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The Beginner's Mind

We have two minds: an expert mind and a beginner’s mind. In Japanese Buddhism, a beginner's mind is called shoshin. It is a mindset where you maintain an attitude of openness, eagerness, and flexibility. In a beginner's mind, there are no expectations and preconceived ideas. He sees things with an open mind, just like a beginner. You approach every opportunity and experience with openness and non-judgment. As something new that has something new to offer. 

In an expert's mind, you judge everything. You have a preconceived idea of everything. You perceive good and bad. You perceive ease and difficulty. Everything has a name and a meaning and a definition. 

Contrarily, in the beginner's mind, there is no definition. There is no name. There is no ideal. You approach every experience with an open and empty mind. You don’t attribute any name to anything before experiencing it. It remains eternally flexible and new and open to every experience. 

In an expert's mind, there is little excitement. Everything is fixed. There are little possibilities. There are limited opportunities for change and growth. In the Beginner's Mind, on the other hand, there is endless excitement and possibilities. Everything brings about a new beginning. Everything is about to open new doors. As Shunryu Suzuki puts it in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: "in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

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We live in a world where everyone has opinions and views about almost everything. We are partisan about everything. About most things, we already have made up our mind and there is little room to maneuver or change course or for a different take. We have closed the doors. We are all-knowing. We understand every topic and have an opinion about every issue. When we have an opinion about everything, we don’t want to learn. And hence don’t make progress. 

In a beginner’s mind, you accept the fact that you don’t know. When you accept the fact that you don’t know, you want to learn and it opens doors. 

A beginner’s mind is more like a child’s mind where there is little prejudice but endless inquiry and excitement and fascination. The naturalist Rachel Carson puts it beautifully (1): “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”

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Developing a beginner's mind is of profound importance for founders. Being a founder is a difficult job. It requires us to bring our whole self to the world of building something meaningful from scratch. 

This is an act that requires immense power, resourcefulness, and tenacity that is impossible to achieve without an open mind. 

There are all kinds of practical implications for founders. Maintaining a beginner’s mind allows you to handle rejections better. It helps to build better relationships. Get things done. Deal with fear and procrastination. Hire better people. Do well in sales. Most importantly, it offers you opportunities to learn and explore. It opens doors that are closed when your mind is closed. 


Practice 

Most of us have lost contact with our child’s authenticity and curiosity. We no longer find every raindrop fascinating or every object a new discovery. Hence, we need to reestablish our connection with our beginner’s mind. We need the practice to reenact our openness to every possibility without a preconceived notion. 

Any practice for inner growth is about paying attention and establishing relationships with your higher-self and the ultimate power. I find my daily five times prayers an incredible practice to go deeper into myself and bring a sense of humbleness and submission to the Almighty. It stills me and allows me to remain open.  

You can find your own practice. It can be a religious practice or a secular one like meditation. Spend some time with yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts. See when you become judgemental or maintain preconceived ideas about something or some experience. Simply notice it. Next time try if you can let the judgment go. Bring this practice to your work. When you are dealing with someone, bring a beginner’s mind to it. Don’t attribute any value, good or bad, to any relationship or experience. Simply be present and do what you need to do. Make this practice part of your daily operation. 

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at [email protected]

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