Change to a learner's mindset

Be happier, make progress faster and generally be a nicer person by making just one incredibly simple mindset change as you set out on your photography journey.

We all know the whiny, negative person. The one who says,

“I can’t do this.”

“Everyone else is better than me.”

“I just can’t find the time.”

No matter how reassuring you are, how often you say, “Yes you can!”, or “You’re just as good as anyone else!” - it doesn’t make a difference. The negative person almost wants to fail before they start. They look for any reason not to succeed, usually so they don’t have to put in the hard work.

Do you see a bit of yourself in that negative person description? Even a tiny bit?

The learner’s mindset

Adopting a learner’s mindset is not a new idea, but I was listening to Chase Jarvis interview Tom Bilyeu recently (details at the end) and Tom set out a very simple, actual practical thing you can do today (not just a vague plea to “be more learner”). The whole interview is an hour and a half long, and well worth a listen. At about 56 minutes in, Tom describes what to do if your default reaction to anything challenging (or boring) is, “I’m not good at this.” (assuming you do actually want to get good at this, eg. you want to master your camera).

At the end of this post I’ve set out 3 things to do today that are specific to your A Year With My Camera journey, drawing from Tom’s broader ideas.

Tom says,

“Humans are the ultimate adaptation machine. The reason we are the apex predator is not because we have fantastic claws or strength or speed, it’s because we adapt better than other people.

Darwin is often misquoted as saying, ‘It’s the strongest of the species that survives.’ He actually didn’t say that. What he said was, ‘It’s neither the strongest of the species nor the most intelligent that survives, but rather the most adaptive to change.’

Humans are insanely good at adapting to their environment, whether that’s being in the Sahara, or the Artic: humans can learn to thrive anywhere.

And not just physically, but mentally. They can mentally adapt to their environment, learn new skills, pursue new things and learn to value different things. It’s really pretty extraordinary how malleable a human belief system is; their values, the narrative that they tell themselves. And then physiologically the way that the brain responds to thought is almost a little terrifying.

Norman Doidge wrote a book called The Brain That Heals Itself*, and in the book he talked about just how thinking, you can literally rewire the brain. It’s pretty crazy, and if you’ve ever seen videos of it, it’s nuts. You can see the dendrites pulling apart… they search… and then they find the next connection that’s being used more often. They connect. And then you have what’s called myelination where fatty tissue wraps around connection points that are used a lot to make sure that the electrical impulses can travel faster. So then it actually becomes easier to think thoughts that you think a lot.

Which is why if you do something repetitively it becomes easier. Or if you do something a lot you can go into the “default mode” which is where you find, ‘I just drove to work and I literally don’t remember it’ - that’s the default network. You’ve just done it so many times that you don’t need to give the cognitive energy to it, it’s just going to happen automatically.

And so what you want to do is get good behaviours, good beliefs, empowering thoughts to be wired efficiently so the brain will default to them rapidly.

So for instance, I don’t know that you can actually get rid of the negative voice in your head. I certainly still have mine. But what I’ve found is that you can really wire it to be a habit loop trigger into an empowering thought.

So you go, “I’m not good at this… yet.”

And so the sense of, “I’m not good enough” actually is the very thing that triggers the thought, “YET. Oh yes, that’s right I have the identity of a learner. I don’t value being good at something, I value the pursuit of greatness. So I’m going to go pursue that, and oh yes, because I value that I actually feel good about myself going after it. I don’t feel badly about myself. I don’t have any damage to my self esteem when I fumble and I’m super awkward - none of that hurts myself esteem because what I value in myself, the very thing that I build my self esteem around, is the pursuit. It’s the willingness to accept I’m not good at it - yet - to remember that I’m a learner, that humans are the ultimate adaptation machine. So if I apply myself to this, I do it over and over and over, my brain *will* myelinate, the new connections *will* be made, this *will* grow easier over time. And if I push myself and I practice and I fight through boredom and I *really* go after mastery, then I can become the best.

But it all comes down to; am I willing to put in that work? Because most people aren’t.”

*this isn’t quite right - Doidge wrote a few books and Tom might mean either The Brain That Changes Itself, or The Brain’s Way Of Healing, both by Doidge

Applying this to AYWMC

1. Add the yet

When you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this” or “I’m no good”, immediately force yourself to think:

“I can’t do this… yet.”

“I’m no good at this… yet.”

2. Enjoy the journey

Then remind yourself that of course you can’t do it yet - that’s why you signed up for the course. Reframe your values from “I value being the best at this”, to “I value the journey” (or “the pursuit of greatness” as Tom phrases it).

3. It’s your journey

If you find yourself comparing your shots to someone else’s, immediately remind yourself that their journey is nothing at all to do with yours. If you choose to take inspiration from someone else’s photos, that’s fine. But if you find yourself looking with envy or negative thoughts, then that isn’t going to help your own progress. So simply say to yourself, “Their journey has brought them to this image. My journey is my own, and is taking me to my next shot, whatever it is.”

This self-talk technique really works. Whenever I find myself becoming a bit anxious because I don’t know how something is going to turn out I say to myself, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s what makes it fun.” After a day or two of simply saying that one sentence, I actually believe it and my anxiety drops off.


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A Year With My Camera is my beginner’s photography workshop. It is very non-competitive, and you focus on your own journey with your camera, whereever that might take you. Start by getting off auto mode, and then enjoy exploring your creativity.

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I was listening to The Chase Jarvis Live podcast number 137, with Tom Bilyeu.

Header image Etty Fidele, with permission.

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