When learning something new, you often work with a realistic expectation that things would not be easy. After all, no one can expect you to learn something totally new and different with a snap of a finger, right?
This mindset is often a good way to become comfortable with your beginner state—to be okay with not knowing things and making mistakes. But sometimes, your frustration feeds your mind with negative thoughts and excuses that turn your beginner mindset into an easy cop-out. And you’re probably not aware that you’re doing it.
So here are three negative things that you probably tell yourself when you’re learning something new, and how to turn them into positive thoughts to motivate you.
1. “I don’t need this.”
This is a very common “you-cant-use-algebra-in-real-life” kind of defense mechanism. Because you can’t understand something (yet), you can’t see or appreciate the practical use of it. Therefore, you decide that you don’t need it, and that you’re just wasting valuable time that you should be spending on doing your job (which you’re already very good at, thank you very much).
Instead, say: “How can this help me?“
Focus on the benefits, not the challenges. Think of what you can do with your new knowledge or skill. According to Malcolm Knowles’ five principles of adult learning, adult learners learn best when “they understand why something is important to know or do”.
Additionally, envision what you’ll gain from your new knowledge or skill. It may not directly or immediately result in your promotion, but envisioning the possible future rewards that you may get may help increase your motivation to keep learning.
2. “But this is sooo boring!”
We don’t even need to use Algebra as an example this time; everyone and anyone who has ever gone to school or attended a seminar or listened to a talk is probably guilty of thinking this at one point or another. It could be because you’re learning something that someone required you to learn, and not something that you chose to learn yourself. Or you probably wanted to learn it, but the teaching style is not stimulating enough for you.
Instead, say: “Is there any other way to learn it?”
If you’re required to learn something that you don’t find enjoyable, look for another way to learn it. It could be that online courses are not your thing; maybe you’ll be more motivated with a person-led class or training program with peer interactions. Or maybe you need to supplement your classes with hands-on project to appreciate the practical use of your knowledge.
3. “I’m really bad at this.”
The cheerful and enthusiastic “I’m new at this, it’s okay to make mistakes” beginner mindset may turn into a frustrated “Why can’t I get it, I’m so stupid” thought in a blink of an eye when you realize that you’re completely out of your element. It’s too difficult, too unfamiliar, too out of your area of expertise.
Since you’re already used to being good at something, there may be a lingering discomfort at not being good at other things. So you start thinking, “Hey, this is just not my cup of tea” as a cop-out.
Instead, say: “I will get better at this.”
Instead of throwing in the towel, be comfortable with being a novice. Don’t let mistakes make you doubt your abilities. Just because you’re already good at something doesn’t mean that you have to be good at everything from the get-go. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t stop experimenting and asking questions. Remember: “The expert in anything was once a beginner.”