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Awakening New Possibilities with a Beginner's Mind

I was tongue-tied. Frozen in the moment - desperately shuffling through the clean questions in my mind - seeking the one that would create the most profound ‘aha’ for the client.

"Don't pick one that makes you sound stupid. You have to find one that will strike like the perfect quiver of cupid.", was the chorus playing in one ear.

"You ask questions for a living - this should be easy. Hurry up, come up with something. Tick Tock, Tick Tock.", played in the other.

Our perceptive instructor noticed my brewing anxiety. She intervened and released me from the stuck chorus. I asked my question and found myself immediately disappointed and judgemental of my choice.

My education and expertise in one area became the ego-limiting thinking interfering with my learning.

I was in a class on Clean Language - practicing the art of asking clean questions. The topic had been aging in my learning backlog. So, I was excited to finally be in a class taught by one of the premiere minds in the field.

Given that I am a coach, I expected to be naturally good at this. Clean questions are simple (on the surface). I had familiarized myself with a few. So, when it came to practicing it in this class, I felt the pressure to get it right - I expected to be great from the start. I forgot that I was there to learn. In the fervor to perform, I denied myself the opportunity to experience this relatively new concept as a true beginner.

A Beginner's Mind

Beginners come to new experiences without preconceived notions or expectations - acknowledging they are naturally going to suck at first until they get better. They are able to see things with fresh eyes - no prior experiences or stories cloud what is in front of them.

From Zen teachings, 'the mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. It is the kind of mind which can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything.'

Beginners meet failure and hurdles with a sense of humor - they try, fall, get up, dust off, and continue on. Wonder and curiosity keep them open to learning and trying. Openness awakens new possibilities and leads to creativity and innovation.

Being a beginner comes easy as a child. But as we get older, we burden ourselves to be a 'know it all'. Our education and experiences transform into stories of conviction and certainty of outcomes. The more successful we are in our field, the more pressure there is to be all-knowing about everything. This self-imposed expectation becomes a limitation of the gifts that come from approaching things like a beginner.

How can we get past this self-imposed limitation? How can we cultivate and retain the mind of a beginner?

Cultivating a Beginner's Mind

You don’t have to be inexperienced to think like a beginner.

There is a lot we can do to tap into the joy, awe, wonder, and creativity that comes with the mindset of a beginner.

Let's explore 5 capacities to nurture your beginner’s mind and 5 practices to grow the muscle for each capacity.

  1. Stay in the wonder of the present moment.

  2. Allow yourself the gift of sucking at something.

  3. Meet failure with humor.

  4. Be curious and inquisitive.

  5. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

1. Stay in the wonder of the present moment.

Every moment is one we have never experienced before - fresh and filled with new possibilities. Letting go of preconceptions and biases to be fully present in the present moment can create opportunities that we did not notice before.

To get more present:

  • Spend time in nature.

  • Practice mindfulness through meditation and yoga.

  • Observe things without labeling them with language - notice all the nuances.

  • Try a new form of transportation to get to a familiar destination.

  • Maintain a daily journal of three things that surprised you.

2. Allow yourself the gift of sucking at something.

There is joy in getting better at something and it often starts with sucking at it first. Getting familiar and comfortable with the feeling of starting something new makes us more welcoming of new experiences. Regularly seeking learning opportunities is the only way to become comfortable with it.

Here are 5 simple practices to get familiar with the feeling of starting from scratch:

  • Practice writing with your non-dominant hand.

  • Swap roles with a co-worker for a day.

  • Learn a new skill, hobby, or language.

  • Bake a fabulous cake or dessert from scratch.

  • Learn a new social media platform.

3. Meet failure with humor.

Being willing to be a beginner means recognizing that we will inevitably make mistakes. Being able to laugh at ourselves allows us to embrace mistakes and makes learning and growing natural and fun.

To improve your sense of humor:

  • Watch a cartoon or a children's show.

  • Enjoy stand-up or slapstick comedy.

  • Make up a funny story about each of your perceived failures.

  • Surround yourself with people who make you laugh.

  • Maintain a daily journal of 3 things that made you laugh.

4. Be Curious and inquisitive.

Being a beginner means being open to new ideas and perspectives. We can make this natural with curiosity. Digging deeper and looking at things from different perspectives can keep learning interesting and exciting

Here are 5 practical ways to practice your curiosity:

  • Spend time with children and notice the questions they ask.

  • Ask What and How questions to learn what others are thinking or seeing.

  • Travel to new places - experience a new culture, customs, and way of life.

  • Listen to the lyrics of a song and investigate what inspired the artist.

  • Practice 9 Whys to get to the root cause of something.

5. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Recognizing that not everything is known can be very uncomfortable but also liberating. Embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. Leave room for things to be discovered and revealed through exploration.

Here are 5 ways to practice being uncomfortable:

  • Change your routine - try a new route to work, eat breakfast for dinner.

  • Wear something unusual that you would not typically wear like a hat or a boa or a T-Shirt with a provocative statement.

  • Try a new cuisine or a new type of food that you have never tasted before or that you never thought you would like.

  • Take an Improv class.

  • Regularly do something that scares you (not in a life-threatening way).

When was the last time you felt like a beginner? What is something new you can do to cultivate a beginner's mind?

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