worth noting that simply because you believe an experience is worth the investment doesn’t mean that the operating environment will work in your favor.  Forces can work with or against you in all phases of the experience.  Being able to clearly recognize these forces and how they impact your experience (and your hierarchy of needs) is another valuable skill.

Making a decision whether the experience needs to “end” depends a lot on the experience itself.  Taking inventory of whether the experience is obligatory or optional, and/or if it continues to align with your values and goals are both excellent barometers to appropriately close or abruptly terminate the experience.  Delaying a decision to bring closure to an experience can ultimately erode aspects of the hierarchy of needs without it being obvious that you are doing so.

What’s the lesson here?  In order to benefit from any experience, you need to have a clear understanding of what you value, what you want to achieve and what you desire.  Once you have this level of understanding, your ability to benefit from and self-actualize within the experience is dependent upon your awareness of the experience itself.  It is this level of awareness and the resulting decisions which will pave the way towards experiences that ultimately build self-confidence through a unique balance of predictable and unpredictable outcomes.

While you don’t have control over the future, you do have some level of control over your own destiny.

(While I’ve used my career and relationship as a basis for the “experience” definition, it’s important to recognize that the use of this phrase is applicable for all experiences regardless of classification.)