I had some very, very lofty goals for this blog. So I got a domain name and set out on that path…and choked pretty badly. Performed some pretty mind-bending fuckery on myself in deciding to do something courageous every. single. day. The problem with that – is that you have to find things to be afraid of every. single. day. Focusing on fear, especially with that intensity, was not helpful.
Be brave when you need to be. Be brave often. Life will bring you a zillion opportunities to be courageous without you ever needing to seek them out.
At the moment, I have no particular goals for the blog. I just have something I wanted to share.
Learning to Be a Beginner
When I was little, I was very, very lucky. I was smart and picked things up quickly. Lots of things came pretty easily to me. The shadow side of that coin, was that when things didn’t come easily (or quickly), I concluded that I was “bad” at them and would never get much better.
As an older person, I know that’s hogwash. The only determining factor in whether you get better at something is how often you practice it, the repetition. (This is not an original thought, it’s just what happens. There are lots and lots of wonderful people who’ve said it before me – too many to list here, really.)
I don’t say “the effort you put into it” because you can effort like crazy and not get anywhere. I did it all the time.¹ It’s completely exhausting.
Efforting is the the psyching yourself up to get there; facing completely outrageous, unachievable, vague, and semi-conscious standards; taking a little step into the water; floundering around a bit; and then judging yourself extremely harshly on that that first action. You compare your toe-in-the-water to someone else’s master work, that they’ve spent years (or a lifetime) building the skill to accomplish.
The energy expense on that is monumental. You can can throw yourself at that brick wall over and over and make almost no measurable improvement. And it hurts. A LOT. Why would anyone want to keep doing something so painful?
We put an enormous amount of emphasis and value on persistence in our culture. (Whose culture I’m referring to here, I’m not quite sure – artists? Americans? Westerners? Humans….???) At any rate, there is a very pervasive idea that relentless, terminator-like persistence is the key to any success. The problem is, if you persist in efforting, you’re just grinding away your knife blade, you’re ruining your tool, destroying the means and the fuel for achieving success. I hope that makes sense. It’s a pretty scrambled metaphor.
Here are some strategies and concepts that make being a beginner easier:
Play. Have fun. Enjoy yourself. It will make you want to do whatever-it-is again. Focus on enjoying what you’re doing in the moment.
Don’t just start small, start minuscule.
- When curing phobias, you use a process of desensitization, becoming accustomed to exposure to what you’re afraid of. This is similar.
- Tiny things are imminently achievable. Set yourself up for as many early successes as you can.
CELEBRATE!!!! Reward yourself mightily with massive quantities of self-approval; pats-on-the-back; you go, girls; high-fives; and good boys.
Redefine success. You’re a massive success if you took action. Your success has nothing to do with the quality of what you did.
Be gentle with yourself. If a wee child was doing this for the first time, you would never castigate them for doing poorly, verbally abuse them, tell them what a crappy job they did. You’re new at this. You deserve no less.
Remember that optimists greatly over-estimate how well they did the first time they do something. Pessimists have a more “accurate” view. Optimists are more likely to follow up and do it again.³
Dabble. Try it out. Get some more information. Find out if it’s even any fun or worthwhile in the first place. You don’t have to commit before you’ve even started.
Talk yourself out of any idea that being kind to yourself will make you soft, is undeserved, or will somehow lower your standards and turn you into a crappy version of what you want to be. None of that is true.²
All this positive stuff? It’s fuel. It’s putting gas in your car for the journey to getting better. It’s the opposite of destroying yourself with blind persistence.
What this looks like in practice:
Starting an exercise program by using a pedometer and walking just a few more steps every day. Even one more step a day. Or starting with a single push-up. Then celebrating like you are Champion of the Universe!
Beginning a writing or drawing goal by getting out paper and a pen or pencil. Making a squiggle. Then celebrating like you are Champion of the Universe!
Making healthier food choices by eating a single raw vegetable stick. Then celebrating like you are Champion of the Universe!
Are you sensing a theme here? Can you think of a way to apply this to whatever-it-is-you-want-to-do?
This approach is silly. Which is good. One reason it’s effective is that it helps break up whatever unpleasant pattern you may have established in the past.
And don’t worry, no matter how enjoyable you make that first, little step, you won’t settle. It won’t satisfy you and somehow make you complacent. You’ll want more.
Footnotes and Resources:
¹ …in my pursuit of art, in trying to conquer a phobia, in trying to achieve most things I valued.
³ I think this comes from Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The section on failure in Unlimited Power (book or audio) by Anthony Robbins
Many thanks to John Green and Zen Pencils for giving me the energy and inspiration to make this for you.