There’s something about our world that frowns upon people for being beginners.
Job boards are riddled with entry-level positions asking for 4+ years of experience. No one wants the newbie on their sports team because they suck and won’t help them win. No guy in his right mind would want a virg…wait, that’s probably a bad example…
Anyways, beginners often get a bad rap, and this deters many people from experiencing a lot of awesome things in life.
Even when the backlash isn’t coming from an outside source, we berate ourselves internally for sucking at something new. We say things like, “This is stupid. Why am I doing this?” Then quit before allowing the time to learn and grow from the process.
I’m here to tell you that there is a better way.
Learning to Embrace Life as a Beginner
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki
There is a concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, which translates to “beginner’s mind”.
Shoshin essentially means checking your ego at the door and leaving it there. It’s dropping preconceptions or beliefs about a topic and approaching things with eagerness, an open mind, and an understanding that there is always more to learn.
This concept doesn’t just pertain to learning new things – it can be applied to everyday life as well. It means becoming more aware and mindful of your actions; not just wondering if you’re doing things right, but enjoying and experiencing them as if it’s your very first time.
This morning for breakfast I ate a spinach omelet with fruit and avocado on the side. I took an extra few minutes to appreciate how amazing it was, and to think of everything it took to make that meal possible.
Stuff literally grew out of the ground, was harvested, packaged, transported, bought by me, then cooked and prepared a special way to end up on my plate. How often do you stop and think exactly how incredible that is?
I felt pretty darn happy today, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
4 Reasons Being a Beginner Is Awesome
If we could all embrace the idea of a beginner’s mind, a lot of pain, frustration, and unhappiness could be avoided. There are SO many reasons why this is a good practice to get into. Here are 4 of my favorite…
Reason #1: Less Anxiety
Anxiety is an issue very near and dear to my heart. I struggled with it for years as a kid finishing high school and well into college. I now believe that anxiety is a good thing. Its purpose is to protect us from emerging threats. The problem is that most of those threats aren’t things we experience every day anymore, unlike our ancestors.
Anxiety only gets bad when we let it fester and control our lives. This is usually when people go to extremes to eliminate it all-together, but that’s not the right way to approach it. Instead, we’ve each got to accept anxiety and learn how to cope with it in our own unique ways, and there are many.
Beginner’s mind is one way I’ve found to calm my anxiety in a number of situations. For example, rather than letting it consume me before an important presentation at work, I’ve started embracing the present moment and thinking curiously about how things will turn out. If I do well, then great. If things go bad, well, at least I learned something.
Anxiety rules with fear. Once you take fear out of the equation through a method such as Shoshin, its reign over you doesn’t seem so powerful.
Reason #2: More Fun
Anytime you approach an activity as a beginner with an open mind, you’re going to have more fun. Let’s say you’re just starting out with chess. From the beginner’s standpoint, you relish in the excitement of learning something completely new. If you’re an experienced chess player (with an open mind), then perhaps you’ll discover something fascinating that you never realized before.
It’s important to remember that there are very few actual experts in this world, just people who are slightly better than you. In every field, there is always more to learn.
The best doctors are the ones that keep up with new technology and research. While less-desired doctors stick to their old ways and reject new, likely better procedures or techniques.
If you’re stuck in a mind-numbing routine, you have two options for improving the situation. You can either break out of it to do something totally new, or you can put a different perspective on it and view yourself as a beginner – like a child who is amazed by even the simplest of things. Routine won’t seem so boring then.
Reason #3: Better Sticking Power with Habits
What’s the hardest part about building better habits? Staying with them long enough to make them stick.
One major reason for this is routine. Over time, routine becomes dull or flat-out boring. As we learned from Reason #2, beginner’s mind can make routine fun again, which makes forming habits easier.
Also, getting pissed off and quitting isn’t going to help build habits. Beginner’s mind helps you to “embrace the suck” and find joy in the process.
I listen to Joe Rogan, and he’s been quoting something recently that motivates me in times of frustration – “diamonds are made under pressure.” Beginner’s mind helps alleviate the pressure you feel at any given moment.
Reason #4: More and Higher Quality Friendships
People are complicated, and people are different. We tend to gravitate towards people who share the same values and ideologies as ourselves, but that greatly limits the number of relationships we can form.
If you’re chatting with someone and getting frustrated by their viewpoints, take a moment in your head to stop and change your perspective. Try to see things from their point of view. Instead of dismissing anything or anyone that doesn’t jive with your logic, be open-minded and curious about why they think that way.
You don’t have to change who you are or what you believe in, but you will make many more friends by listening and being accepting of who other people are. Many people have good intentions at heart, even if a little misguided, and sometimes all it takes is one person who understands to change a life.
I personally love Leo Babauta’s take on people who should practice beginner’s mind:
“Nobody likes an asshole. Beginners are the farthest thing from it since they’re open and willing to learn.”
Where to Start?
Hopefully, you’ve been convinced to at least give this beginner’s mind thing a shot. You can start right now, without much effort at all. Simply take a brief moment to notice whatever it is that you’re doing.
Like me for instance…
I’m typing on a keyboard on a laptop that was likely made by a machine hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away based on technology that took years to develop. As I’m sitting here, words are appearing on a screen in sync with the movement of my fingers. If you don’t think that’s amazing, then you’re downright crazy.
After your initial moment of realization, look into becoming more aware in any new or old activity you partake in. I think you’ll be amazed at how beginner’s mind can change your perspective and increase your happiness.
Jason Gutierrez teaches young professionals and entrepreneurs how to build better habits. He writes at themonklife.net about optimizing health, overcoming resistance, and achieving your goals. Sign up for his free newsletter to get practical advice and tips for becoming better, faster, healthier.