If you’re like me, you’ve had issues that range from fear of failure to fixed mindedness (yep, those are things that I will probably repeat on numerous occasions until the end of time…or at least until I rid myself of them; apologies in advance). I find that those issues fall under the broad banner of “being an anxiety-ridden squirrel”. If you’re wondering: yes, that is in fact the official term for it. If you feel that you can identify with being an anxious squirrel, then you’ve come to the right place!
Stage 1: Throw yourself into the experience with no expectation.
Know that your brain is working in the background. Every experience you subject it to is automatically uploaded into to your brain’s database. It’s learning, at the surface level, on its own. The key is to fully experience the activity without any expectations. Just get a feel of it.
Example: Lets choose a fun activity that I’m horrible at: playing pool. From this point on, pretend you’re in my shoes. I’ll lead you through the scene: Let’s assume you’re a complete beginner who is aware of the rules. At first, you would just try and see if you can hit the ball. Your stance is probably off. Maybe you helped put some of your opponent’s balls in instead of your own. And you probably pot the cue ball a few times as well. That’s okay. No biggie, because, like I said: you’re a beginner. And right now, you don’t even care. You’re just in it to have fun.
Stage 2: Now explore. Give your brain direction, question everything, and experiment.
This is the second phase where you now start exploring. You’ve gotten the feel of the experience/activity and now you’re going to play around with it. You’re going to give yourself some direction on where you might want to go, what you might want to see and what you might want to do. Then, you’re going to head off in that direction. Just to see where you end up.
Example (continued): you hit the cue ball. Although your brain notices where it’s going, sometimes you might need to consciously focus on where its going. Sometimes you’ll also need to ask yourself questions like, “If I hit the ball from this angle, where does it end up? How does it behave?” Or other times, you have to look at your goal first and then observe how you take your shot to see if it goes where you intended. If yes, you now know this is how you will do a similar shot in the future. If not, next time, you will just adjust the angle and observe the new results.
Stage 3: Focus on ONE thing to improve on
This is the third stage and this is where you work towards getting something deeply ingrained in your brain. First, let’s recap. You’ve gotten the feel for the activity/experience. You’ve also explored it a bit on your own and played around with it. Now you know enough to decide on what you want to focus on.
Make sure to focus on only ONE thing you want to improve. It’s important that you choose only one, because otherwise you won’t be focusing, you’ll be juggling. Which will impact your learning and increase your anxiety.
However, even though you’re going in with one focus, you will still need to throw yourself into the whole activity and participate in every aspect. This allows your brain to continue accumulating knowledge that:
- helps nestle your focus into a bigger context. In other words, it will help you create connections in your mind. The more you connect new information, even if it’s to other new information, the more successful you will be at later retrieving it.
- will place you further ahead for your next skill acquisition. Because you allowed your brain to continue learning in the background, when you attempt to learn the next aspect of the experience, you will now have more knowledge than you did when you were mastering the first aspect.
Once you feel you’ve got the hang of aspect 1, go ahead and pick your next focus (or go back to experimenting and playing around with things before you decide on what to concentrate on next).
Example (continuted): you’ve explored different ways of hitting the ball and different ways to get your target in. Now you realize that you’re having some trouble making a far shot into one of the corner pockets. That bothers you, but you think you can do it with some practice. So now, every time you play the game and come across that particular situation, you make sure to focus your attention fully on making that shot through experimenting and observing. You look at the pocket, trail your eyes back to your ball, then to your cue ball, mentally tracing the line. Ask yourself, “If I hit it like this, will it go in?” Sounds a bit silly, but it will prime your brain to pay attention. If you hit the ball and it doesn’t go in, ask yourself, “Why not? Was it too much to the right? Too much to the left? Not enough force?” Consider it. Reflect. Later, when you’re placed in the same (or similar) situation, remember your observations and attempt it differently. Keep repeating until you feel you’ve mastered the shot.
Another Example for the Road:
Studying New Material
- Read the chapter as if you’re reading a novel.
- Go back and figure out what you want to look into a bit more
- Focus on one part you think you don’t have a clear idea of.
Disclaimer: The above may not be the fastest method (the testing/practice method is), but it’s a lot more fun way of approaching studying. Though, I have to admit, the testing method can be fun too, if you’re someone who is more likely to notice progress than failure or can train yourself to do so. I digress.
The 3 Step Process to Relaxed Skill Acquisiton for Anxiety-Prone Squirrels:
1. Have fun.
Hope this process helps you as much as it’s helped me! Or at the very least, sparked some ideas about how to tackle your next challenge.
If you know of another way of handling ‘skill acquisition’ (or rather, learning anything new that makes you feel out of your element), feel free to share it in the comments!