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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Say ‘Yes’ to Your Master Mind, ‘No’ to Your Struggling Mind

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Un-Game Principle: To empower yourself to change or design your life, cultivate a beginner’s mind.

OK, so we all have said we’re our own worst enemy. It’s terrific when we see it, isn’t it? We intuitively know we have a choice even if that choice is unclear, or we decide not to exercise it.

Lately I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on this. Not counting my iPad, I just got my first Mac computer. Getting data off my other devices and getting it up and running is a huge learning challenge for me. I find it empowering to observe myself in how I approach learning.

How do you approach learning? Think of a learning challenge. Use your own example, or imagine a new software application your place of work has just purchased. And you need to learn it. Sigh.

 I don’t know about you, but for me any new learning, technical or adaptive (where a change of thinking and behavior are required) used to be hard. My father had been a terrible teacher when I turned to him for help with math in the 5th grade. He assumed, as you can probably tell from this remark…“ What’s the matter with you? I already told you that!”… that saying something once ought to be enough to master it. He understood nothing about how people (little people and big ones) learn. And so I grew up hating not getting something immediately…and putting pressure on myself to be perfect…and to be right…and exercising tight control over what I would and would not find interesting to learn. Not surprisingly I had a math phobia until age 39 when I unpacked the thinking that had my mind be such a struggling mind.

Today I’m a good and relaxed learner. I was fortunate enough to have a few master mentors who taught me, among other things, important distinctions about learning itself. It took the pressure off me. I could breathe. I could think and process.

When something is distinct it is clear. When it’s clear, you are at a point of empowerment. So here are the distinctions I learned from my coach, Fernando Flores, years ago. Of course first I learned that my parental learning model was woefully inadequate. (Yes, you guessed it. My mother wasn’t a paragon of understanding and respectful patience either).

Here are the distinctions. There are levels of learning, and they can be identified. Once identified, we can, for example, use them to guide gentler expectations of ourselves.

  1. Bull in the china shop: This learner is clueless as to the effects of his or her behavior on the learning process. (She doesn’t know she’s her own worst enemy. There’s no awareness of the inner self at all. The bull in the china shop just acts). At this level no learning takes place.
  2. Jerk: The jerk knows how he affects others when he engages in hurtful behaviors, but he does it anyway. He knows he’s in his own way as to learning anything. But he either doesn’t care or thinks he is static. “That’s just the way I am/it is. I can’t learn computers.” you might hear him say. At this level no learning takes place.
  3. Beginner: The beginner’s mind is open, receptive, and curious. It has no negative stories to tell, hang on to, or defend. This is how you see children learn before adults ruin their learning environment by neither making it safe nor challenging. The beginner’s mind sees nothing but adventure. It’s ok if it’s hard. It has patience and plenty of experience of success and satisfaction. Trial and error is a fabulous process to the beginner’s mind. Haven’t you noticed that toddlers learning to walk have nothing going on about falling down? This is the first level at which learning takes place.
  4. Minimally Competent: At this level, beginners can perform certain functions provided they follow an exact procedure. However, if the task cannot be completed step by step, or an unknown shows up (What if a new window in that new software pops up and you haven’t learned how to close it?), the minimally competent person will be unable to handle it.
  5. Competent: At this level the learner can navigate through the new software and can even avert or handle most common breakdowns. If you think of learning to drive a car, this is the level where you stop thinking about every move you must make. Your body has a muscle memory now of the basics that need to be done and you don’t have to think about it. This is the third level of learning.
  6. Virtuoso: At this level the learner is not only competent but can explore the heretofore unknown. They can make suggestions to improve upon processes. Or they can try things no one has told them about the system in which they have become competent. They can break the rules and still get themselves back on track. This is the fourth level of learning.
  7. Master: The master is unconsciously competent and much more than that. He can invent inside his own performance and come up with something completely new. Breakdowns can be turned into breakthroughs without conscious thought. I think of Steven Colbert or John Stewart who are masterful at turning their flub into yet another moment of hilarity. This is the fifth level of learning.

As a coach I see my mission as creating the kind of learning environment in which clients feel safe to learn what they most long for, namely to become who they really are so they can make their unique and greatest contribution to a world that hungers for it. It’s the coach’s sacred task to create a space of safety as well as challenge in their client partner’s journey to exquisite self-awareness and observation. The coach must help him or her learn to get out of their own way. In short, the coach helps the courageous human being in front of them or on the other end of the telephone move from their struggling mind to a place of ease—a place where they embrace their hidden beginner’s mind where there are obstacles but no struggles, only hard honest work and lessons to be learned, sometimes not eagerly but always willing.

I’m doing this right now with my mother, who as a computer novice at almost 95 is as hard on herself as a learner as she once was with me when she tried to teach me to bake. She wants to move from beginner to mastery in three lessons. Ever so slowly she’s beginning to trust that the world won’t come to an end if she allows herself to be a beginner where there’s no such thing as failure.

Interestingly enough, the beginner’s mind is where the masters hang out a lot. Come to think of it, that’s how they got to be masters in the first place. What distinguishes the master mind from the struggling mind is the ability to say ‘yes’ to the learning, whatever the lesson may be. The master mind is the beginner’s mind with lots of practice and more yet to come.

After a rocky start, as my mother is cautiously tiptoeing to the joys of her beginner’s mind, it’s beautiful to behold her almost-undefended mind. What a powerful act it is to say ‘yes’ to your master mind. What a privilege it is to be a witness of the unfolding process.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.