Don’t Miss the Meaning

T.S Eliot once said “We had the experience, but we missed the meaning”. I think this is a valuable reminder that we can take lessons from our everyday (and outdoor) experiences and use them to better ourselves for the future, if we just take the time to reflect. It is so easy to let valuable moments pass you by without thought. It takes practice and intention to transfer the thoughts from a single moment and find similar patterns in the bigger picture of your daily life.

David Kolb created a great model that explains how we process an experience and transfer knowledge through something called the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC). The cycle starts by simply having a ‘concrete experience’. The second step of the ELC is ‘reflective observation’. This entails thinking about the experience you just had in a factual way. Simply put – what happened? Next in the cycle is ‘abstract conceptualization’. How did you feel when the experience was happening? What thoughts were going through your head and how did you react? Through abstract conceptualization, you reflect on whether or not your behavior in this particular situation is part of a pattern of how you respond to similar situations. Do you often find yourself feeling as you did in this moment? The last stage in the ELC is ‘active experimentation’. This is when you take what you have learned and apply it to new situations. How can you try to better yourself and relate to the world around you in a more productive way, given what you have observed about yourself in this moment?

I realize this sounds very nebulous. Let me give an example…

Lets say my concrete experience was that I just went hiking and got caught in an unexpected rain storm. Then through reflective observation, I concluded that I got stuck in a storm I knew nothing about without any gear to protect me from the elements. I ended up getting super cold and ultimately had to cut my day hike short because of my discomfort. Then, through abstract conceptualization, I ask myself why I got in that situation? I concluded that I didn’t check the weather, did not observe the changing weather patterns, and did not think to have rain gear in my pack. This all boils down to me simply not being properly prepared. Then I ask myself, are there other instances where I go into situations unprepared?  If I’m being honest with myself, the answer is yes. For example, I frequently go to class without having read assigned powerpoint in preparation for class and am scrambling to get assignments done. This leaves me feeling stressed and ultimately less successful than if I had thought ahead and completed my tasks in a timely manner. Then through active experimentation, I take these observations and ask myself how I can do better in the future? Maybe I can try to start checking relevant information in advance and making to-do lists so that I can combat my tendencies to go into situations unprepared.


I think that this concept relates back to the emotional component in the 8 dimensions of Wellness. If you are able to reflect and gain better self awareness on how your behavior and interactions impact your experiences in life, then you will be a more emotionally stable individual.

For more on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, check out this website:



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