Pride and ego prevent many adults from expanding their minds. It takes humility to admit that we have limited knowledge or credibility on a subject matter. But in truth, we can only be experts in a limited number of areas. And when we embrace a beginner’s mindset, we open a realm of opportunities.
How quick are you to admit when you don’t know something? Owning up to ignorance doesn’t come easily to most of us. But it graces us with the gift of an open mind, with no preconceptions or assumptions. When we recognize we have limited knowledge, we are humble and curious.
This article will outline what it means to have a beginner’s mindset and the associated advantages. It will also suggest 5 tips for adopting a beginner’s mindset.
What does it mean to have a beginner’s mindset?
A beginner’s mind is a blank canvas. It is open, with no preconceived ideas or assumptions.
As the name suggests, a beginner’s mindset allows us to approach a situation from the position of a complete beginner. This beginner position means we observe a situation with fresh eyes and curiosity. The mind of a beginner is like a sponge. They absorb insights and wisdom from information sources all around them. They listen and learn and expand their knowledge from the ground up.
To put this into perspective, consider what the opposite of a beginner’s mindset would look like. This type of mindset is a closed mindset.
Several years ago, I organized a series of running races. I found a simplified process to waymark the route.
I offered to share this information with a couple of other race directors of other races. One director shut me down immediately and, without even listening to my suggestion, outlined all their perceived reasons why my solution wasn’t feasible. This situation is a prime example of a closed mind. Their lack of a beginner’s mindset cost them time and kept their event stale and stagnant.
The other race director listened, asked questions, and was open to change. They didn’t use their expertise as an excuse not to listen. They were hungry for improvement and willing to make adaptations to their processes.
In this article published in the London Journal of Primary Care, the author speaks of the beginner mindset regarding the context of medical professionals responding to their patients.
The author discusses how “improvisation and openness” may help “revive and reconnect us with our own humanity.” Specifically, the author focuses on a critical distinction that medical staff who portray a beginner’s mindset have over those with a closed mindset. These professionals can be present, listen, and respond to patients as individuals.
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The advantages of the beginner’s mindset
An empty mind means we are starting with a clean sheet. No preconceptions and prejudices. No assumptions and cognitive biases.
Adults tend to adopt silo thinking. Which can stifle our growth, plateau our happiness, and generally leave us feeling stuck.
When we adopt a beginner’s mindset, we increase our creativity. Our openness to change enhances our problem-solving and solution exploration.
In Tom Vanderbilt’s book titled Beginners: The joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning, Vanderbilt explores his journey of learning new skills in his 40s. He recognized the hypocrisy of encouraging his daughter to learn instruments, languages, and sports while he sat and watched. He recounts a world of possibilities from opening up our minds.
Learning new skills is associated with increased confidence and self-esteem.
A significant advantage of adopting a beginner’s mindset and learning new skills in later life is improved cognitive abilities. In this study, a group of participants aged between 58 – 86 engaged in several courses, including language, art, and music. After only a few months, they increased their skill set in each area of study, and their cognitive tests matched other adults who were a staggering 30 years younger.
5 ways to have a beginner’s mindset
We boost our creativity and performance by opening our minds to novel approaches and new ideas. We also enhance our cognition and gain confidence from new knowledge and skills.
Here are 5 tips for how you can have a beginner’s mindset.
1. Ditch all preconceptions
Other people’s opinions surround us. We often have preconceptions without ever having experienced something, which can be restrictive and damaging.
For instance, in my old career, people’s reputations preceded them. If a new colleague was joining my team from another department, the rumor mill often sent information my way before I met them. Ultimately this is gossip. We must learn to discard all the noise about someone and make up our minds.
Suppose you have preconceptions of somebody before giving them a chance to prove themselves. In that case, you are damaging your credibility and potentially getting sucked into office gossip and bullying.
Stay firm, clear your mind, and do not allow others to influence your thoughts.
2. Be open to novel ideas
As adults, we are quick to shut down ideas before they develop. We may respond with comments such as “that won’t work because of …” or “yeah, but the problem with that is ….”
We are afraid of failure. It may not work. But we will only know this if we give it a go. Let’s get out of our comfort zone and be open to novel ideas.
To master a skill, we need repetition; think of basketball players investing hundreds and thousands of hours of time shooting hoops. But an interesting suggestion in this study recommends a “repetition without repetition” approach. Ultimately this explores the use of variety in skill acquisition.
Be open to novel ideas and celebrate variety. Variety is the spice of life.
3. Embrace curiosity
A curious mind is open and holds no judgment. It is confident to explore without fearing failure.
You can increase your curiosity through mindfulness and meditation. Use these techniques to slow down the mind instead of allowing your brain to steam right ahead with assumptions.
A curious mind steps away from the mold. It tackles problems from different angles. Look at situations from different perspectives. Consider the conundrum from the stance of people from all walks of life.
A curious mind is beneficial in all areas of our lives. If this is an area you need help with, check out our article on how you can be more curious.
4. Trial and error is part of the process
If you want a beginner mindset, you need to be comfortable with making mistakes.
We are so afraid of being bad at something that we don’t even try. We stifle ourselves when we keep doing what we are comfortable with. When we engage in trial and error, we learn to find comfort in making mistakes. We give ourselves room for error and learn from our mistakes.
I’ll say that again, we learn from our mistakes. If we protect ourselves and try to prevent any errors, we limit our ability to grow.
We need errors and mistakes to serve as valuable lessons. Matthew Syed’s fascinating book Black Box Thinking explores the necessity of making mistakes and learning from them as part of the improvement process.
5. Seek help from experts
There’s a universal joke about men being reluctant to ask for directions. Many people are reluctant to ask for help; no one likes to appear like they don’t know what they are doing.
But when we seek experts’ advice and experience, we are willing to learn. A foolish person doesn’t ask for directions; they risk getting lost.
Never feel too proud to ask for help or ashamed about requiring assistance. The wise leader isn’t necessarily the one with the most knowledge. Instead, they can best use the expertise and knowledge of those around them.
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Adopting a beginner’s mindset expands and stretches your mind and extends your knowledge and skill set. A beginner’s mindset also helps to increase your confidence and boosts your well-being and happiness.
Do you have any other tips for learning to adopt a beginner mindset? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!