Experimenting with our beginner’s mind
On a train journey, a group of Asian kids in their 20s, apparently backpacking through Europe, is sitting next to me.
They chat, I obviously have no idea what they are talking about, but they just look happy, while seemingly commenting on the swiss landscape out of the window.
And yes, the landscape is undoubtedly beautiful, with the first snow covering the hills and mountains, but I needed this reminder to look up from my computer and out of the window.
I am a very passionate traveler, and one of the things that I love about traveling is being fascinated by the simplest everyday activity that I see going on around me.
Of course, I will never forget the incredible temples of Angkor, in Cambodia, the coral reef in Indonesia, the sunset in the African savannah, the billion stars in the Sahara’s night sky, the orcas peacefully swimming around our boat in Iceland, just to name a few.
At the same time, I also find myself fascinated by the colors and smells in the markets, the school buses full of kids with different uniforms, the way people dress, the sound of different languages.
I look at the houses and try to imagine how it would be to live there, on an island, at the edge of the desert or in a bustling city with millions of inhabitants.
I even enjoy the most trivial activities such as riding the local buses or shopping in the supermarkets.
At the end of the day, this is why being in another country for 2 weeks feels like being there for months. I just live more fully, taking in so much more and giving so much less for granted compared to when I am home.
Walking on a street as if it were the first time we were walking, looking at the people around us as if it were the first time we saw them, approaching life with curiosity and wonder… this is the essence of a beginner’s mind, or Shoshin, a concept coming from Zen Buddhism.
This is something we all have as kids and that we somehow often lose when growing up, and I cannot help but think about how much this beginner’s mind could help us in our everyday business life.
As the Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki wrote in his book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” (1970): “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
How would it be if we could hang on to what our expertise allows us to do, but also keep an open, curious mind about what else could be possible when we let go of it, and ask ourselves how we could be wrong?
Especially in the world we are living in, ruled by uncertainty and unpredictability, how would the ability to let go of too many expectations, preconceptions and judgments help us?
What would be possible if we were able to forget the sole focus on outcomes and enjoy the learning journey?
A few ideas on how to play with these concepts, coming from my own and my coachees’ experimentation:
- Surround yourself with people that have a different opinion, perspective, cultural/academic background than you.
Having conversations with them will definitely help you question yourself more and give fewer things for granted.
It might feel really uncomfortable at times, but seeking information and perspectives that contradict your current position will help you not slip into “confirmation bias”, enlarge your understanding and develop a more holistic, systemic view.
I deeply believe this is one of the reasons more diverse teams are more effective!
- Try to get rid of too many “shoulds”.
Very often when you say “I should be more like this” or “I should stop doing that”, what you are really doing is taking an outside perspective or your old self-view and trying to force it on your present self.
How about reversing the concept and asking yourself what you want to try doing more/less of now, and start now to experiment with a few new behaviours?
Remember the little kid you once were, and try it out with curiosity!
- Intentionally focus on one thing at a time, stop multitasking and try to be as present as possible to what is there in the moment. Deliberately invoke in yourself the emotion of awe.
Remembering Albert Einstein quote: “Look to the stars and from them learn”, make from time to time space to actually look in wonder at the sky, at the stars, at nature around you and allow that to sink in as if it were the first time.
Let me hear how these ideas land for you, and please let me know how could I be wrong! 😉
Photo credit: me 10 years ago, featuring my youngest with his typical amazed-about-the-world-around-him look