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How to Get Better at Something New Without Beating Yourself Up

Concerned Woman

“Stop beating yourself up. You are a work in progress, which means you get there a little at a time, not all at once.” ~Unknown

I love learning. I am fueled by acquiring new skills, understanding human behavior, and observing the beautiful gifts that the universe has for all of us, hopefully all in service of feeding my own curiosity as well as being a better contributor to the world.

I enjoy learning through different mediums—formal classes, reading, meeting new people, traveling, and taking on new challenges.

I have a professional background in analytics, insights, and storytelling and am currently working on beefing up my technical skillset in programming and statistics. I’m doing this because I am enjoying the work in this space and I hope this will empower me to be of better service to myself, my family, and the world.

On most days, it’s all good. I somehow make time to learn while juggling a full-time job, a toddler, and my commitment to do my best to live in alignment with my values of community, kindness, mindfulness, and service. Some days are harder than others, but overall I am blessed for all that I have!

So far, so good, right?

No, wrong.

There are days when my inner critic gets incredibly loud and does her best to add fear, confusion, doubt, and guilt in my head. She questions everything I’m doing and does her best to disrupt my balance.

Want to hear what she sounds like?

You are so behind and are so slow in learning all this. You aren’t good at anything. You should have focused and done just one thing in your career instead of exploring so many avenues. You should have been an expert and a specialist. You’ve wasted the last eight years of your professional life.”

Ouch. Isn’t she rude?

Over the years, I’ve recognized that I am not alone. This voice exists inside in all if not most of us, and it gets incredibly loud every time we want to take on a new challenge, learn a new skill, follow our callings, or question the status quo.

Given that the media is abound with messages asking us to get better in our personal and professional lives, it can often feel overwhelming and lonely. And we can get into this trap of feeling we are not good enough, we don’t have enough, and that we are constantly falling behind.

Sometimes, I wonder if the solution is that we find complete peace and contentment in where we are, but then does that mean we not chose to grow, learn, or take on something we have never done before?

And let’s say we do choose to take on something big, how do we manage that crazy voice in our head that keeps bringing us down, and how do we grow from a place of peace, contentment, kindness, and service as we try to reach our true potential?

Here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Acknowledge the challenge.

Learning something new, taking on unchartered roads, changing careers, and saying yes to new projects can be hard and scary. Having realistic expectations can set you up to succeed. Know that there will be days when you will want to quit, you will question your decision, and uncertainty will cloud your mind.

For me, this means acknowledging that learning statistics and a new programming language is hard. This creates space and freedom for me to make mistakes, to know that it will take longer for a newbie to complete something that an experienced veteran.

Continue anyway!

Choose love.

Choose love over anger for yourself. Just because you’re trying to learn something new, that doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. Remind yourself that you’re trying to explore life with a new lens and that you are worthy of your own love and kindness.

Do not lose perspective on who you are as a person and how far you’ve come just because you are starting as a beginner in another aspect of your life. The fact that you have the vision, have set the intention, and are dedicating valuable resources in your life at getting better at something is something you can be proud of!

Dismiss the absolutes.

When that voice in your head tells you that you don’t know anything or that you’re not good at anything, say “no, thank you.” This is simply not true. You are trying to get better at something and that doesn’t mean you’re bad at it.

Tell yourself, “You are not great at x yet, but you are okay and you will get better.“

Just because I’m not a stat wiz doesn’t mean I am a bad or less worthy professional or a less worthy human being. I am a well-rounded human being, and an active participant in life who is trying to take on some new challenges.

Create white space.

When trying to get big and better at your thing, it can be very easy to want to dedicate every waking minute to your project. Instead, intentionally create white space and breathing room to nurture and nourish yourself. It will enable you to be more creative and efficient and will allow for better results.

For me, this means creating space to meditate, practice yoga, write, walk in the park, and embrace silence. It means knowing when my body is in pain so I can attend to it. It means creating time on my calendar to just be and not do even though my inner critic may be yelling, “You are not being productive.”

Build and nurture community.

You are not the only one doing this and there are many others in the same boat. Find people who share similar goals and struggles and can be your cheerleaders when the going gets tough.

Also, remember to draw boundaries with people who may not understand your dreams and think you are crazy for doing what you’re doing. We don’t need them in our lives.

Stay connected to your purpose.

In those moments of despair, bring yourself back to why you’re working on this project. Remind yourself why this matters to your purpose in life. This exercise can be incredibly eye-opening.

If you can’t connect your project to the why of your life, perhaps this is an opportunity to refine your why or, even better, your project!

I’m learning new skills to pivot my career, to provide security for my family and myself, and to create space and freedom to develop a portfolio career where I can work with data and also write/teach and coach.

This is my vision, and reminding myself of this helps during the tough times. I am not learning to please the ego or follow the crowds and listen to the “should” around me.

Enjoy the journey.

While your goal with your project may be to launch your website, get a million customers, or find a new job in a different industry, don’t underestimate the power of your journey and what you can learn from it. Congratulate yourself for working toward being a better you!

This means sharing my successes with people who matter and giving myself the gift of time with my family and loved ones. It means pausing and acknowledging all the new projects I can accomplish with my new skills. It means finding the joy in writing a few new lines of code that can analyze a massive dataset and the insights I can uncover.

In the end, what matters is declaring your dreams, taking the steps needed to make progress, and choosing love, kindness, and compassion for yourself as you grow. Your inner critic may always try to pull you down, but love will bring you back up and connect to what matters!

Concerned woman image via Shutterstock

About Neha Mandhani

Neha is a grateful mother, program manager at LinkedIn, a sustainable MBA student, and a restorative yoga teacher. She integrates all of these roles on her blog, Mindful Living, and is passionate about helping people find tools to lead meaningful & mindful lives and sparking conversations at the intersection of personal fulfillment and global impact. Follow her on twitter @mandhanin.

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