Shoshin: Why You Need A Beginner’s Mind

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The other day I was eating Chinese food for dinner (don’t worry, it was my cheat meal day… so I went all in).  And after I enjoyed every morsel of food, I cracked open my fortune cookie.

Here’s what I found inside

 

Seek to Understand

 

So I read it and tossed it to the side.  Lame, right?

But strange enough, a few hours later – I read it again.  And this time, I saw it differently.  A few hours of subconscious marination must have been taking place.

That second read reminded me of something I’d read about a long time ago.

Shoshin.

It’s a bizarre word from the Bhuddist teachings.  It means “to have a beginner’s mind” – to see to understand even when you are no longer a beginner. 

What is Shoshin?

The Buddhist recognize the importance of being a beginner.  Approaching something with an eager openness to learn, to absorb to take it all in and grow.

But this mindset isn’t just for beginners.   It’s a mindset that everyone, including the experts, should embrace. 

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki explains it well:  

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

The more time we spend learning something, the more we think we know and the less open we are to learning something new. 

Let’s thinking about dieting to actually make this shoshin business make sense.

If you’ve been trying to lose weight, I’m guessing you’ve got a few dozen diet books on the shelves.  

You’ve probably

  • Read tons of diet plans and magazine articles about weight loss
  • Searched far and wide for Pinterest tricks and tips to lose those pesky pounds
  • And even stayed current with the latest Huff Post “news” about the current diets of the stars (if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you, right? .  

You probably have a huge arsenal of fun facts and information about the latest and greatest ways to diet for your fat loss goals.  

Now, because you are still working toward that fat loss goal – you keep reading more articles. Looking for new information that might be an even better diet.  But the amount of information you actually absorb from those new reads becomes less and less.

You subconsciously think “I already know this stuff,” so you only glance over the article.  Or read the summary of a new journal release.   

Instead of diving in with a beginner’s mind, eager to learn something new, you skim the info looking for confirmation that you already know everything.   That’s the danger of an expert mind. 

The more you learn – the less you actually learn.  Sounds wonky right?

Shosin teaches you to do the opposite.   That even as an expert, you should seek out new information.  New ways to grow, to add information to arsenal.  That every opportunity is a chance to learn.  

But it’s incredibly hard to do.   Because as people we are

  1. Stubborn with our beliefs
  2. Inherently competitive against conflicting information

We know what we know and no one is going to change that.  So being willing to open your mind, looking and hoping to accept new information is a struggle.   Just think about the last time someone asked you about your views on a political issue…. How willing were you to listen to their viewpoint?

So how do we try to encourage our beginner’s mind?  

Here are 3 tactics I try to implement:

1. Always seek out new information

In order to grow your knowledge foundation, you have to be willing to gain new info.  I listen to podcasts or audiobooks constantly.  I am always reading new journal articles, press releases, or updated information from sources I trust (not Huff post or magazine stories – those aren’t your best go-to knowledge banks).  

But I also try to broaden where I learn information from.  Biographies about successful people outside of fitness can still teach me valuable facts about business.  You aren’t limited to learning just from your areas of connection.  Expand your sources and your opportunities by seeking chances to learn something new. 

2. Listen more than you talk

This is incredibly hard for “experts” to do.  But part of shoshin is knowing that other people can have valuable information that you don’t yet have.  You may have a fully loaded arsenal, but someone else may have different tools than you.  And if you aren’t willing to listen, you’re never going to hear it.   Listen first, then form your opinions on that new information. 

3. Educate the “why’s” instead of dictating the “whats”

And when you’re not listening, when you’re talking and sharing your knowledge – work to explain the whys, not the whats.  We often refuse to accept new information because we don’t understand where it came from.  We don’t want something dictating information when we have no basis for why it makes sense or matters.  The why is always more important than the what.  And in everything you do, there is always an opportunity to explain why.  Why this exercise will help you get stronger. Why this diet is a good match for your goals.  When you explain someone the why, it opens up opportunity for discussion and you can again practice your own shoshin techniques and be wiling to hear something new. 

My Chinese food was the reminder I needed.  We may think we are experts, but there is ALWAYS an opportunity to grow.  To learn. To evolve. And to be shoshin.


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      Thank you Alejandra! We are glad you are open to learning new information too – it's the only way to grow and evolve!

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