Giving Yourself Permission to Experiment and Try - A Beginner's Mind

I'm afraid I disagree with Yoda about there is no "Try." Try is the antidote to our pesky brains belief that our decisions are do or die, make or break, all or nothing. Believing that there is just one "right" answer in any given situation causes us to feel stress, doubt ourselves, and look to others for "the answer." Our brains are seeking certainty and safety, not growth or discovery. And certainty is fairytale thinking, not to mention really stressful.

Rather than expecting certainty, the perfect solution or the "right" anything, what if we changed our approach and expected not knowing? Where our focus was on the ideas and effort, not the outcomes? What if we had the freedom of play, of discovery, of curiosity, of learning and growing? What if we let the process be messy, go where it needs to go, and take as long as it takes?

This line of thinking is also known as a beginner's mindset. Beginner's mind is actually a concept from Zen Buddhism called Shoshin.

Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind". It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. 1. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." 2. "Beginner's mind embodies the highest emotional qualities such as enthusiasm, creativity, zeal and optimism."
~Shunryn Suzuki

Let's look at an example and explore how we might fall into either/or, right vs. wrong, or all/nothing thinking, and how we can embrace a beginner's mind.

Example: Creating a New Healthy Habit

Creating a new habit, simply put, is hard. Our minds find change uncomfortable so there is a natural wrestling you're bound to experience. When we feel this resistance, we often have all-or-nothing thoughts. "I have to get up early all this week or I'm never..." "I have to start exercising 3 times a week or else..." "I have to x or else y." It's a predictable pattern.

Have you ever wondered who is talking when we think "I have to..."? It's fear.

Fear isn't saying "bad things are going to happen if you don't do x." It's actually saying "bad things are going to happen if you DO x, and I don't want you to do x." It's like a reverse psychology game our brain plays with us to keep us powerless. When you realize thoughts like these are a game and not at all true, it's easier to dismiss them.

Rather than fall for all-or-nothing thinking, we can recognize these kinds of thoughts, or the stress that is caused by this thinking, then come up with a "middle road" or experimentation plan. What would that look like? Well, as a human with full agency in your life, you get to decide! Here are a few examples.

Maybe if you want to get up early, you decide to try for 3 days this week and notice how you feel. Then you might ask yourself, what do I need to get up early? What days are best to try this out? What do I want to do once I am up early to make this worthwhile and sustainable?

And if you get up early 0,1 or 2 days instead of all 3? What do you do? Do you say you suck or that you failed and you'll never get anywhere? No. You say, "hmmm, What got in the way? What did I learn that I can apply this week? How important is getting up early to me really? Why is this important and how committed am I to making this change? What would it take to increase my commitment?"

How we think can dramatically change how we feel. For example, how do these statements affect you differently? "You have to or else!" vs. "What do you need to try?" One feels very stressful and defeatist to me. The other feels encouraging and kind.

If you were wondering, It's NORMAL if your mind pipes up with all-or-nothing thinking by default. You are after all human. The key is, once you notice, you can consciously bring forward a beginner's mind by giving yourself permission to try, learn and have fun despite what your default brain had in mind. There are no mistakes!

One final thought for you. For those of us who are performance-minded (I'm in your boat), If you're worried that by not being hard on yourself you'll somehow be lazy or careless, don't. A beginner's mindset does not mean immaturity. It's more about how you approach your endeavor, focusing on having fun with the process, being curious and open, rather than forcing and rushing the process to get the outcome. You can be just as dedicated to learning and making progress as being harsh in judging yourself on your performance. I hope you choose the former!

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©2019 by Angela Greenwell.