3 Powerful Ways To Practice A Beginner’s Mind: How To Be A Beginner

If you want to be great at something, you must be willing to be bad at it first.

I’m not going to lie. As a recovering perfectionist, this truth is a hard pill to swallow. 

So many of us resist being a beginner.

We don’t want to mess up.

And we don’t want to look bad.

So to avoid potentially feeling judged or embarrassed, we don’t try.

Instead, we stay with what’s familiar.

But here’s what’s also true.

When we’re willing to risk “doing it wrong.”

When we ask questions if we don’t understand.

And when we’re open to trying something new.

We also create opportunities for growth and success.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ll choose option B every time.

If option B is the life you want, too, then I think you might love episode 120 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

We’re talking about three areas for being a beginner and how to grow from each one.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • The three areas of being a beginner
  • Where these opportunities for expansion present themselves in your life
  • Questions to help you dig in and grow from each experience.

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Episode #120: 3 Powerful Ways To Practice A Beginner’s Mind: How To Be A Beginner (Transcript)

You’re listening to the I’m busy being awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode #120. 

Hey everybody! Welcome to episode 120 of the podcast. What is happening with you? Have you tried out a shutdown routine like we talked about last week? I’ve heard from some of you over on Instagram who have implemented your version of the end-of-day shutdown routine. And I love that! It’s so fun to hear your experiences and learn that you are implementing the concepts we explore each week. Seriously, you busy awesome humans are amazing. Also, if we’re not hanging out over on Instagram yet, let’s connect. I am @imbusybeingawesome.

So, this week I have a fun topic to explore with you, which is all about the power of being a beginner. And how being a beginner tends to present itself as an opportunity in so many different areas of our lives at different times. And if we’re not aware of these situations, it’s easy to overlook them. It’s easy to disregard them and miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow and expand even further into who we are.

I’ve also noticed that there’s a tendency to resist being a beginner. Whether it’s intentional or not, we often want to push aside being new at something or not knowing everything about a topic or field for a variety of reasons that we’re going to talk about today. But what I want to present first is an observation that I’ve made. And that observation is when we avoid being a beginner because we don’t want to try something new, or we don’t want to be bad at something, or we are worried about embarrassing ourselves, etc. When we resist being a beginner, we say stuck. When we resist being a beginner, we never have the opportunity to grow or learn or progress.

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Everyone Is A Beginner

And what’s also true is that everyone is a beginner at some point. We all must start somewhere. And though we might know this intellectually, part of our brain pushes against it. Part of our brain – especially those of us who navigate perfectionist tendencies – don’t like the idea of not being good right away. 

With that being said, as I prepared for this episode today, I reflected on all of the different areas in my life where I tried something new for the first time. And the areas where I was really bad at it, but I stuck with it anyway, it led to great things. For example, when I started playing trumpet in 5th grade, I was awful. But I stuck with it. I allowed myself to be bad. And in fact, getting better was part of the exciting challenge. And I stuck with that challenge all through my undergraduate years. I was a music ed major and had to play in concerts and had solos and did recitals. And every time I learned a new piece I was a beginner again. It was a new skill to strengthen.

Now, you might be arguing with this example. You might be thinking, well of course you were bad. “You were in 5th grade. All kids are bad when they start playing the instrument. But what about when as an adult? That’s different.” And I would argue it’s not. I think about my first foray into the online space as a Blogger. My sister started me a food blog because I loved to cook, and I had to learn how to actually blog. I had to learn how to use WordPress and work with templates and design pages. I had to learn how to do all of that back-end tech stuff.

But even more challenging, I had to learn how to take pictures of food. I was terrible at it. My food looked awful. Honestly, it probably would have been more appealing to readers if I didn’t put the pictures up. Seeing the pictures probably turned them off. But because I allowed myself to be bad at it, and I practiced it, I not only got better at writing but also at taking pictures. And I also became more comfortable putting my work out there online for other people to see.

So, when I decided to start I’m busy being awesome to share all my productivity strategies – for those of you who are newer to my work, this podcast began as a blog back in 2017 – it made that transition easier. And that was all because I allowed myself to be a beginner and be terrible at blogging when I started.

A Beginner At Every Part Of The Journey 

And one of the things that I love about this concept of being a beginner is that you can be a beginner no matter where you are at in your journey. I think we often believe that being a beginner only coincides with trying something new and doing something we’ve never done before. And that is certainly one of the times it comes up. But it’s not the only time. In fact, being a beginner shows up in all stages of your journey. It can show up when you’re just getting started. But it also can show up halfway through. And it can even show up when you’ve been doing the thing – whether it’s your job, or a hobby, or a certain skill set – for years and years.

And when I reflect on this with my own experiences. As I’ve talked with different clients recently. I’ve noticed that this resistance to being a beginner falls into the three different categories I just mentioned. The first category is being that true beginner. Maybe it is the first or the first few times that you’ve tried something.

The second is when you have been doing the thing – again whether it’s your job, a skill, a hobby, whatever for a while. And when you come upon a question where you don’t know the answer, you may start second-guessing yourself. You think something like, “I should probably know this by now. I’ve been here for so long (or I’ve been doing this for so long), it’s ridiculous I don’t know this. I can’t possibly ask because I should already know it.” (Sound familiar?)

And then the third area is when you have been doing what you do for a long time, so when you are presented with something you’ve heard before, or a concept you’ve studied in the past, you perhaps shut down to it. Maybe you feel a sense of irritation. Maybe you think yourself, I already know this. This is a waste of my time. So you close down to anything new.

And with all three of these experiences – being an actual beginner, being midpoint and thinking you should know everything, and being seasoned at what you do and thinking you do know everything. Whenever we respond by closing ourselves off to being a beginner, we close ourselves off to growth.

When we close ourselves off to being a beginner, we close ourselves off to growth and expansion.

So today, we’re going to consider a variety of different situations. I’ll share some experiences that I’ve had and some general examples inspired by recent conversations with clients where this opportunity to be a beginner presented itself. We’re also going to talk about how to recognize these opportunities for what they are. And then explore some questions to help you open up to stepping into the role of a beginner so you can get the most from each experience. 

How can we stay open and stay curious and see what being a beginner has to offer us?

And I think I’m going to go in reverse order today. I’m going to start with the mindset that comes with thinking you already know the information. I want to start here, because I think this is a really sneaky one. It’s easy to overlook it. And a couple of examples from my own experiences popped into my mind immediately when I prepped for this episode, so I’ll offer those today.

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When You Think You Know Everything 

So, toward the end of last summer, in 2020, the university where I taught had decided – like most schools at the time – to do primarily online learning for the students. And the university went into crunch time trying to teach all of these professors how to make their classes virtual. So they required a lot of different additional trainings about how to use technology and ways to engage with your students online.

Now, since I was super familiar with Zoom and teaching online both from the spring and because I coach using Zoom and often teach webinars and stuff, I was…less than enthused about attending these sessions. I had some unhelpful thoughts like, this isn’t a good use of my time. I already know this stuff. This is probably going to be a waste.

Now, I fully acknowledge that this is not a good attitude to have. It was certainly not a useful way for me to be thinking about these trainings that I had to attend. But for the first one, I went in with that mindset. And wouldn’t you know it, when I thought to myself, “this isn’t a good use of my time…” I did not make good use of my time. I closed down to learning new information and only found confirmation that I already knew all of the concepts.

But then for part two of the training, I did some self-coaching beforehand. I noticed that I was feeling a bit closed off and even irritated, which I knew from the previous session was not useful position for learning. So I coached myself into feeling a bit more open and curious. Because when I’m curious, that inspires me to listen attentively. I often ask a lot of questions and start noticing little details. And when I attended that second session, even though I was familiar with the content that they taught, I learned so much from the experience.

I learned about where some of the attendees had confusion about certain tools, which I realized many of my students might have confusion with as well. That helped me prepare ahead of time how to address that confusion. I noticed the way the facilitator lead the discussion and the teaching, and I identified things that were particularly effective about it. When we split into breakout rooms, I asked my colleagues what they found effective during their online experiences the previous semester, which offered new ideas I hadn’t considered

So even though I technically knew the information, I walked away from that session with so many new ideas and so much more informed. In other words, I was totally wrong. I did NOT know at all. There was so much to learn. And in fact, after that second session, I did some reflection on the 1st and was able to pull away other key concepts that I had missed the first time through because I was telling myself there wasn’t anything to learn there. So, by stepping into being a beginner, by generating curiosity and openness, and by challenging myself to ask questions, I not only learned a ton, but I also enjoyed the experience.

And this can play out in so many different ways. For example, I know for myself, one area where I do go in with a beginner’s mind pretty naturally is when I listen to other podcasts or audiobooks about coaching or productivity or goal setting, ADHD, etc. I love listening to people explore concepts that I’m familiar with. When I can hear people talk about familiar concepts in new ways, it opens my mind to the nuances that I might have missed the first time. Or maybe I had an initial understanding of a concept, but once I hear it for a second time that’s taught through a slightly different lens, it might resonate on a deeper level. Or maybe I’m ready to learn it at a deeper level.

So, with this first category where you might already be familiar with the concepts, I encourage you to practice being a beginner by going in with open curiosity. Ask yourself questions like: What can I learn here? What might I be missing? How can I think about this in a new way? What is this here to teach me? By taking this approach, I think you’ll be pleased at all of the additional nuances you uncover in the experience.

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You Think You “Should” Know

So what about our second category? What about when you have been doing the thing – maybe you’ve been at your job or practicing a certain skill for a while now, but there are some things you still don’t know. And your brain wants to offer you different thoughts like, you’ve been doing this for so long… You should know this by now. You can’t possibly ask, everyone will question why you didn’t ask sooner. I notice this comes up a lot with people in job settings.

For example, maybe you began your job when the company was working virtually, and now you have moved back in person and there are some procedures or a “typical way of doing things” that you don’t know yet. But because you’ve been in the company for months – maybe even a year+, your brain tells you, you can’t possibly ask; you should know this by now.

Or maybe you began a job but the role wasn’t very clearly defined. Perhaps it was a smaller startup and you were hired to be a Jack of all trades without any clear defined roles. Or maybe it’s a new position that the company’s never had before. Because of this, they don’t even really know what they expect, which means they can’t convey it to you because they don’t know. Or maybe you’re in a typical nine to five job. The role has been set. There were clear job descriptions. But you just weren’t trained in everything. Or you were trained, but you have a terrible short term memory like I do, and you forgot some stuff because you don’t use a certain technology or system every day.

Chances are, you’ve been in some situation like this before. It may not be at work, but you’ve probably been in a situation where your brain offers that thought, I should know how to do this by now. I can’t ask, because then they’ll know that I don’t know. And they’ll think less of me. And all different iterations of these impostor syndrome thoughts meaning: they’ll find me out. They’ll realize I don’t know everything. They’ll figure out they don’t have it all together.

Imposter Thinking

Now one of the problems with this kind of impostor thinking is that it keeps us stuck. It keeps us where we’re unable to figure out how to move forward. Because when we’re thinking things like I should know this by now. They’re gonna find me out. I don’t know enough. That generally creates a feeling of shame or guilt or embarrassment in our bodies. And these feelings tend to shut us down. Because feelings like shame cause us to hide. They make us want to curl into a ball and hide under a blanket and not let anybody see that we don’t know.

But when we do that, we don’t ask. When we hide we don’t figure out an answer. We don’t figure out a solution. So instead we keep not knowing. Or we fumble around and try and figure it out ourselves, which takes 10 times as long as it would to simply ask someone, get the answer immediately, and be able to finish the project 10x as fast and move onto the next thing.

Plus, one of the most powerful lessons I learned from teaching was the importance of asking questions when you need extra clarification or you’re missing information or you don’t understand something. And I learned this lesson from my students. When one student in my class would raise their hand and ask a question, that was a very clear signal to me that there were at least a handful of other students who also had the same question, but were worried about being the only one who didn’t get it. So they wouldn’t ask. Instead, they’d put it on themselves to figure it out on their own. I was always so appreciative of the students who would ask. Because I’m telling you, with all of my experiences teaching, whenever someone has asked a question, there were others who were also wondering the same thing or at least had a similar inquiry.

So, with that in mind, I want to offer you a different perspective. What if when you ask a question to get greater clarification, you’re not only helping yourself, but you’re also helping others. On the first level, you’re able to do your job more quickly and effectively. AND you’re helping create greater clarity for your team, for your colleagues, and even for the person who is giving the instruction. I know whenever my students had questions, and when my clients have questions for me now, that is an opportunity for me to learn how to explain things even more clearly.

So again, I’ll give a quick example for myself. Earlier this year, I got to a point where I wanted to get some accounting/bookkeeping support in my business. I didn’t want to have to worry about keeping the numbers straight each month and figuring out how much I owed for quarterly taxes, etc. Basically, all of the numbers stuff that comes with owning a business. I just wanted to focus on coaching my clients and talking to all of you lovely humans on the podcast.

But even though I knew I wanted to do that, I also noticed myself holding back from reaching out to somebody. I noticed my brain offering thoughts like, you should really have everything neat and tidy before you go meet with an accountant. You should absolutely know all of the questions to ask and have all of your numbers ready and presentable. If you don’t, you’ll be wasting their time. But because I didn’t know what numbers they needed in order to make them presentable in the first place, I would spin in trying to figure out what I didn’t know. So I’d wasted a bunch of time tying to figure THAT out without getting the help I needed.

Now, I finally realized I was resisting being a beginner. And I decided to get uncomfortable. I decided to feel vulnerable and set up an appointment with an accountant and go to her with what I did have. And I basically said, here’s where I’m at. I would love your support in helping me with the accounting stuff, and if you let me know what you need, I will get it for you. Talk to me as if I’m someone who knows nothing about accounting, and you’ll be on the exact right level. And she did. And there was no judgment – at least none that I perceived.

So rather than spinning out in shame, I got the support I needed. Plus, it took an hour instead of the hours and hours that I trying to figure it out on my own. She got everything straightened out and streamlined so that everything is so much easier now. And this was all possible once I allowed myself to beginner and was willing to learn and ask questions even when I felt vulnerable.

So if you hear yourself in this type of situation. If you notice yourself resisting being a beginner and asking questions because you’re telling yourself you should know by now. If you’re feeling guilt or shame or vulnerability or embarrassment because you’re thinking that, I encourage you to press pause and start questioning those thoughts. 

First of all, why don’t you want to ask? What’s stopping you? What do you think will happen? Is it true that you should know it by now? Were you even taught it? And whether you were or not, what’s the worst-case scenario when it comes to asking? Let your brain go there. Are you willing to experience that situation? And then take your brain to go to the best-case scenario. Because that is equally as possible. And chances are, it will probably be somewhere in between. Are you willing to feel uncomfortable to move forward?

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 A True Beginner

Alright, so the last category that we’ll talk about today is when you truly are a beginner. When you are learning a new skill or trying something new and your brain really wants to be good right away. But here’s the truth. If you want to be really good at something, you have to allow yourself to be really bad at it first.

And I notice our brains wanting to resist being a true beginner because of either A, perfectionist thoughts. We want to be perfect at the thing the first time we do it. B Fear of failure, meaning we might do something, put ourselves out there, and it might not go as expected. And our brain wants to avoid that because it might feel embarrassed or disappointed. Or C, Doing something really challenging and having it be hard. Having it test you. Having it push you to your limits.

And at the root of all of these, is generally some sense of not being good enough or a fear of judgment from other people or yourself. Maybe your brain offers thoughts like, I have to be good at this. It needs to be perfect. I might fail, and then other people will think I’m not good enough. It might be too hard, and I won’t be able to do it. So then I’ll feel embarrassed or disappointed.

I notice this often with my clients who are entrepreneurs or launching business ideas or side hustles. And I also notice it with clients going for job promotions or presenting new ideas or concepts at work. It’s often when we want to put ourselves out there, and try something new that we’re excited about but haven’t done before. And other people might see us be bad.

For example, when I first started thinking about my group coaching program that’s launching in January – which I’m calling We’re Busy Being Awesome – by the way. My sister suggested that name, and I love it. Shout out to Megen. But when I first started forming these ideas and the initial planning for the program in May and June of this year, I had a lot of those same thoughts about being a beginner and fear of failure.

My brain wanted to offer all the drama about not knowing how to reach the people and sign them up. It wanted to FREAK OUT about the marketing. It kept thinking, I don’t know how. I don’t know what to do. It’s so much easier to just stick with what’s working. Why change anything? Let’s just do what’s safe and familiar. And this is all the toddler brain throwing a fit because I’m asking it to do something new.

And I offer this more recent example as a reminder that we all do it. All of our brains. I’m in it right alongside you. Nothing has gone wrong when it happens. The important thing is learning how to notice when it’s happening more quickly. The important thing is learning how to say to your brain, “oh I see what you’re doing there. This is just those fear thoughts that you love to offer me to try and keep me safe. Thank you. I appreciate it. But we’re good here. We’re going to move forward. I know it’s going to be amazing, so thanks. We’re all set.”

And pulling from the wisdom of Liz Gilbert, I allow fear to be there, but I make sure she sits in the backseat. She can come along for the ride, but she has no say in where we’re going nor does she have say in the radio station. If she Mumbles a little bit in the back every once in a while, that’s fine. We can deal. But she’s not leading the conversation on the journey.

Because when we let those fear thoughts take control, they can really hold us back from living the lives that we want to live. They keep us from stepping into the person we want to be. Because if we are afraid of not doing it well – if we’re afraid of failing – we don’t do it. And if we don’t try, that completely halts the possibility of ever moving past a beginner because we don’t try. When we don’t try, we can’t learn and improve.

If we’re afraid we’re going to fail for whatever reason, or we’re worried about what someone else might think of us, we hold back. And since we hold back and don’t try, we may save ourselves from the imagined judgment of others, but we don’t save ourselves from feeling disappointed. And we certainly don’t save ourselves from a failing. Instead, we just fail ahead of time. We fail by not trying. And we probably feel disappointed in ourselves when we think about it. And that’s a tough one.

If you’re going to feel disappointment or discomfort either way – if you’re going to be uncomfortable whether you try or not – why not try? When you try, you have the possibility of succeeding. And in fact, while I may not be a math person, I can tell you the odds of you having success are 100% higher when you actually try.

So again, if you want to be really great at something, you have to be willing to be bad at it first. You have to be a beginner first. When we can approach each area of our lives – whether it’s the first time we’ve done something, we’ve been at it for a while, or it’s old hat, through the lens of a beginner, we open ourselves up to greater growth and expansion and learning along the way. And I don’t know about you, but that’s the life I’m signed up for. And I’d love for you to join me.

All right my friends. That’s going to do it for us this week. And if you know someone who would love learning more about being a beginner, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them?

Also, if you’re ready to take the concepts you’re learning on the podcast to the next level with a community of supportive busy awesome humans just like you, I invite you to check out today’s show notes or head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group, to learn more about We’re Busy Being Awesome, add your name to the interest list, and be the first to know when the doors open to sign up.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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