Starting something from scratch holds so much potential – for growth, enjoyment, exploration… and nerves. But don’t let a fear of failure put a stop to your love of learning
Whether learning a language or penning poetry, there are lots of opportunities to develop fresh skills. But alongside the excitement of starting something new can come anxiety about whether we’ll be good enough. With so many benefits to exploring unknown talents and broadening our knowledge, the question is: what can we do to feel more confident about learning a skill or hobby, and embrace being a beginner?
The benefits of learning
I’ve always loved singing. Growing up, I was told I was bad at it, though I still happily sang along to my favourite songs. My passion continued to adulthood, and I used to sing in the shower or when cooking. I then faced a period of mental ill-health, and my confidence dropped. Along with finding things harder with work and socialising, I stopped my musical hobby. Recently, as I’ve continued to recover and rediscover myself, I wanted to find my voice again.
A few months ago, I found myself sitting in front of my laptop for one-to-one singing lessons. All day, my mind had been full of conflicting thoughts. Part of me was really looking forward to the lesson, but I was also nervous and full of self-doubt. Could I really learn this? What if I was a hopeless cause? Would I just embarrass myself?
Learning something new can be scary, but also so worthwhile. To find out more, I spoke to Kirsty Taylor, a psychotherapist and counsellor who has experience in coaching.
“Learning a new skill or starting a new hobby are great ways to improve both our wellbeing and mental health,” Kirsty tells me. “Learning new things can keep our mind engaged and our body active. It can also boost your self-confidence, and increase your self-esteem as you interact with other people, master something new, and do something out of your comfort zone.”
Our brains benefit too, as learning can improve our brain health and memory.
“A new hobby can increase your sense of purpose, reduce stress, and give you the confidence to overcome challenges,” Kirsty adds. “In short, there are only good things that come out of learning new skills, and taking up new hobbies!”
I felt some of these benefits straight away, leaving my first lesson with a sense of achievement. I’d talked about having singing lessons for years, and now I was proud of myself for finally giving it a go.
"The point of new hobbies is to try something different. It’s about having fun, and embracing the process of learning"
Letting go of perfectionism
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn to paint, but memories of being told you’re not good during art class at school are holding you back. “It’s important not to let this dictate how your new learning experience goes,” advises Kirsty.
“The only person’s opinion that matters is your own,” she explains. “Perhaps you didn’t do well at something because you were young, because you had other pressures at the time, because you have strengths in other areas. The key thing is to remember you are doing this for your own growth and enjoyment. Who cares if you aren’t any good at it? The point of new hobbies is to try something different. And who knows, you might be fantastic at it this time around. It’s about having fun, and embracing the process of learning.”
For some of us, our perfectionist tendencies can make it harder to learn something new. Kirsty explains that deep in our brains, we have a primeval fear of not achieving, making it natural to worry about not excelling at a new activity. It’s therefore important that we go in with the right mindset.
“If you go in wanting to excel at something, it is likely you will put a lot of pressure on yourself to be the best,” says Kirsty. “Instead, try to think about learning a new skill as something fun. You’ll probably make mistakes in the early stages, and learn from those.”
Throughout learning to sing, I’ve found being open to the process has made it more enjoyable. I want to do well, but I’m not pressuring myself to be immediately amazing.
Building your confidence
So what can we do to feel more confident about starting a hobby? “Remember that enjoyment, pleasure, and achievement will replace anxiety as you settle into your new hobby or learning experience,” says Kirsty.
Tracking our progress can also be helpful. I started a journal that I write in after each singing lesson. I record both practical elements (“Sang the first verse and chorus of ‘China’ by Tori Amos”) and how I felt (“Half an hour goes by quickly! I was disappointed it was over. Roll on next Wednesday”).
Looking back through this journal now, I can trace the progress I’m making, and reflect on my growing confidence. The nerves I talked about in the earlier sessions faded, and soon I started really looking forward to my singing lessons.
My teacher is great at highlighting the ways my singing has improved, and encouraging me to keep going. If you’re learning something new, getting feedback from someone you trust can really help.
As adults, it’s all too easy to forget the joy and satisfaction that can come with learning.
“The beauty of being a beginner is that the anxiety and vulnerability you might experience allows you to grow in resilience, strength, and skill,” says Kirsty. “We have always had to be a beginner in everything we do. Think of all the things you couldn’t do at one time in your life and that you can now. Embrace the challenge!”
Knowing how I’ve improved, my ambition is to sing at an open mic night. Having that target in mind helps motivate me to keep practising. It’s also left me feeling encouraged to learn other skills. Maybe, after being hopeless at languages at school, I am actually capable of learning Italian as an adult? Learning something new is nerve-racking, but I’m feeling more able to enjoy the process.
After years of being told I can’t sing, to hear myself hitting the right notes in a melody is a fantastic feeling. It’s been wonderful to dedicate time to something I enjoy, something that’s for fun – and has me singing around the house again.
To connect with a counsellor like Kirsty to discuss confidence, and how being a beginner can improve your wellbeing, visit counselling-directory.org.uk