First thing first, start shooting in manual
Now that the digital age is here and we have the luxury of shooting (and previewing) multiple exposures without a loss of funds, there is no reason preventing anyone from learning to shoot in manual mode. So when I purchase my first dSLR I made it a point to get off the program carousel and learn to shoot like the pros -- in manual.
As a beginner it can seem a daunting task since aperture, shutter speed, ISO, depth of field and many other ubiquitous terms seem so elusive. It is a lot to wrap your brain around but as with anything else, you won't learn it unless you attempt it.
Fortunately there are a great many videos, books, blogs, workshops, groups, clubs and resources to help you overcome this hurdle. I will be posting some links to many of these resources as I plan on reviewing some of them for you here. Of course, this blog (in a long line of blogs) will also be another source of information. Hopefully my point of view and my comments will be of benefit to my readers.
So next time you pull your camera out to play, switch out of program mode and into manual. Experiment with the settings. Preview what you shot and adjust accordingly. If it doesn't come out to your expectations simply delete the image and try again. Digital space is free so go for it.