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5 ways to cultivate a beginner’s mind (and stay open to the possibility)

May 19, 2021 - 14 min read


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What is a beginner’s mind?

Why should you learn to cultivate a beginner’s mind?

5 Ways to develop a beginner’s mind

Live more mindfully with a beginner’s mind

Do you remember the amazement you felt the first time you rode a bike?

Despite the excitement gained from biking at an early age, most of us no longer approach riding a bike with a beginner’s mind.

Instead of feeling wonderful, biking can feel more like a chore.

 biking can feel more like a chore than the wonderful experience it once was.

This doesn’t just happen for biking. What once lit you up with curiosity and wonder may not excite you as much once you become an expert.

This is where the beginner's mind comes in. Using this concept, you can recapture the sense of excitement, curiosity, and wonder you experience when trying or learning something new — even if it’s no longer new to you.


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What is a beginner’s mind?

Having a beginner’s mind means you approach the world through a beginner’s eyes. The term is translated from the original word, Shoshin, which is a word that comes from Zen Buddhism. It means you look at every situation you’re placed in as if it’s the first time you are seeing it.

The late Shunryu Suzuki wrote about the concept of Shoshin in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“If your mind is empty … it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Think of it this way, a beginner doesn’t have any expectations, preconceived notions, or past experiences to limit their view of a situation. Beginners also have curiosity towards something new and are open and eager to learn.

This means that a beginner has access to a world of possibilities. When they try something new there are no existing expectations to limit their mindset about what could (and should) happen.

 Having a beginner’s mind means developing this mindset even when you already know something or have lots of experience with a topic.

On the other hand, an expert mind is an attitude taken when someone believes they know enough about something in order to achieve what they need to do.

With this mindset, people make assumptions and don’t tend to ask questions about a given situation before they make a decision. They believe there is one correct solution, and that whatever deviates from this is ‘wrong’.

Although an expert may know a lot, an expert mindset provides a narrow point of view that can block you from finding new (and better) solutions to a problem. 

A beginner, however, will not see a right or wrong way to approach a problem or situation.



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Why should you learn to cultivate a beginner’s mind?

Past knowledge and preconceptions can cloud your judgment and stop you from seeing a familiar situation clearly. When this happens over and over again, this can lead to feeling stuck or in a rut.

Situations that were once wonderful now become stale. The more you experience, the less wonder you’ll be able to find as everything loses its luster.

Even if you’re an expert in a topic or situation, it may become increasingly difficult to find solutions for new problems that arise.

But when you cultivate a beginner’s mind, you can approach a problem with more creativity and a fresher perspective. 

Because you bring a fresh perspective to old situations, you can get unstuck and experience something new as a result.

You can gain a sense of playfulness and wonder about topics and situations that become stale over time. 

Even the topics or situations you know the most about, usually have something you can get newly excited about. A beginner's mind helps you access these new and exciting experiences. 

A beginner’s mind also helps you develop deeper gratitude and free yourself from expectations about past experiences. If you no longer expect anything specific, every outcome is something to be grateful for.

This can help you avoid feelings of disappointment since you aren’t using past experiences as a baseline to judge what is happening now. 

For example, if you order the same dish every time you go to your favorite restaurant, it may not always taste the same. However, with a beginner’s mind, you focus on the present version of the dish and enjoy what’s in front of you.

Developing a more zen and positive attitude also has several health benefits, including a lower mortality rate. So, you can not only live a happier life, but also a longer one.

Finally, a beginner’s mind can help you become even more of an expert in a topic. That’s because making an effort to look at a situation with fresh eyes will allow you to find new ways to solve problems. This makes your knowledge even richer and multi-faceted.


5 Ways to develop a beginner’s mind

Ready to start experiencing Shoshin, a beginner’s mindset, in your own life? Here are five actionable steps you can take to cultivate a beginner's mind.

1. Ignore the stories past experiences tell you 

Your mind can play tricks on you and stress you out  by coming up with unnecessary stories. These stories attempt to give you reasons for why things happen.

This can lead you to jump to conclusions that aren’t true.

For example, if someone you care about doesn’t show up at your birthday dinner, it can be easy to think that they are angry at you or have something against you. 

But it could simply be because they are sick, had an emergency, or slept through an alarm.

Instead of torturing yourself with assumptions based on a past experience, see things as they really are, not as what your mind is telling you.

Question every assumption that pops into your head and look at it from several angles. You can also question why you made that assumption in the first place so that you can become better at catching yourself in the future.

You’ll start feeling much less upset at situations that you can’t control.

2. Take inspiration from children

For a child, almost everything is new, and they approach these situations with wonder and amazement. They don't live their lives based on a preconceived idea of what it should be.

The next time you're around children, notice how they react to the world around them. Take note of how you can learn from them and bring their perspective into your life.

Start asking questions like they do: what is this, why is it this way, how does this work? When you ask these questions, whether to yourself or others around you, you’ll start learning more about topics and situations that you believed you were already an expert in.

Children are never done learning, and neither are you, which is a wonderful perspective to adopt. You’ll learn much more easily this way.


3. Slow down

When you know how to do something, it’s easy to go to autopilot.

Instead of automatically going through the motions, slow down and take your time, rediscovering every aspect of the task. Be aware of what you’re doing and experiencing.

Act with intention and live in the present moment throughout the entire experience.

If you see yourself going through the motions and acting a certain way, try taking a different approach the next time around. You never know what you could discover.

4. Remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary

What ‘should’ happen is based on your preconceived notions and expectations. Saying something ‘should’ happen a certain way ties you to the outcome.

Instead, let go of the outcome and of your beliefs about what should happen or how something should be done. 

Let the world surprise you with new potential outcomes, and keep an open mind.

5. Put your ego on the back burner 

If you’re an expert at something, you probably want to be recognized for it. It's good for your ego.

But as a result, you may want to be right at all costs.

A beginner is almost never right, and as a result, they enjoy  new learning experiences. Let go of the need to be right, and approach every situation as an opportunity to learn something new and improve yourself.


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Live more mindfully with a beginner’s mind

With a beginner's mind, you rediscover the joy of experiencing something new. And yes, even with experiences and topics you’re already familiar with.

Here’s a final tip: approach a situation by identifying your expectations first, then questioning those expectations. 

Why are they there? Will having those expectations really improve the experience? What would it feel like to go through this experience without any expectations?

Need guidance with beginner’s mind? Get a demo of BetterUp coaching to get help to cultivate a beginner’s mind and much more.

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Published May 19, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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