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How To Cultivate Beginner’s Mindset to Become a True Expert

Jul 30, 2021

I’m Catholic. Not only am I Catholic - I’m Catholic BY CHOICE.  I officially converted about 15 years ago, after an excruciatingly painful process that nearly had me choosing to leave all religion behind altogether.

I started and stopped the process of conversion quite a few times.  Each time there was something about the church that I didn’t like, or couldn’t reconcile, or even that I didn’t believe was true.  I felt that unless I could fully subscribe to 100% of the church’s teachings that I couldn’t “Be Catholic.”  

This situation went on for a few years, complicating my life, giving me angst, and prohibiting me from settling into a comfortable faith life that allowed me to just “be”.

Just as I was about to give up on pursuing the faith (and ironically during my study of an entirely different faith), I happened upon the Buddhist concept of Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind,” during some of my reading.

Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of your preconceptions and having an attitude of openness when studying a subject. 

In my journey, I had so many preconceptions about what the Catholic faith should be that I was focusing on all of the areas that I didn’t agree with, instead of looking for the areas that were congruent with my beliefs already, or, even more importantly, being open to new ideas and beliefs.

I simply wasn’t open to looking at things differently. 

In some ways, I believed that I was an expert already and that it was up to the Catholics to “prove it” to me before I would be willing to accept the faith. 

When we are true beginners, our minds are empty and open.

We are willing to consider all pieces of information as equally true.  Because, as beginners, we have never had experience with the subject at hand, our defenses are down, and our interest is piqued. 

As we develop knowledge and expertise, our minds naturally become more closed. 

We think, “I already know how to do this,” and we become less open to new information. 

As comfortable as perceived mastery can be, there is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with what we learned previously and yield to the information that confirms our current approach.

We think we are learning, but in reality, we are steamrolling through information and conversations, waiting until we hear something that matches up with our current philosophy or previous experience, and cherry-picking information to justify our current behaviors and beliefs.

Most people don’t want new information; they want to validate the information. 

As we age and gain experience we tend to believe that there are fewer “truths” in the world. This jadedness blocks us from seeing things in a new way. 

After a bit of study on “Beginner’s Mindset,” I realized that instead of simply dismissing things that I didn’t agree with, I was able to either allow those things to exist without judgment and move past them, or at least I became more open to them as potential truths and allowed my preconceptions to take a back seat to my curiosity.  

This approach created the ability to not require Catholicism to be “perfect,” and instead allowed me to see the beautiful parts of the faith that were obscured by a couple of thousand years of history.

There are still plenty of things that I disagree with in the Catholic Church, but I have made a decision that those things aren’t what makes the faith beautiful.

Instead of getting in the way of my faith journey, this abundance of things to discover and learn about has opened up my mind to the possibility that I have more - much more - to learn This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t chosen to embrace the Buddhist philosophy of Shoshin

Ironic, right? 

So how does this relate to business? How do you apply the concept of Shoshin to your day-to-day entrepreneurial efforts? 

 

How To Adopt A Beginner's Mindset in Your Business: 

 

Be the dumb guy in the room.

Stop approaching life and business as if you must be the expert in order for other people to accept you. We all have that “one friend” who feels the need to one-up everyone in the conversation by talking only about themselves and their accomplishments.  They can’t wait until someone takes a breath so that they can interject with their own story about how good they are at something, or to tell the rest of the group how it should be done. This is not only annoying, but it’s also a major barrier to growth.  Instead of jumping in to prove how good you are at something, choose to ask questions and be open to the possibilities that others provide in their answers. Confucius (or somebody) said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” Being the smartest person in the room is about needing to be the smartest person in the room. It is the need to always be right, always needing to have the last word, and to feel superior to others. It is usually the result of someone with a huge ego and an inferiority complex. Be the dumb guy and see what possibilities it opens up for you. 

 

You don’t always have to add value. In Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he says that a classic problem of smart and successful people is that they are “Adding Too Much Value.” This bad habit can be defined as the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. Adding Too Much Value is common among successful business people, especially those with strong go?? strengths. It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) they already knew it and (b) they know a better way.  Instead of adding value, imagine what would happen if you let go of the need to always contribute and simply stepped back, asked questions and then truly observed and listened to the answers that other people gave. 

 

Have an out of body experience. When you’re tempted to be the expert and add too much value to the situation, pretend that you aren’t actually physically there in the conversation, but instead are floating above it, viewing it in 3rd person.   Use this exercise to be fully present to BOTH sides of the conversation; yours and the other person’s. Too often we don’t think before we speak.  We rush to fill the silence with words in order to remove the uncomfortable pauses in the conversation.  If we slow down and allow space and silence it gives us more room to consider our words and therefore provide responses and answers that add to the conversation vs. opinions and postures that take away from the discussion or shut it down altogether. 

 

Be curious.  Approaching the world with a sense of authentic curiosity is one of the keystones of openness and beginner’s mind. Even if you feel out of practice and don’t know where to start, it’s still inside you.  Instead of sharing a story about how YOU do something, ask someone else how THEY do it.  Instead of instantly dismissing an idea or opinion as bad, settle in and explore the possibility that it might not be. See if you can have an entire conversation with another person without justifying or sharing your personal stance on the issue. 

 

Choosing to have a beginner’s mindset doesn't mean that you have to throw away all of your experiences.  Quite the opposite, it is simply a way to keep our minds open to the possibilities that exist.  I think once you try this for awhile  you’ll like it so much that it will become your default mindset in many situations. 

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