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Learning new things

An underlying assumption in my work is that people are resourceful, we know how to do more things than we believe we can. Take losing weight for example, stopping arguments in a relationship, or being more cheerful (these are just examples from the list of common complaints that people seek help with).

Obviously, we are all able to do these things. The problem isn’t that we can’t, it’s that we don’t know how to make it happen on demand, and stick at it. Helping people change is more often about helping them connect with something they already know how to do, rather than actually learning something new.

This is how it is with mindfulness. We all know how to reach a state where our attention is highly focused, where only the present moment exists, and when cares and distractions are momentarily on hold. Any time you are absorbed in something to the exclusion of everything else, then you are using a faculty that mindfulness seeks to achieve. This is something we can all do.

Most people don’t believe that they can though, until they have it demonstrated to them. You can do this for yourself (demonstrate it, that is), by simply noticing those moments when you become absorbed in something and exclude what’s going on around you.

The point is, rather than struggling to learn something new, look for what you already know how to do and build on that. I’ve used the example of mindfulness because it’s is something we can all manage. It occurs naturally for short spells (think of daydreaming for example), whenever you are doing something that engages all your attention. It may not be the pure form that gurus and trainers like to talk about (how could they justify an eight week course to teach you something you already know how to do?), but it uses the same mechanisms and, if you do enough of it, it has the same benefits.

The method of starting with what little you already know of a new subject was used by Michel Thomas to help people learn languages, and it’s a corner-stone of many forms of brief therapy. I’ve chosen mindfulness as an example because it is a good example of something that happens naturally and which is available to everyone.

Whenever you want to tackle something new, start by condisidering what you already know how to do, and build on that.

 

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