During my time, I have played a variety of sports and games in my life. In that time, I had many different coaches (both professional and seniors) and I began to notice repeating patterns among them.

Coaches tend to come up through a certain system. New coaches will often land their first job as an assistant coach with their alma mater or a team they played with previously. Or the coach is a senior who has been on top of the game for a while. After a few years, the coach will tend to replicate the same drills, follow similar practice schedules, and even yell at their players in a similar fashion as the coaches (or seniors) they learned from. People tend to emulate their mentors.

This phenomenon — our tendencies to repeat the behaviour we are exposed to — extend to nearly everything we learn in life. Our political or religious beliefs are mostly the result of the system we were raised in. Although we may not agree on every issue, our parents political attitudes tend to shape our political attitudes. The way we approach our day-to-day work and life is largely a result of the system we were trained in and the mentors we had along the way. At some point, we all learned to think from someone else. That’s how knowledge is passed down.

Here’s the hard question: Who is to say that the way we originally learned something is the best way? What if we simply learned one way of doing a thing, not the way of doing things? Consider my sports coaches. Did they actually consider all of the different ways of coaching a team? Or did they simply mimic the methods they had been exposed to? The same could be said of nearly any area in life. Who is to say that the way we originally learned a skill is the best way? Most people think they are experts in a field, but they are really just experts in a particular style.

In this way, we become a slave to our old beliefs without even realizing it. We adopt a philosophy or strategy based on what we have been exposed to without knowing if it’s the optimal way to do things.

There is a concept in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of our preconceptions and having an attitude of openness when studying a subject. (**Source: Shoshin — The Beginner’s Mind)

When we are a true beginner, our mind is empty and open. We’re willing to learn and consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time. As we develop knowledge and expertise, however, our mind naturally becomes more closed.We tend to think, “I already know how to do this” and we become less open to new information.

There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with what we learned previously and yield to the information that confirms our current approach. We think we are learning, but in reality we are steamrolling through information and conversations, waiting until we hear something that matches up with our current philosophy or previous experience, and cherry-picking information to justify our current behaviors and beliefs. Most people don’t want new information, they want validating information.

Another way of understanding this. After reading many books on a certain topic, we know it so well that we can’t just skim through similar books. Most of the information will be repetitive, so we need to read line-by-line to discover the one insight we haven’t heard before.

The problem is that when we are an expert we actually need to pay more attention, not less. Why? Because when we are already familiar with 98 percent of the information on a topic, we need to listen very carefully to pick up on the remaining 2 percent. As adults our prior knowledge blocks us from seeing things anew.

How to Rediscover Your Beginner’s Mind
Here are a few practical ways to rediscover your beginner’s mind and embrace the concept of shoshin.

Let go of the need to add value: . . . . Many people, especially high achievers, have an overwhelming need to provide value to the people around them. On the surface, this sounds like a great thing. But in practice, it can handicap our success because we never have a conversation where we just shut up and listen. If we’re constantly adding value (“You should try this…” or “Let me share something that worked well for me…”) then we kill the ownership that other people feel about their ideas. At the same time, it’s impossible for us to listen to someone else when we’re talking. So, step one is to let go of the need to always contribute. Step back every now and then and just observe and listen.

Let go of the need to win every argument: . . . . . . “Others do not need to lose for me to win.” This is a philosophy that fits well with the idea of shoshin. If we are having a conversation and someone makes a statement that we disagree with, try releasing the urge to correct them. They do not need to lose the argument for us to win. Letting go of the need to prove a point opens up the possibility for us to learn something new. Approach it from a place of curiosity: Isn’t that interesting. They look at this in a totally different way. Even if we are right and they are wrong, it doesn’t matter. We can walk away satisfied even if we do not have the last word in every conversation.

Tell me more about that: . . . . . . . One strategy is to ask someone to, “Tell me more about that.” It doesn’t matter what the topic is, we are simply trying to figure out how things work and open our mind to hearing about the world through someone else’s perspective.

Assume that we are an idiot: . . . . . . . . . In his fantastic book, Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb writes, “I try to remind my group each week that we are all idiots and know nothing, but we have the good fortune of knowing it.” The flaws discussed in this article are simply a product of being human. We all have to learn information from someone and somewhere, so we all have a mentor or a system that guides our thoughts. The key is to realize this influence. We are all idiots, but if you have the privilege of knowing that, then you can start to let go of your preconceptions and approach life with a beginner’s mind.

Content Curated By: Dr Shoury Kuttappa




Complex quantitative concepts translated into easily understood life and business implications.

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Dr Shoury Kuttappa

Dr Shoury Kuttappa

Complex quantitative concepts translated into easily understood life and business implications.

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