May 21, 2021
We are never too old or too experienced to learn something new. Often, the thing standing between us and mastering new skills is mindset. One way you can help yourself is by embracing a ‘beginner’s mindset’ approach to learning.
Children are encouraged by their families and the community at large to try a wide variety of skills. You may have been made to play chess or learn folk dancing in school, even if these skills have never played an important role in your career life. Children can and will pick up new skills quickly and with relative ease, simply for the sake of enriching themselves. How can we, as adults, bring that same capacity to learn into our lives and workplaces?
Author of Beginners, Tom Vanderbilt, has done significant research into learning better as an adult. Inspired by his daughter’s keen ability to pick up a wide array of hobbies, Vanderbilt decided to spend a year pursuing a new range of skills, including singing, drawing, juggling, and even surfing. The point was not to become a pro-surfer or bestselling singer, but rather to fully immerse himself in the pleasure of the learning process. It is this ‘beginner’s mindset’ that takes the pressure off learning and allows you to truly develop quality skills.
Vanderbilt has laid out some important guidelines for this style of learning that just might help you pick up that new instrument you’ve been meaning to try, or improve a skill you thought you’d lost.
Learn from your mistakes:
It may seem obvious, but it is an area where pride or laziness often get in the way. Be deliberate and analytical when training any new skill, and rather than getting frustrated or proud, ask yourself what went wrong and what went right.
Make sure your practice is varied:
Change things up from time to time. Don’t keep the variables the same every time. Can you really play the piano if you only know one song? Variance in your practice leads to the brain’s flexibility. It also helps build your resilience to a great array of challenges you may face.
Teach what you learn:
Do you remember having to present what you learned in school, or be a ‘peer-teacher?’ There’s a reason for this. We learn better when we know we will have to teach what we have learned to others. The expectation of teaching increases curiosity and retention. Passing on knowledge is rewarding neurologically, as well as emotionally, as many find it one of the most exciting parts of learning.
Be Open and Vulnerable:
Part of the reason kids are great learners is because they do not have the same sense of embarrassment or social shame that hinders a lot of adults. Take singing, as an example. Children sing all the time with no mind for who hears them. As an adult with no singing training, it may be nerve wracking to open up and practice with an instructor for the first time. Pushing past these nerves and being vulnerable leaves you receptive to instruction and improvement.
Applying this to your career life.
So juggling and surfing might not help you in the business world – or maybe they will, in which case, great! These tips for learning do not just apply to artistic talents of recreational activities. There are lots of situations where this advice can be applied to help you grow your career.
Maybe you’re stuck on learning a second language to help expand your business, or you’re taking a class on a software that seems above your paygrade. Keeping these ‘beginner’s mindset’ tools in your toolbox can make all the difference.
More than that, learning new skills keeps your mind sharp! There has been clinical research that shows learning and practicing new skills can offset some of the mental decline associated with aging.