Get Comfortable with Being a Beginner

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | August 28, 2020

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I recently had a breakdown. I cried, got angry, and in no uncertain terms threw a temper tantrum that rivals that of a three-year-old fighting bedtime. The surprising thing is that my tantrum occurred in response to my husband trying to teach me the right way to do a pushup.

Under ordinary circumstances I enjoy taking on challenges and like to learn new things. But this time was different. After I calmed down, it occurred to me that we are all going to wind up as beginners as we adapt to the ever-changing world around us. We engage nearly non-stop in discussions about how to cope with what turns our lives upside down these days. I realized that my overreaction was an impulse to hold onto an area in which I felt competent… one where I didn’t have to be a beginner. But was.

A lot is being asked of us right now. We must develop new ways to do what we’ve always done before. We are called upon to communicate in different ways, develop skills for self-compassion, think critically about social justice and systemic racism in our society, learn how to be patient, find alternative ways to work, to socialize, to go to school, and create movement in our day. Some of us are starting over with new jobs and careers. Others are desperately trying to find a way forward after suffering devastating losses.

Being a beginner is hard

Everyone is familiar with that uncomfortable feeling – the one where you start on a new skill or project with which you have no experience. Initially, the prospect is daunting. You have no idea where to start.

Inevitably at some point in the process it occurs to you: “I’m really bad at this!” You start saying things to yourself like “I’ll never be good at this” or “It’s going to take forever for me to get any good at this.” You doubt yourself. You question your capabilities. Your internal dialogue turns critical, and you start believing that “I’m not talented enough” or “I just don’t have what it takes.”

Feeling frustrated, angry, discouraged, self-critical, and wanting to give up are all unavoidable aspects of being a beginner. Unfortunately so, it’s a tough process that requires a great deal of mental, emotional, and in some cases physical effort. No wonder we are all so drained! Yet, something can be done. 

How to be a beginner

Begin being a beginner by understanding that every worthwhile endeavor has its challenges and setbacks. Clear your mind of any expectations of “natural talent” or specific timeline. These preconceived notions are arbitrary, informed only by your desires rather than evidence. These expectations only discourage you further. Instead, remember that you are starting a skill completely outside your usual skill set and won’t come to you easily. You will naturally face frustrations and challenges along the way. Like building muscle, expect discomfort along the way.

Understand also that the people who are “good” at being beginners are those who are comfortable with the arduous process and difficult feelings that arise.

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life.”

-Steve Jobs

Here are 6 tips to help guide you through the discomfort:

1. Prepare to work through obstacles. Facing obstacles as a beginner is inevitable. Look for creative solutions and don’t let obstacles defeat you.

2. Remember why you started. When you feel like giving up, remember why you’re doing it:

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living” -Gail Sheehy

3. Celebrate the small wins. Although the little advances are far removed from where you eventually want to be, they represent important milestones for you to acknowledge that deliver the encouragement you need to keep trying. 

4. Rehearse past successes. Think about something hard that you have done, and what it felt like when you first got started. Your past successes are evidence that you can do hard things!

5. Be gentle with yourself. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who is learning something new. Now, say the same thing to yourself.

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” – Brené Brown

6. Finish what you started. You didn’t come this far to come only part way.

 Working with a professional San Diego Psychologist will guide you through the difficult process of being a beginner and empower you not to give up. If you are feeling stuck or paralyzed by negative thinking, our team is here for you. Your therapist will work collaboratively with you to clarify your values and develop strategies to help you reach your goals. Now more than ever is focused guidance needed the most. You do not have to go it alone.



Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

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