"In the Beginner's Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki
Are you falling prey to an expert mindset? If so, it may be holding you back in life.
We value experts. Just ask anyone who has tried to find a job without experience and expertise. We are also creatures of habit, which is seen as a bad thing when your habit is waking late and drinking a daily 6-pack and a good thing when it’s a 6 a.m. trip to the gym and a steady reading diet.
While we tout the amazing habits of the effective and give one another “10 tips for optimum productivity,” there is something we are forgetting to address; a mindset essential for wellbeing and creativity.
Very often the people who get the most out of life, and life experiences, are curious, open to possibilities, and have more questions than answers. There is incredible value to approaching life to what Buddhists call a “beginners mind.”
And this mindset isn’t just useful on Nepali mountaintops. A Loyola University of Chicago study shows that those who believe they are experts, do, in fact, become close minded. Meaning your experts are not always an asset in the workplace if creative problem solving and divergent thinking are required.
Experts can also be protective of their egos, making them fearful of failure and obsessed with seeming competent. Praise a child for being smart or an expert (over being a hard worker or trying new things) and they will repeat tasks where they already excel and even cheat to maintain expertise and status.
So, what’s to be done? After all, you can’t just stop being an expert in an area of work, life or study. Besides, you worked damn hard for that to be the case. However, you can do the following three things to cultivate a Beginner's Mind and keep yourself open... to failure, innovation and learning.
In fact, on an individual level, curious people learn more, are better at relationships and are positively motivated for personal growth and development. In its article, Six surprising benefits of Curiosity, Berkely.edu outlines the health, achievement and wellbeing benefits in detail. And yes, you can learn to be more curious namely by reading, listening, asking questions and staying open to life’s mysteries.
Fun fact about novelty… it slows time. New experiences enrich our lives, which seems to make our days stretch out before us, even if it is an illusion. People who embrace novel and new experiences are also more creative. Annie Murphy Paul, author of the book Brilliant: The New Science of Smart believes morning routines are creativity killers. And furthermore, embracing new experience enhances our sense of awe and wonder about our world, which, according to Stanford and University of Minnesota researchers, makes life “more satisfying.”
Author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, says play helps us make deep connections, cultivate healing and can lead us to “sacred spaces.” In fact, the National Institute of Play believes play, “unlocks the human potential... in all stages of life.” Playfulness is proven to host a myriad of health benefits. Laughter, in particular, shuts down cortisol production and therefore can be credited for reducing stress.
Clearly, "knowing it all" can be good in some circumstances. No one wants a playful brain surgeon in the OR. But, as a way of life, outside your field of expertise, the Beginner's Mind is an advantageous way to live. Seeing the world through questions, instead of answers, offers a myriad of benefits.