Trial and Error, Ego and Awareness

September 25th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

One of the most tried and true methods for problem solving is the trial and error method. Despite its lack of sophistication, sometimes it’s the most efficient choice, especially because it can succeed where other methods fail. With trial and error, you’re always guaranteed a learning experience, and you’ll often identify multiple solutions as you experiment.

Yet how often do we fail to proceed to the trial phase because we’re afraid of experiencing the error?

We make the mistake of believing that the error is somehow harmful to us, when it is actually helpful. Each error is the feedback we need to formulate a new trial, one that will hopefully lead to new errors and new trials until we ultimately converge on an acceptable solution. So an error is not a failure. An error is in fact merely a step on the path to a success. No errors usually means no successes.

The irony is that we may fear success even more than failure because to our egos, success is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, if your experiment works, then you get the results you want. But on the other hand, if you get the results you want, then you also have to face the fact that you were making a continuous mistake all the while you were “not testing.”

For example, if you ask your boss for a raise, and s/he says yes, then the good news is that you get the raise now. But the bad news is that you have to accept that maybe you could have gotten it last year (or sooner) just by asking as you did today. You have to face the fact that fear held you back.

In the long run, it’s better to face that fear and to finally achieve the results you want than it is to deny your past fear and simultaneously prevent yourself from making the attempt today. I suspect that in some area of your life, there’s a past fear that’s still holding you back — an area where you could achieve greater success if you could only allow yourself to be OK with facing up to a previous mistake.

In running my shareware games business, I had a reputation for doing a lot of testing. I was frequently running experiments like testing different kinds of order forms or home page layouts. Most tests didn’t produce the results I was hoping for, but all of them produced information. However, those tests that did produce results invariably forced me to face two facts: 1) Here was a more effective way of generating results that I could apply immediately (wonderful), and 2) I missed out on those results in the past by not running this test sooner (hmmm).

We have an easy time accepting #1, but I know a lot of people who cannot bring themselves to face #2. They fear it. Imagine running a business for 5 years selling products at a certain price (call it X)? It’s understandable you might experience trepidation about running an experiment to see if 2X or 3X or 0.5X would be more effective. What if one simple experiment — the kind that you can setup with an online business in about an hour if you know what you’re doing — could instantly reveal a way to double your income? Coupled with your joy at unearthing this discovery is the regret that you missed out on a lot of income by not doing it sooner.

How often do we find ourselves so deeply invested in our egos and in our past that we miss opportunities for a brighter future?

If today you could successfully double your income, get a date with the person you’ve only dreamed of asking out, find a job you truly loved, or experience a diet that sent your energy skyward, would you not also feel some regret about not doing it sooner? And each year that passes when you don’t act, aren’t you making the burden of that future regret even greater… to the point where it could paralyze you from taking those very actions that would ultimately produce success?

This is a tough block, is it not?

What allowed me to get past this block was the realization that ultimately we face a personal choice here. This is one of those situations where raising your consciousness beyond a certain point will neutralize the problem permanently.

Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

You exist only in the present moment. Your past is composed of memories, but you still access those memories in your present. Your past is only real — it only has existence to you — when you consciously focus your attention on it. It is your attention that gives your past its power, and it is also your attention that feeds your ego. You can choose to stop focusing so much attention on your ego and your personal history, and instead you can redirect that attention to identify more with your consciousness and your awareness. In other words you stop thinking of yourself in terms of your memories, and you start thinking of yourself in terms of your consciousness. You have access to your memories just as you have access to the information on this web site, but your memories are not equal to you.

For example, I can identify myself as Steve Pavlina, a guy who runs a personal development web site, a writer, a speaker, a husband and father, etc. That is my ego and my past. But those things don’t exist to me in this present moment as I type this. I do not think of myself in these terms as I go about my day. Instead, I regard myself simply as consciousness and awareness. So the “I” with which I refer to myself is nothing but my own attention, my ability to become aware of things (including my own past if I so chose). And in that state, there is no ego and therefore no fear. I am not compelled to behave a certain way out of fear; I have the freedom to choose my response. I have the freedom to create a present moment that is disloyal to my past in a purely linear sense. I do not have to identify myself based on my history if I see that it no longer serves me to do so. My ego says that if I am a speaker today, I must be a speaker tomorrow. It says that if I make a discovery today, that it’s a shame I didn’t discover it sooner. Using my ego as a reference point is extremely limiting. The ego always wants to protect and preserve it’s current identity, but this gets in the way of raising one’s consciousness to the point where peace reigns over fear.

I realize this is a very different level of thinking than that at which this post began. But this is the level at which I had to begin thinking in order to feel totally free to create my present without feeling trapped by my past. Otherwise I’d always be tied to a history that was formed at a lower level of thinking (when I was younger and less experienced).

What would happen if we all stop worrying about protecting our egos and related both to ourselves and each other as fully conscious beings?

Think of how many problems in the world could be easily solved if those involved could release their attachment to the past and allow themselves to consciously co-create the present as they truly wanted it to be. This means using consciousness as the primary point of reference instead of ego. At this level we are free to experiment without fear of regret from our past. We can break with our past because it is not who we are anyway.

This is how I think of you as a person reading this site. I do not primarily regard you as a programmer or a marketer or a father of three. Rather, I see you as a fellow conscious being, one that happens to identify itself in these roles from time to time — and one that is also free to choose his/her own identity and roles. And on that level, we are already — and always — connected. The past and our egos are only illusions that get in the way of this connection.

Yes, you have a past. But your past only governs your present moment to the degree you focus your attention on it (such as by recalling memories and identifying with them). Ultimately, consciousness is stronger than circumstances. Regardless of your current circumstances, you always have the option of exercising conscious choice to create what you want in your reality. I think this is one of the key lessons we are here to learn as human beings — how to utilize the power of our conscious minds to create what we want.


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