I had a discussion with a client a while ago about how difficult it was for her to tolerate not knowing a subject and staying with learning until she knew enough to feel confident. Many of you have this experience with becoming a “normal” eater, wanting immediately to feel competent, smart and secure without going through the process that will produce these feelings. Remember, all any of us can do is start at the beginning.
Many people feel mild anxiety learning something new, whereas some people become wildly anxious. What a shame, because how do you suppose anxiety affects learning? Do you think it helps or hinders it? Hopefully, you recognize that anxiety gets in the way of learning. Our minds do best focusing on one track at a time. Say, you’re a new volunteer at your local library and are being taught the filing and book check-out system. That’s a lot to take in, and keeping your mind clear and relaxed will make it easier to grasp all that’s being taught. However, if you’re also worried about how well you’re doing and what the person teaching you thinks of your questions and mistakes, you’re going to have less brain area open to acquiring new material. Consequently, you’re going to absorb less information because your mind is running on two tracks at once.
Think of how you learned as a young child. Because you were curious about the world and eager to participate in it, it didn’t cross your mind that you were acquiring new skills or information. Even when you made mistakes, you enjoyed learning because it led to competence and made you feel grown up. There was no separation between play and learning—riding a bicycle, tying your shoes, memorizing the alphabet, mixing paints, doing puzzles. All the while you were learning, you thought you were playing.
As adults, we often consider learning work. Too bad. Worse, we believe we should know everything when we start out rather than recognize that this is precisely what learning is all about—going from knowing nothing to gaining a bit more knowledge to achieving mastery. Bulletin: You’re not supposed to know everything when you start out learning. No one does, whether they act as if they do (this happens a lot) or not. Yes, some people have more aptitude than others for certain subjects and learn more quickly. But, remember, there was always a point when all of us knew nothing.
It’s time to relax about learning how to eat “normally.” It’s fine that you’re moving slowly and acquiring skills gradually. Ignore your feelings of incompetence and insecurity. They will only gum up the learning works. Relax, practice, be patient, and you will get there.