Documenting my life

Month: January 2022

The advantages of being a beginner – Beginner’s mindset

Sometimes we will not try something new because we are afraid we will be bad at it. We don’t want to be uncomfortable and make mistakes, so we avoid that new activity altogether.

In this post, I will explore why being a beginner is a good thing, how it can improve your life and why having a beginner’s mindset is a critical aspect in learning new things and making progress in any area, based on my experience.

You learn to learn

If you left school and you haven’t had a chance to learn and try something new in a while, chances are your learning muscle could need some training. Learning new things is interesting and fun, but also requires concentration and focus. It can get tiring, but always remember that the more you practice the easier something becomes

I have been following a course recently and I noticed how learning and studying requires a different type of effort than other types of work. We discussed this with some friends and we all agreed we felt like we’d worked out our brains in a very specific way

You get comfortable with mistakes

  • As a beginner you will make mistakes, it’s natural and almost impossible not to. You will realize that it’s something that happens to everyone. Most importantly, that it’s not the end of the world. You will learn how to deal with making mistakes and fixing things. And you will learn how to prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future. All of this can be applied in other areas of your life, which require accountability and trust.
  • Over the years I developed different strategies and I use different tools to make sure I minimize mistakes and, if/when they happen, that I take accountability and do not repeat the same mistake in the future

You get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Nobody likes making mistakes or progressing slowly. It’s uncomfortable. But it will happen anyway. And the more you feel uncomfortable, the easier it gets, to sit in that feeling and sensation. You might be able to try new things and risk being uncomfortable in other areas, since you are familiar with novelty and trying scary things. This will also be helpful when setting boundaries, for example, if you are not used to doing so

You become more confident

You will see and be able to measure your progress from one session to the next. Improvement will make you feel proud and satisfied with yourself. This will boost your self-confidence and your ability to trust yourself and your strengths

I still remember specific moments from the past, when I managed to do something I wasn’t able to do before. It is nice to know that practice and focus make a huge difference

You strengthen your growth mindset

By seeing improvements, you will prove to yourself that you can learn something new and that talent is not always a gift, but comes with practice and dedication. Seeing yourself improve in a new activity shows that similar results can be achieved even if you are not, at the moment, good or if you were not “born for it”

You ask why

When you cover the basics, it is easier to learn and memorize if you are curious about the reasons behind the plain facts or steps. Asking “why?”, being curious and digging deeper are all great characteristics that you want to develop and train as much as possible, and being a beginner encourages this

The beginner’s mindset – You question the status quo and think of different approaches

With being curious and getting to the root of things, you might find yourself wondering if this is the best way to do something. Experts in the field will be able to explain to you why an idea will not work. Or, they might encourage you to try and test your assumption.

The ability to see things from a fresh perspective can bring new ideas and sometimes also lead to a new approach being adopted. On the other hand, experts could tend to stick to what they are familiar with and used to. For this reason , they might find more resistance – take advantage of your beginner’s mindset to innovate, if possible

You find new connections

On top of coming up with new approaches for one specific topic, you will find new connections with the other things in your life, often completely unrelated. Something you learn while starting a new hobby might spark an idea that can help you at work. Or something you discover while in a beginner course you signed up for might be tweaked and adapted to enhance your personal life

Two questions to make hard choices easier

When you have a decision to make, it is not always easy to weigh the pros and cons and know what “the best thing” is.

You sometimes wonder what you are supposed to do and can’t easily figure out which option you should go for.

When I am making a decision and I notice myself being really indecisive, I always go back to these two questions and frameworks, which I learned about years ago. Since they have been useful for me, I simply wanted to share them.

Why do these two questions help?

The questions are open-ended and put a specific spin on the decision-making process, which makes it easier to decide. Very importantly, you will be confident of that choice.

1. What is the the Bigger Life?

The idea is that a bigger life is a happier and more interesting life.

Even just by defining what this means to you, you will have a good perspective on what you should do.

I heard about this on this podcast episode with Gretchen Rubin almost ten years ago and I still use this today.


Let’s say you are considering moving country.

For some, the bigger life is moving, exploring a different place and getting to know it well. Being immersed in a new culture, meeting new friends, learning different ways to do things. Experiencing independence and proving that you can make it even abroad, with no support system close by (until you find yourself a new one). If you move, it will mean a challenge and a breath of fresh air.

On the other side, others might see the bigger life as the one in which they don’t move. They don’t want to miss out on what they have, and leaving their current life would not bring them joy. They would much rather be able to participate in the important moments in friends and family’s lives. Someone wants to be able to just pop by at their sibling’s home for a drink or a cuppa and cake without notice (or a plane to catch). They want to be able to continue volunteering for a cause they are passionate about. Their job is really interesting and fun and they don’t want to look for a new one

There is no right or wrong answer. Your opinion and views might change over time, but this framework has been incredibly helpful. I find I usually have some kind of gut feeling or immediate response as to which option is “the bigger life” and why. I was recently deciding whether to move house. As soon as I used this framework and wrote down my bigger life it was absolutely clear what I should do.

2. Who do you want to be?

This question comes from the TED talk How to make hard choices by Ruth Chang.

Chan points out that hard choices are tough because there is no better option overall and reminds us that small choices can be hard, too.

No option is better than the other:

  • Alternatives are not equally good options or you could flip a coin, but it doesn’t seem right
  • If you improve one of the conditions slightly, that improved option should be better. However, it might not be enough, so it means one is not better than the other

The peculiar thing about making hard decisions is that values can’t be quantified, it’s not as scientific as maths. Chan mentions the concept of “on par”. This is usually the case in hard choices, when there is no objectively better option.

The key driver now becomes our agency.

When options are on par we get to decide where we stand as a person. We define who we are with our choices.

“Here’s where I stand!” This response is not dictated to us, rather it’s supported by reasons created by us

Ruth Chang

Through hard choices we have the power to become the people who we are and want to be – we find reasons within ourselves to prefer one option versus the other.

Personally, I think about this when making big decisions, but I will try and remember to apply it more often to smaller choices too.

Other interesting ideas

  • The fact that small choices can be hard made me think of Chris Hadfield’s book and his realisation that (most of) our everyday choices that shape who we are. I share more details here
  • As James Clear says, every action is a vote to our identity and that is why building habits, even tiny ones, matters.

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How to do a weekly review

One of the tools that helps me the most is a personal weekly review. My friends who also have this habit have also found it beneficial, so I will share what I do and my approach ad mindset around it, which is why it works so well for me.

What is a weekly review?

It is a review done on a weekly basis, where you review your goals, habits, plans for the week that has just ended and set up the following week.

Why is it beneficial?

I think one of the issues with sticking to a goal (or keeping new year’s resolutions) is that we forget about them (and the weekly review helps us keep track).

The other problem is that, if we don’t keep up, we often give up, rather than going deeper and trying to understand why and how we can tweak things to help ourselves. Sometimes small changes are what really makes a difference, and sometimes you have to try different things before you find the right one for you.

How to do a weekly review?

Any way that works for you! I strongly suggest writing it down, so you can reference it back easily. I personally prefer pen and paper – I had switched to a digital note some time back and found it less interesting. However, I think digital notes can work well in the case of habits or routine to-dos, especially if you are using a tool like Notion that allows you to tick things off.

It’s useful to do this every week, I usually on a Sunday afternoon. It generally takes me about 20/30 minutes, but it can also be done in 10 or 15 if you’re in a hurry. It’s definitely better to do a quick review than no review at all – you can always add more details after.

Set up your first planning session

This section is for you if you haven’t done a weekly review recently – or ever!

  • Think of which sections you want to include. This will vary according to your goals or different areas you want to keep track of. For example, sections could be work, finances, social life/relationships, health/fitness, self-care and so on. I personally do not add a specific section for habits, because I put them in their respective categories
  • In the first week, you won’t have anything specific to review from the previous session, but you can think back to how the week went for each category. Think of what you accomplished. Maybe you went to the gym, or you dedicated more time to cook a healthy meal, instead of ordering take-out. Write down anything that comes to mind. Its’ always good to start the weekly review by taking stock of the positives in the week. It doesn’t have to be a task or an activity to tick off a to-do list, of course. You can be proud of setting boundaries with your family or to have gone to bed at 11 pm instead of doom-scrolling Twitter
  • Plan the following week. For each category, what would you like to achieve next week? What habits would you keep up with? Is there a new habit you want to create? As a starting point, it can be helpful to think back to the things you observed in the point above: and identify:
    • things you want to keep doing or do more of
    • what that got in the way
    • what you should do less of

Find the right balance

It’s important to keep these goals realistic and doable. Planning on running a half marathon next week if you never ran 5K will only lead to disappointment and frustration. Skip the wishful thinking and write down challenging things you think can actually do. The keyword is challenging since it generally motivates us to focus on a task and tackle it head-on. On the other hand, ensuring it’s within our reach is key: if a task feels daunting we will likely procrastinate. Make sure to be as specific as you can, since sometimes we doon’t lack motivation, but clarity.

What about future weekly reviews?

Once you have done your first planning session (described above) the following ones will be easier and have more structure.

Split it into two steps: a review of last week and planning for the upcoming week. I go section by section: for example, I will think about the past week at work and plan the work week ahead, and then move to the next section, health & fitness.

Step 1 – Review of last week

Celebrate the successes

  • You already have an idea of what you had planned to do, based on the previous session – that is a great place to start. Go back to your notes from last week and see what you managed to accomplish!
  • Always think of other things (big or small) you are proud of, even if they weren’t in the books. You’ll be surprised at how many remarkable moments there were 🙂
  • If you completed a challenging task, it’s useful to break down how you did it, what steps you took. It could be helpful to look back on in Step 2 of the review or if you find yourself struggling on something similar further down the line.

Get curious

After celebrating the positives, we go into the next part, which is what drives the most benefit for me: looking at what you wanted to get done but didn’t.

The key here is to not be judgemental and critique ourselves for not meeting our plans. The important part is to get genuinely curious and think about why you did not accomplish something.

Ask yourself:

  • is this something I still care about?
  • If yes, why did I not do this?
  • Is it harder than I thought?
  • What exactly went wrong?
  • Do I want to give it another shot?
  • How can I make it easier for myself this time?

It can be useful to think of what advice you would give a friend if they were in this situation.

Example Let’s say you want to maintain your home clean. Maybe you try cleaning up one room every day after work, or doing 10-minute sprints on your work break if you are working from home, or challenging yourself to clean the kitchen in 15 minutes. Another “trick” could be to listen to an audiobook or a podcast while cleaning, or put on some music to have fun improvising a sing-along.

The main idea is to accept that something that “seems right” or works for someone else might not actually work for you – you need to keep asking yourself why and how you can make it easier.

If you see this part of the review as negative and shameful, you will likely not keep doing this exercise. So it’s really important to see it as a challenge, where you figure out what didn’t work and how to try again.

Step 2 – Plan the week ahead

At this point, you should have a solid idea of what you want to work on in the upcoming week. Defining the specific goals for the week is the second step. Based on what I want to improve upon, I will come up with realistic and achievable, but also challenging goals.

Make it simple

Specify any intermediate steps or break down how you plan on doing something in as much detail as I can. Sometimes we find ourselves not making progress simply because we are not sure of what the next step actually is. This will make it seems quite daunting and lead us to be overwhelmed instead of making progress.

Find balance

Do not put too much on your calendar, but having a challenge is motivating. lt turns this into a game and makes it more fun, given that these tasks and projects are linked to goals you care about.

Track habits

I usually add any habits I want to work on (if any) within each section and immediately create a tracker for my desk. I don’t use any app or fancy habit tracker: a piece of paper with boxes to check off is enough. Despite its simplicity, I find that having a visual reminder of the thing I want to do is quite useful. And tracking each time I keep up with the habit is motivating.

I hope you will start doing this if you aren’t already! If you do reviews regularly, what do you do differently?

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Is lack of motivation your problem?

“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action.”

James Clear

In this quote, “action” refers to a well-defined habit or task.

More broadly, I would say that we also procrastinate because we don’t know exactly what we are supposed to do or why we want to do something.

It seems obvious and it is surely nothing new, but I still fell into this trap multiple times. To be honest, I still need to remind myself of this. I had the idea for this post exactly because I was procrastinating – then I realized I didn’t know what specifically I was even supposed to do. No wonder I didn’t want to get into something unclear, it is too uncomfortable!

Questions to get started

If you feel stuck and unmotivated and find yourself postponing something you need to do, ask yourself these questions:

  • What task am I supposed to do? Make it as specific as possible. If you aren’t sure, brain dump any task which can be related/helpful as well. Then figure out which one will help you the most if you do that first.
  • Why is this task important to me? Figure out if you really want or need to do it, by refecting on how you will feel once the task is done and what would happen if you continued procrastinating. Talking to someone you trust can help in this area!
  • What do I need to get started? Do I have all the necessary things ? For example, this might mean notes and slides if the task is work or study related. It will bed documents and receits if you need to file your tax returns.
  • What specifically will I do in the first 5 minutes? What will I work on in the first 25 minutes?
  • How long will this take? If it’s more than an hour, break it down into smaller tasks. If you are not familiar with the Pomodoro technique, you should look into it, it will significantly help with procrastination (I used it consistently during my Master’s and go back to it even now when I need to)
  • How will I measure success? Try to have something measurable and within your control.

Motivation versus clarity in habit-building

Being specific and knowing exactly when and how you are going to do something is especially important if you are trying to form a new habit. James Clear suggests having a set time and place in mind. This means there is no question as to if this is the right moment or not. If you know “Every morning at 8 am I will read 5 pages”, you won’t make any decisions, but simply follow through on your plans.

A month ago I started getting back into running. It’s extremely helpful to know when I am supposed to put on my running shoes and to have a clear plan. I am not giving myself the option of “doing it tomorrow” because I am following a schedule. And I don’t have to bargain with myself on how much I will run, as it has already been decided for me by experts who I trust.


Next time you catch yourself procrastinating and putting something off, remember to get clear on what exactly you have to do, check if you know when and how you will start, and make sure you have everything you need ready – or make that your first task.

If you liked this post, subscribe to the newsletter!
I send out emails with a wrap-up of the latest posts as well as interesting and fun things I came across recently.
There is a “Newsletter” tab in the menu at the top of the page. Thank you!

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