A typical learning curve has a slow beginning followed by steep acceleration until it eventually evens out into a plateau. Here is an example of what one looks like:
Today I am writing about the slow beginning stage. It is common when I work with clients for them to be hard on themselves and to become discouraged during this stage. I hear comments like: “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “I’m stuck.” “Nothing is happening!” “I’m doing it wrong.” There is a frequent misconception that more information is needed at this time to help figure out how to reach the acceleration phase more quickly. It is also a common time for people to give up.
I am familiar with this pattern personally. It is bemusing how frequently I forget that it is normal to be in the unknown and in unfamiliar territory when learning. My most recent forgetting was related to writing. I have been working on my book and finding it hard and feeling discouraged. I felt overwhelmed trying to make sense of all of the content I wanted to share and by the length of time, it was taking me to put it together. I was struggling, fumbling around in the unknown, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to see more movement and progress.
I would have these times of discouragement and then out of the blue, I would get an idea about how to approach a section, where to add an anecdote, or how to link disparate ideas together. As soon as the idea came in, I would go from feeling completely lost and pessimistic to feeling hopeful and inspired. It was like stepping out from a thick fog into the light of day.
As I was reflecting on how I forget that I am going to come out of the fog, and how I feel like nothing is happening when I am in the fog, I saw that I was completely missing the opportunity of enjoying being in the fog. I was resisting and judging the experience of living in the unknown, the early stage of the learning curve, rather than appreciating what it has to offer.
I realized that the beginning stage isn’t inherently unpleasant or hard. It is my self-judgment and self-criticism that makes that time unpleasant. If I wasn’t evaluating my progress and finding fault with myself, I could enjoy the experience of being a beginner and feel the spaciousness of unlimited potential and possibility that is available during this time.
I remember taking my first surf lesson recently in Costa Rica and experiencing the beautiful warm ocean, the azure sky, and the sound of the surf filling my ears. I loved the experience even though time and time again I wouldn’t be able to stand up. Or I would fall down as soon as I managed to get up. I got a burning rash on my thighs and bruises all over my body. Then there would be the occasional time, for a few brief seconds, where I would stand up and sail across the water. I felt like I was flying. I didn’t care how many times it took me to get there, or how bad a surfer I was. Being a bad beginner didn’t bother me.
If I had spent longer in Costa Rica, perhaps a few years, and stayed on the learning curve of practicing surfing I would have got better, eventually reached the steep acceleration phase and felt some level of competency with surfing. All that was required was staying engaged in the learning process. We are all designed to learn. We can’t help learning the more we do something. Now that doesn’t mean that I would have become the next Rell Sunn, but I would have become a better surfer.
So if learning is a given and all that is required is staying engaged, there is no need for me to be anxious when I am starting something. I don’t need to worry about how long it is going to take or evaluate how much is happening. My whole internal commentary regarding my progress meaning something about my capacity or my value is not necessary. Understanding that progress is simply a natural matter of time plus engagement, I am free to enjoy the experience as it is.
When I was surfing I didn’t have any expectations. I laughed when I fell in the water, except when it hurt. I enjoyed the pleasure of being in the sea independent of what was going on with my surfing skills. As my good friend, Barb Patterson would say, “I had nothing on it.” I can see the opportunity for me with my writing is to let go of preconceived ideas and expectations so I can enjoy the moment. All of the time I spend engaging in the process of writing my book is a valuable part of the learning curve no matter what the quality is of what is produced. I can also enjoy this time.
My gratification does not need to be determined by my output. Pleasure and fulfillment are available in the experience of the present moment. It is in the emptiness of presence that I get filled up with beautiful feelings. When I have expectations and place pressure on myself, I instead get filled up with the feelings of anxiety and insecurity rather than the deeper feelings of my true nature.
I am grateful to be on the learning curve of waking up to my capacity to be with what is without judgment and to allow myself to live life and engage with it rather than constantly thinking about myself and evaluating how I am doing. This is freedom, and it allows me to tap into the true source of success my infinite potential that lies beyond competency and beyond the known. No additional information is needed. Who we are is more than enough!
If you would like to explore engaging with nothing on it and having fun following your inspiration, join Barb Patterson and me for The Engaged Space 30-Day Experiment. It is $79 and starts April 2nd at 12 pm PST. For more information and to join the fun click here.
Rohini Ross is passionate about helping people wake up to their true nature. She is a psychotherapist, a transformative coach, and author of Marriage (The Soul-Centered Series Book 1). She has an international coaching practice helping individuals, couples, and professionals embrace all of who they are so they can experience greater levels of well-being, resiliency, and success. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, watch her Vlogs with her husband, Angus Ross, and subscribe to her weekly blog on her website, rohiniross.com.