Beginners Mind

Beginner’s Mind

“The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.” — Ernest Hemingway

You may have heard athletes or artists talk about how their best performances happen when they are in a state the Western world refers to as “in the zone”. You’ve probably experienced it yourself, usually in the context of meditative activities.

Perhaps the Eastern description of this state, called “no mind”, is more revealing. In this state, you are free of thought, completely calm and focused, executing your task to perfection. Creatives talk about becoming vehicles for a deeper creative source.

From Harvard Dr. Ellen Langer’s ground-breaking research on mindfulness to spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra’s “9 Steps to Creativity”, many have examined the subject. Several common themes emerge as entry points to accessing this state of peak performance.

One of those themes is the Beginner’s Mind. It refers to that initial state of wonder when you encounter something new. At that moment you are in a state of pure observation, taking in what’s in front of you, free of any mental projections and judgments.

The overarching experience of Beginner’s Mind is one of curiosity, surprise, focus, if not straight-up elation and joy. If you lean into that place of wonder, it’s easy to see how passion and insight arise from it.

But the apparent simplicity of the concept belies its complex underpinnings. As you become more experienced in your personal and professional life, the experiences of the past start to block your ability to perceive the new. The more experience you have, the more your mind is consumed with preconceived ideas about things. It becomes harder to stay fresh and derive insight and inspiration from novelty. You become prone to repeat that which you already know. As a result, your creativity and present moment happiness suffer.

How can you set aside your intellectual knowledge and train yourself to respond to circumstances, not mental projections and expectations? Is it possible to turn every-day situations into opportunities for personal and collective growth? Can you elevate repetitive experiences, so that even ordinary things shine? Stanford’s d.School Design Thinking program has some pointers on how to tap into the Beginner’s Mind:

  • Focus on questions, not answers
  • Focus on possibilities, not problems
  • Don’t be afraid to ask ‘dumb’ questions
  • Embrace failure. It’s how you learn!
  • Respond to circumstances, not projections
  • Let go of ‘shoulds’
  • Let go of Professional Priesthood

There are many other benefits to Beginner’s Mind. The ability to listen to others with an open mind creates greater trust and deeper personal bonds. You experience empathy for other beginners while making yourself available to unexpected discovery and innovation. Most importantly, you stay fresh and relevant.

An open mind is free of judgments about experiences from the past, and projections about the future. An open mind does not cling to a preconceived notion of how something should be but accepts what is without judgment. That is the Beginner’s Mind.

How open are you?

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