Embrace the Empty Cup: the Art of Learning Something New

Embrace the Empty Cup

The First Time I Went Skiing

Hi, my name is Robyn, and I’m an Australian living in Canada. Recently, a Zumba student of mine expressed frustration over not picking up new routines quickly enough. This reminded me of my own humbling experience of learning something new: my first time skiing.

I was 21 years old, had never seen snow before, and was visiting Canada to see my Canadian boyfriend (now husband). He took me skiing at Powder King, and I was feeling confident—after all, I was fit, young, and fearless. Surely skiing would be a breeze! However, reality had other plans. As I stumbled and fell on the slopes, my confidence quickly turned to frustration. I found myself midway down a hill, throwing a tantrum—crying, shaking, and pounding my fists into the snow. My boyfriend, bewildered, reminded me that this was my first time skiing and that it was okay to not be great at it right away. Off course I was mad at him for saying this….don’t be logical with me when I am having a tantrum! It took me a while to accept his words, but eventually, I realized he was right. No one is an expert at something new on their first try.

Embrace an Empty Cup - picture of a Beginner learning for Ski the first time

The Empty Cup Approach – How to Embrace the fear of learning a new skill

Years later, I took a Yoga Teacher Training course, where I learned about the “empty cup” mentality. The idea is simple: if your cup is full, there’s no room to add anything new. This concept really resonated with me because, like many others, I sometimes approach new experiences with a full cup—assuming I ‘should’ already know everything. In reality, coming to a new skill with an empty cup encourages you to embrace learning and growth without the pressure of being perfect.

This perspective is something I try to bring into my own dance fitness classes. I often see new students getting frustrated because they can’t flawlessly execute all 13 choreographed routines in a single class. Heck, I have students who are in their 3rd of 4th year of dancing with us who don’t know all the moves all the time – and as an instructor I can struggle to remember them all, let along execute them perfectly. I remind them that learning takes time, practice, and patience. You wouldn’t expect a child learning to use a knife and fork to do it perfectly on the first try, so why do we hold ourselves to such high standards when learning something new? Also, as you learn and increase your confidence, we change up the moves and music, to keep you challenging yourself and growing.

Dance Fitness class in Action - Instructors on stage, students dancing along with them. Embrace the empty cup, fill it with new knowledge and skills

Giving Yourself Time to Improve – Embrace the Process

So here’s my advice: be patient with yourself. Whether you’re skiing, dancing, or learning any other new skill, give yourself time to improve and grow. It’s natural to struggle at first, but remember that everyone starts as a beginner. Approach each new experience with an empty cup, ready to learn and embrace the journey.

In my dance fitness studio, I encourage my students to give themselves at least 3 or 4 classes to get comfortable with the moves and then decide if this is something they are enjoying – don’t make that decision after just one class. Feel the beat, gain confidence come back again next week and try again.. It’s okay to make mistakes and feel a little awkward—it’s all part of the process. The most important thing is to keep trying, stay positive, and be kind to yourself. If you really want to get an idea of what to expect from some of our dance fitness classes, you can learn a couple of dances at home from our YouTube channel.

So, let’s all agree to treat ourselves with the same patience and understanding we would offer a child learning a new skill. After all, the beauty of learning is in the journey, not just the destination.