I’m lucky enough to be a mum of two pretty awesome children (most of the time)! It’s been that time of year again, when, after six weeks of a disrupted routine, they went back to school. Somehow, they both aced back to school with minimal fuss or upset when some children can struggle with it. So, I am thankful that they made it an easy experience for all of us! Watching this, got me thinking about what created their excitement and eagerness to get back into the classroom.
It then came to me: beginner’s mindset.
What’s a beginner’s mindset?
Think back. Do you remember the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you finally managed to ride a bike on your own for the first time? Or maybe when you managed to complete a puzzle for the first time without any help? I forget that for my two children so many experiences are new. This is why the simple things I see can bring them such complete wonder and amazement! They are learning new things every single day, and their reactions to the world can be so warming to see.
Children are wired to learn, be inquisitive, and be open to exploring – but that seems to taper off the older we get. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way: it just takes a shift in your mindset. Here’s a simple example.
Standing in the rain is optional so don’t do that unless you particularly fancy doing so! However, I would recommend trying the general idea behind it:
- Pick an everyday experience – something that you do mindlessly, without thinking about, or, even, begrudgingly.
- Do it mindfully and with curiosity – what can you see, hear, and smell? Can you feel any sensations on your skin? What other thoughts come into your mind while you’re doing it?
You’ll be amazed at how much more there is to experience in moments!
How can adults use a beginner’s mindset to learn effectively?
As I was reading more about this concept, I found ‘Shoshin’ that is a concept from Zen Buddhism. It means:
“Having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”
So, what does that actually look like? A couple of examples for you.
- Learn for the sake of learning – you can learn Spanish, for example, because you fancy learning Spanish and learning something/anything is the goal. You don’t have to learn because you must become fluent in Spanish so you can add that to LinkedIn.
- Believe that you can learn – it’s easy to buy into the belief that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. That’ll close you off from learning so, instead, it’s a case of believing that, even if it’s more difficult to learn as you age, it’s very much possible.
Why does a beginner’s mindset matter?
A beginner’s mindset has been shown to offer far-reaching benefits or, as Tom Vanderbilt puts it:
“It seems that the jack of all trades – the perpetual beginner – may have a sharper brain than the master of one single ability.”
Embracing any new skill can help offset the mental decline that comes with age so learning any new skill shows a pronounced improvement on general cognitive tasks. The most compelling results have shown people can match the cognitive performance levels of people who are 30 years younger than them!
Embracing lifelong learning and a beginner’s mindset can also increase your creativity as well as your thinking and decision-making. This is associated with something called ‘intellectual humility’, which is the capacity to recognise the limits of our knowledge. Being able to reconsider our beliefs and open ourselves up to new ways of thinking is especially important in the modern world given the rate of change.
How to practice beginner’s mindset
Here are some simple steps to developing, and maintaining, your beginner’s mindset.
- Ignore assumptions you’ve made from previous experiences – start fresh and be open to what might happen. Equally, though, make sure you have learnt from previous mistakes so mindless repetition is ineffective. You need to engage in ‘deliberate practice’, which is purposeful and systematic.
- Take inspiration from children – look at how they learn and see if you can join them in learning something. I once heard a great example of this from someone on how they practised this: they were walking their young children to school. One of the children stopped because they saw a beetle and they hadn’t seen one before. So, they all stopped for a few minutes to look at the beetle together, asking questions and sharing their thoughts.
- Take your time – take conscious steps when learning rather than running on autopilot. Step away from your phone etc. to make the most of your learning experience.
- Don’t think about what you should do – this is based on preconceptions and ties you to an outcome before you’ve even started. It’s not necessary or helpful!
- Pretend you’re not an expert – accept that you won’t always be right and that’s ok! Being wrong or not knowing something gives you space to learn something new.
Looking for some help to develop this mindset in you or your team? Get in touch and we can support you with this!