I spent less than six weeks in Hawaii, which does not seem like much, but to some that may be an eternity. Regardless, on my very first day a future friend–an acquaintance at that time–handed me a book called The Beginner’s Mind.
The book is based on the principles of Zen Buddhism, which to many of us may sound like a concept that lies somewhere beyond out-of-this-world, but luckily there is a way to demystify this thought process. Allow me to attempt.
The idea of a “beginner’s mind” is not a foreign concept. In fact, many of these so-called “spiritual” words and phrases are present in our every day lives, but we think of them as “sport” or “personal time” (meditation).
The beginner’s mind is just that: the thought process of a beginner. As we enter a new task, an unknown territory of some sort, or a new place, we have no prior experience. Especially if our impressions have not been tainted by the opinions of others, we can enter the new opportunity like a baby first opening its eyes. The beginner’s mind is fresh, full of possibilities, and open to all.
As we start to repeat actions, that is when we start to become “experts.” We also have expectations about our own performance or about how things are supposed to be. Not living up to these expectations causes stress and anxiety, which as my mentor Lissa Rankin points out, can be harmful to our health among other things. But most importantly, it takes the enjoyment away.
We all know that no two events are ever exactly the same, nor two places, nor two homo sapiens. Even the body you were in yesterday is not the same as the one you are in today (cells die and are reborn, hair falls out or grows, and such). Why do we limit ourselves to our past experiences? Rather, approach each new opportunity–and ultimately they are all new opportunities–with the blank mind and wide eyes of a newborn.
For example, when learning a new skill, if you are able to admit you are learning rather than an expert, it feels really good when you feel yourself making progress. Every little step is a celebration. For me, this has been using WordPress. I approached this project with an open mind and a “let’s-see-where-this-thing-goes” mentality, and now I throw out a fist-pump every time I properly format an image.
However, when we go to repeat a task, we can get flustered if we do not meet our own expectations. Say we are athletes. After several days of practice, we may become frustrated that we are not yet able to kick the ball to the top right corner. Or maybe unable to play a simple 5-finger tune on the piano. Then we get stressed and may even forget about the movement altogether.
Similarly, some of my friends and family have asked me recently about building their own blogs. Looking again at the software from the ground up, I got flustered. Why can’t I do this? Didn’t I fly through this before? Why can’t I help?
Then I have to remember my own advice. And Bill‘s. Sometimes, when it comes to HTML code or sports or carrying on a conversation, you just need to clear your mind and take on the exchange as if it was the first day you have ever done it.
Because having fun and learning is much more enjoyable than being perfect, anyway.