Updated: Feb 18, 2020
When learning a something new, or starting a new project, having a positive mindset is really quite helpful. To feel that learning is fun, and not a chore, or difficult. That’s what you imagine when you think of learning something new, right? But what if you do feel that learning is difficult or frustrating? What if you don’t feel confident? You might think "I'll never be able to do this". You might doubt your capabilities. How can you change your mindset?
One way to do this, is to get to know the voices in your head. Yes, we all have voices in our heads. We can call them voices, attitudes, archetypes or characters. We all have them. Let’s look at 3 characters that can play a significant role when it comes to influencing your attitudes to learning or doing something new.
The Judge is one of the big characters in many of our heads. The Judge is always comparing. We are either ‘worse than’ or ‘better than’, or something we do is ‘worse than’ or ‘better than’. And it compares us to a standard that we have set up in our imagination.
If our own Judge tells us we’re ‘worse than’, the Judge can tell us that we are not good enough, that what we have done doesn’t measure up. We can end up being very harsh on ourselves for not understanding something, or not being able to do something. The Judge tells us that we ‘should know better’, or ‘be better by now’. And this can be quite demoralising. It may also compare us to people who have been doing what we are trying to learn for a long time. Which is quite an unfair comparison.
If our Judge tells us we’re ‘better than’, the Judge can inflate our ego and tell us that actually we are really quite good, when in fact we may need to work on a few things. Which can lead to for example taking a course that is too high for your level. Or not pay attention when someone gives you feedback that you need to practice more. We may throw things together, publish things that are not completed or ready, we may be arrogant in the way we approach others.
How to deal with the Judge
Practice acceptance and try to avoid words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as much as you can. This is difficult in some areas (language learning, or maths, for example), because of course some things are right and wrong. Like conjugating verbs in a certain way.
But you can still make small shifts in your attitude and how you react. Instead of saying to yourself ‘My god I am so stupid, I cannot believe I made that mistake AGAIN!’, say to yourself ‘That’s interesting’ and see if you can feel a little grateful for realising something you need to practice more. You may have used a verb incorrectly, but that does not mean that you are ‘worse than’ anyone else. It has nothing to do with your self-worth. Accept where you are right now. And be grateful that you are able to engage in learning at all. If you can read these words and you understand the meaning, then you have a mastery over language, the gift of sight and a healthy mind that can grow and allows you to function in this world. This is something not everybody is able to do.
The Victim often goes hand in hand with the Judge. The Victim is the one side of your personality that receives that judgment from the Judge and agrees with it. It's like you have one voice talking in your head that says: “I did not remember this,” - but what is implied is “I should have remembered it”, and the Victim goes: “Yes, I didn’t remember it, I failed,” - that is the agreement that the Victim makes.
The Victim attitude is basically hopelessness, powerlessness. The Victim is also characterised by a lot of blame. But one of the primary emotions that you will find with victimhood is fear. It's the fear of not knowing, not being in control, not being safe.
A victim attitude may lead you to be fearful, and try to avoid the feeling of not knowing, and not being in control. Of course whenever you are learning something new, it’s impossible to avoid a feeling of not knowing. It comes as a part of the parcel. But the victim attitude, or the victim character, may feel really, really uncomfortable in this situation. It may trigger emotions of memories from our schooling years, when we felt out of control, when we didn’t know something. Maybe someone even called us stupid. And other characters may rush in to help to protect the Victim, which I will talk more about below.
How to deal with the Victim
Ultimately, there is a sense here of lack of control. A feeling that other things, other people, other events, can control you and how you feel. Whereas actually, you create your own happiness (or anxiety). It sounds like a cliché, but one person might look out the window and say ‘it’s raining, it’s making me depressed’. Whereas another person may say ‘it’s raining, it’s making me feel so happy’. Yet, the rain isn’t doing anything to control us. It’s just weather. There are many mindfulness techniques where you can explore how to actually create your own emotional states from within. And realising that you are in control yourself, helps to dampen the Victim character.
This character can have a couple of different forms. It can be in the shape of a Rebel (‘don’t tell me what to do’). It can also be in the shape of a Saboteur. And this side of the Villain has a tendency to sabotage our own well-being. The Saboteur character can be prepared to throw a whole relationship away, just because of a minor incident. But it can also damage and destroy by neglect. It can talk us into not doing things we need to do, so we procrastinate, let things slip.
The Saboteur is the character that most often rears its head in learning processes. Procrastinating, postponing, not keep up a study routine, not doing our homework. Until it tells us ‘there is no point in continuing’. And then perhaps the Judge in our head tells us that we have failed, and the Victim agrees. And so we stop learning all together. So you can see how these three characters work together and collude, and they can really make our learning journey difficult.
How to deal with the Villain
By dealing with the Judge and the Victim, the likelihood that we feel the need to ‘release’ the Villain decreases. As simple as that.
But just being aware of these voices in our heads can make a big difference. And the goal is not to eradicate them. Just simply observe them, from a distance, and don’t necessarily believe what they say.
van Warmerdam, G (2014). MindWorks: A Practical Guide for Changing Thoughts Beliefs, and Emotional Reactions