The benefits of a beginner’s mind
If this sounds familiar to you, tell me, you’re sick of it because this fat loss isn’t as easy as it was in your 20s. Or maybe you’re frustrated because you used to love the freedom to exercise over lunch and now it’s a hassle to leave your desk and gasp twice a day.
Sometimes it’s the novelty of a new routine, new way of eating, and new-found endorphins that makes the beginning of a health journey exciting. And somehow, amid unrealistic expectations, lack of novelty, and some daunting setbacks, it gets unsatisfactory at best.
As a health coach, I’m trained in the nuances of reprogramming my clients’ genes, but I’m also a seasoned professional at understanding the psychology that makes them successful and that continues to make them hit their head against the wall I wonder why it all seems such a bloody chore.
I’ll tell you a little secret. To get where you really want to go, you need to maintain what experts call the beginner’s mind.
What is a Beginner Mind?
The Beginner’s Mind or Shoshin is a mindfulness concept from Zen Buddhism. And it refers to an attitude of openness, zeal, and lack of prejudice that someone who is just starting out might have.
Let me add that you are one of the lucky few when you don’t have any expectations or preconceptions that go into something. In my health coaching practice, I regularly come across people who give up immediately when they struggle to change the way they eat. They somehow decided that they should be an expert on how to eat real whole foods, satisfy their hunger with a meal, and monitor their boredom in the first few days after working together.
Most people go through life with assumptions and expectations, fixated on how things “should be”. Unfortunately, this keeps you locked in a mindset and prevents your behavior from changing for the better.
The beginner’s mind, on the other hand, will help you see things with fresh eyes and (hopefully) some curiosity and amazement. If you can keep it there, then all of the good things start to happen. Good stuff is:
- You are more open to ideas and possibilities
- You feel more creative
- They see bugs as feedback (instead of a reason for a deposit).
- You are calmer because you have no expectations of how it should be.
- You actually achieve your goals because you stick with them
Drop the “expert” mentality
When it comes to changing the way you eat, you might think, “How hard can it be? It’s food. “After all, you’ve eaten something almost every day of your life. A little puts you in the” expert “room. More precisely, you feel like an expert.
This situation is not about food. It’s about learning a new way of choosing food, learning how to prepare food, and learning how you feel about those foods.
Think of it this way: if you were to learn a new language or play an instrument, you wouldn’t be instantly good at it because you would never have done it before. In fact, you would likely sign up for class, practice regularly, mess up, make progress, mess up again, and move on.
This is the beginner’s mind in action.
It’s not just Buddhists and yogis who believe in this approach. Western science is also beginning to get involved. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that “the self-perception of expertise enhances closed perception”. Basically, people who believe they are experts are more open-minded.
In a series of six experiments, Professor Victor Ottati of Loyola University tested the Earned Dogmatism Hypothesis, which states that social norms dictate that experts are entitled to adopt a relatively dogmatic, open-minded orientation. In an experiment, 59 participants were divided into either a “high expertise” or a control group and confronted with various scenarios. They were then asked to rate their personal open-minded knowledge. It turned out that the open-mindedness of the participants was lower in the high-knowledge group than in the control group, just as the deserved dogmatism hypothesis suggests.
So with an expert attitude, expect to get it right. But with the hiring of a novice you welcome the little mistakes. Whatever you do wrong, you learn from it. They pivot, adapt, and move on. And you can do that in all areas of your life, not just your health.
Simple Steps to Reach a Beginner’s Mind
You’re not a bad person if you want to do it right. However, if you want to figure out how to stop forcing, correcting, and completely controlling your outcome (and feeling like every task is a chore), you need to change your mindset. Here’s how:
Start your next sentences with “I wonder how …” and “I know how …” and see how it feels. When you open your mind and let curiosity drive your actions, you open yourself to a world of opportunity. Plus, there are no wrong answers because you are simply observing what could be.
Drop the word “should”.
“I should have lost weight now.” “I should be able to run half a mile.” “I should know how to cook bacon.” When you use this word you are committed to an outcome. Take a second and remove all “shoulds” from your vocabulary. And while you’re at it, let go of your expectations.
Imagine it’s your first time
What if you had never gone shopping, picked up a fork, or laced your shoes before? Imagine the wonder and amazement you would feel if you really did something for the first time. Instead of playing all of the times you misunderstood or worrying about falling flat on your face, use your inner 5 year old and pretend this is something completely new to you.
Say “I’m coming to” versus “I have to”
I usually hate that advice, but it actually works here. When you feel you have to do something, invite a little gratitude into your life. Practice saying, “I can make time for a solid breakfast” or “I can start my day meditating” and see what comes your way. When your mind goes into “I have to” mode it will feel like a chore and your brain will create every excuse to avoid it.
Instead of trying to figure it out or concluding that you should find out, ask a question (without trying to answer it) and then go your own way out of the way. You can even ask general stroke questions like, “What would a beginner do here?” or “What else is possible?”
Give your ego the day off
Your ego wants to be seen as an expert – this is how it protects itself. Who wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing? But dreading what you might or might not look like, comparing yourself to others, or worrying about your self-worth, it’s just your ego that speaks. And it’s usually, if not always, influenced by your limiting beliefs and stories.
Do you have a zen mindset?
When starting a new habit, hobby, or exercise routine it is difficult not to have a beginner’s attitude. But as days become weeks and your “expertise” grows, you may feel that your enthusiasm (and success) is waning. A beginner’s mind is the best way to reverse this limiting mindset. And it is always available to you – even if you are no longer a beginner. Use these six strategies to take a fresh look at your situation:
- Be curious
- Drop the word “should”.
- Imagine it’s your first time
- Say “I’m coming to” versus “I have to”
- ask questions
- Give your ego the day off
What about you? Have you experimented with a beginner’s mind?
About the author
Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director of the Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients reestablish a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies – while restoring their metabolic health so they can lose fat and gain energy – through her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.
If you are passionate about health and wellness and want to help people like Erin for their clients every day, you should consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. In this special information session hosted by PHCI Co-Founder Mark Sisson, you will learn the three simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in a maximum of 6 months.
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