Beginner’s Mind: Looking at Old Problems With New Eyes

beginner's mind

Beginner’s mind is defined as “an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as beginner in the subject would.”

This is a very healthy and beneficial attitude to have at times. Often when we become really knowledgeable about an area in life, we become blinded in our ability to look at the subject from a new and different perspective.

The perfect example of beginner’s mind is watching a child freely play and explore their environment. A child is often experiencing many things for the very first time – with that comes a sense of openness and wonder that defines beginner’s mind.

To take this beginner’s mind into our adult life, we often need to learn how to let go of our preconceived views of the world that we have been taught over all these years.

When you become an expert at something, that can often confine your view of how you look at that subject. You think you know everything you need to know, so you aren’t open to other possibilities.

The idea of beginner’s mind often comes from Zen. And as the teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything you learn in life is useless and you should forget about it. Pursuing knowledge and information is an important aspect of your growth and development as a person.

The point of beginner’s mind is to temporarily let go of these learned ideas and concepts about the world, so that you can approach a situation from a completely new perspective and sense of wonder.

Often when you have this attitude, you can take away something new about an experience or situation, and then later apply it to your current beliefs and worldview.

This type of attitude is often what separates “expertise” from “intelligence.”

The expert may have a lot of knowledge and information about a subject, but the intelligent person can look at the subject from multiple points-of-view, and is much more flexible and adaptive with what they learn.

How to create “beginner’s mind” in your own life:

  • Be in the present moment. – Try to avoid thinking about your past experiences or past knowledge, just observe what you can in the present moment exactly as you see it.
  • Pretend you know nothing. – Go into the experience as if it was your first time. Pretend you’re like a child who is brand new to the world and hasn’t yet learned anything about it yet. Let go of all your expectations.
  • Focus on questions, not answers. – Be curious. Remember, you know nothing, so ask yourself questions that a beginner would ask. Start from the bottom, and question even your most basic assumptions. Play dumb.
  • Expose yourself to new things. – What better way to become more familiar with “beginner’s mind” than to actually expose yourself to things that you know nothing about? Put yourself in the role of a beginner, and you’ll learn more about what this mindset feels like.
  • Shut down your critical mind. – Don’t judge yourself. Try not to think of things as “right vs. “wrong” or “smart” vs. “stupid,” – keep an open mind about everything. You’re just exploring, there is no right direction to go in.
  • Challenge yourself. – Play devil’s advocate. Challenge your thoughts and beliefs. Try to think from an opposite point-of-view, just so you don’t get too stuck or trapped in any one perspective.
  • Have fun and experiment. – Beginner’s mind should ultimately be fun and enjoyable. Just like a child has fun exploring their environment, you should be having fun with it too. Play pretend. Treat things as a game. Experiment. Learn.

Overall, cultivating a beginner’s mind can help improve your open-mindedness, creativity, and problem-solving.

It is an especially useful perspective to take when you want to jog your mind away from the same old patterns of thinking and same old perspective. It gives you a fresh pair of new eyes to observe a situation.

Try to consider taking a beginner’s mind the next time you find yourself feeling really stuck in a particular area in your life.

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