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Why It’s Crucial To Think Like A Beginner

Forget acting like a pro. It’s time to think like a n00b.
by Juan Salazar | Jun 1 2018

Realizing our potential can be a fascinating journey, especially when we develop expertise along the way. Whether we want to master an instrument, crush it at work, or even become a better lover, we are constantly seeking knowledge in books, in YouTube tutorials, and in mentors.


With time, and with large doses of patience, we can develop our skills to the point where we become experts. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell sets out to study success, and what differentiates “world-class”-level successful people from the rest. Talent is obviously a key element in the recipe for success. However, hard work is as important, if not more so. Bill Gates spent a lot of time learning computer programming. The Beatles spent a lot of time on stage. Though they were also extraordinarily talented individuals, it was extensive practice that made them truly world-class. To achieve world-class mastery at anything, studies show you need to spend a “critical minimum” amount of time – around 10,000 hours – practicing. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to spend this much time practicing something.

Experience and repetition help us grow and allow us to tackle challenging tasks with a confidence which would have seemed impossible in the early days. Yet, what happens when we fail, despite spending tens of thousands of hours of hard work and dedication perfecting our craft?

Sometimes we get so tied up in our expertise and experience that we find it difficult to see things objectively. This can turn into an inability to recognize problems, and as a result, an inability to learn. In this state of mind, we are less open to new ideas, information, and perspectives. In our minds, what we know is correct and everything else just fades into the background. The most important question in this case is how can you be sure that the way you learned something is the best way? There is always the possibility that you simply learned one way of doing things, not the way of doing them.

This is the biggest downside that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with the way we learned to do things and readily accept the information that confirms our current beliefs. We tell ourselves we are learning, when we are really just going through pages and conversations, waiting to hear something that we can relate to from previous experiences, or something that matches our current philosophy, picking out information that justifies our current behaviors. We end up seeking validating information instead of new information.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Students of Zen Buddhism are no strangers to this philosophy. Zen Monk and teacher Shunryu Suzuki popularized this phrase, which basically describes the concept of Shoshin, which means ‘beginner’s mind’. It prescribes freeing our minds of preconceptions, to be able to approach studying with openness and eagerness, even when doing so at an advanced level.

A true beginner’s mind is empty and open, and willing to learn and consider all pieces of information. In the process of developing knowledge and expertise, however, our minds naturally become more closed, as we start to think that we already know the information we’re receiving, thus becoming less open to new perspectives.

By freeing our mind of preconceived notions can we come to experience the clarity of approaching situations without limitations.

In You Are A Badass, Jen Sincero writes about the overcoming the biggest stumbling blocks we face on our self-development journeys, and especially those that we might not be completely aware of. One of the strategies she uses is embracing the beginner’s mindset when tackling challenging tasks.

Instead of trying to solve problems like an expert, we should approach them like a complete beginner would — with a willingness to learn. Passionate learners are unburdened with pressure to prove their abilities, which in turns means they don’t struggle with the fear of failure. The beginner’s mindset allows you to stop dreading failure and embrace mistakes as a very welcome part of your educational process.

Adopting a beginner’s mindset is one way to become more comfortable with not knowing. Most of us go through life wanting to excel. This obsession with achievement can foster close-minded thinking, and make us steer away from being open to change. A beginner’s mindset helps us embrace learning, growth, and compassion. We become receptive to ideas, we readily ask for help which boosts our progress, our perspectives and creative problem-solving skills expand, and, most importantly, our way of seeing failure changes – instead of it being a reason to stop, it becomes an important source of feedback.

When we don’t approach challenges with a fresh mind, we tend to expect achievement. The beginner’s mindset shifts the focus away from achievement, to create a selfless state of mind that allows for boundless opportunity.

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