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December 7th, 2018

It’s a delicious farce to think that we can take on a new project and dive into it so fast, so immersively and completely that we nearly instantly start harvesting the fruits of our progress.


Such a hopeful concept is derived from the excitement we have thinking about the end result - the shiny treasure at the end of the cave of wonders, the anticipatory joy that happens with turning the first page of the next chapter.



But what if that next chapter is written in a different language?  What if it requires muscles we have never really used?  What if it’s best read with a totally different kind of logic and sense-making?


Such an immediate stagnation in progress can be demoralizing, and the juxtaposition to that initial excitement can often completely cancel out the emotional desire to continue on with the project.


How many people spend 5 minutes trying something new and then throw their hands up and say “I suck at this” ?



Almost everyone is guilty of this with something.  And it can benefit us immensely if we take the time to think of such defeat and fit it into our understanding of other endeavors where we ended up investing a lot of time to gain proficiency. By comparing the two, we can ask what the difference was, and where was the similarity?


We find ourselves in the territory of beginner’s luck here.  Few have not had the experience of trying something for the first time and achieving some immediate small success.  Such an event is delightfully surprising, almost instantly intoxicating and there is no one who can resist trying to build on that success.


Beginner’s luck, however, is probably an illusion.  Even if the immediate success is real.  The illusion comes from the idea that someone can be good at something with absolutely no preparation.  This is impossible, otherwise there would be some tiny percentage of newborns who immediately demonstrate skills that only come later in life.  All skill or ability is aggregated and compounded from previous experience.  In order for an infant to demonstrate language at an impressively early age, it is still necessary for that infant to actually hear the language.  So when beginner’s luck seems to suddenly manifest, we can be suspicious of it and ask what previously well-oiled tasks and abilities might combine to create sudden fluency in a seemingly new endeavor?   The most obvious example here is how athletes who specialize in one sport can perform better than the average population in other sports.  They have already gained great proficiency in tasks that require similar abilities.


Turning back to the event when after five minutes of effort we experience no success and no beginner’s luck and we are tempted to throw up our hands and give up.


Such an experience is actually quite an opportunity.  It represents an area where a lot of potential growth may occur because it is so different from what we are already good at.  Such a stretch is perhaps the best thing that we can do for the brain because it requires resources that seem to benefit the brain as a whole.  Research seems to indicate that continual learning throughout life shields the brain from cognitive decline to a degree.  There is also another opportunity in this situation.  One relating to our emotions and how we interpret and manage them.  While the emotion associated with wanting to give up is really unpleasant, knowing how to work through that emotion, by putting it to the side and remaining focused is in incredibly important skill, one that very few people have beginner’s luck with.


Something Babe Ruth once said gets to the heart of this matter “You cannot beat a person who will not give up.” 


If we have the ability to forge beyond our initial emotional reaction with any task, we will accomplish that task, because beyond that emotional reaction is a more intense focus, a greater purity of attention, and it is there in that place where the missing connection between parts that we study become luminous.


Building beginner’s luck is not so much a task of gaining some ability as it is changing our relationship to emotions that form roadblocks to our progress and motivation.


The entry fee to progress in any endeavor is really an emotional test, after that, success is a function of time, consistent effort, and attention.

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