Beginner’s Mind: A fresh way of thinking.

February 14, 2023

Day 1 / 730 / 10000 emoticon tryptic

Are you a beginner?

Before you click away and resume doom-scrolling (it’s OK, we’re all doing it), think about it: do you see the world from a place of curiosity, or do you assume, Nah, I’ve seen it all before?

Whether we are five or fifty-five, we can approach life with the mindset of a beginner.

And what exactly characterizes a beginner’s mind?

A beginner’s mind looks at something new with a freshness, knowing nothing and therefore wholly open to listening. A young child, for example, fills their blank slate with wide-open eyes, innocent questions, and mimics the examples laid out in front of them.

But a lot of us have made a few laps around the sun already. Ideally, an expert’s mind knows enough about something to understand that they will never know all of it. Imagine a journeyman carpenter, who’s been sawing wood for 40 years, and has seen their industry evolve from hand tools to power tools over a lifetime. Despite change being uncomfortable, the path to them becoming an expert in their field was one of continuous learning; born of an open mind that isn’t all that different from the apprentice starting out on their first day at the job.

These two mindsets anchor the ends of a timeline of understanding, but there is a third stage that stands between them: that of the intermediate mind. In this place, we know a little about something, but not yet enough to understand how little we don’t yet know. Case in point: the overconfidence that accompanies the terrible teenage years – we’ve all been there.

Alas, the intermediate mindset is an easy one to get stuck in and doesn’t age out of us as simply as the hormones of puberty. Instead, it carries forward into our relationships, careers, and communities.

Let’s explore the why and what behind the intermediate mindset, so that perhaps we can avoid some of its perils.

Think back to your first job. Did you walk into that kitchen / yard / office ready to cook / garden / spreadsheet without any training? For those of us with a normal level of confidence, the answer to this would obviously be no. With a relatively clean slate, it’s natural to slip into a receptive stance when a manager steps in to share the wisdom of the novel trade.

Two years later in the very same job, advice from the very same coworker falls on different ears. With 730 days of experience, you are no longer a blank slate – and in the midst of their speaking you are already forming a response. Instead of listening, you are waiting for a moment to interject and speak your piece. Maybe the thought is a good one (emphasis on maybe), but either way it occludes your ears from really listening to what’s being said to you.

What changed? Well, now you know better.

Or so you think.

Spoiler: we don’t always know better.

What’s wrong with a little bit of confidence? you might ask. Nothing actually – the problem lies rather in overconfidence, a place where ideas get hardened and stop evolving. With this rigid mindset, we get in our own way – and condemn ourselves to unnecessary trouble. So, why do we as humans trend in this direction?

On the one hand, we crave certainty – a safe harbour in a chaotic world. On another, our modern world seems to demand it of us – not allowing us to change our opinions without being crucified for it.

And so we double down on that which we know.

A plant being watered with curiosity so that it grows

In the context of conflict, the intermediate mindset can result in us talking at each other rather than talking to each other. It’s a very real hurdle, with very real consequences of strife and resentment. Though oft unconscious (like the angst of a teenager), this can mean the difference between feeling frustrated or fulfilled in our interactions.

Despite our cravings for certainty, things are rarely so simple. Be wary of black-and-white thinking. Assumptions can get us into trouble and amp up the likelihood of getting defensive. The key to evolving beyond the intermediate mindset is to notice and temper these beliefs with a humble reminder of the truth: that we never know everything. And while that can be scary, it is also very freeing.

With practice, we learn to suspend our viewpoint in order to really bear witness to what’s happening around us. This dynamic of pausing and opening to a wider view is hard at first but over time becomes natural – and it’s from this place of inquiry that we can transform ourselves and our relationships.

Growth happens from the fertile soil of openness and curiosity. Let’s learn how to make it safe for ourselves and each other to change our minds.

At Mediation Services (in Winnipeg and online), we specialize in facilitating open discussions surrounding family conflict, co-parenting / separation, workplace conflicts, and community conflicts.

In order to speak and be heard, we also need to listen – and this requires a certain degree of openness. Ideally this results in a two-way conversation, but if you find yourself stuck, we are here to help. Send us a message here and let’s see what we can accomplish together.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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