Shoshin: How Beginner’s Mind Will Help You Experience the New

Shoshin: How Beginner’s Mind Will Help You Experience the New


xpertise is everywhere. We’ve all gotten good at various things in our lives, but that level of understanding comes with a burden as well. We start to view things in a very specific, rigid way. A way that fits the narrative of our experience and knowledge thus far in life. We have trouble seeings things from a different perspective any longer.

This happens most often when we believe we already know something. When we’re in such a state of mind, we are less open to new ideas, information, and perspectives. We believe what we know is correct and we can pretty much ignore everything else. Situations similar to this occur on the regular, so what can we do to break out of this way of thinking?

Shoshin, a concept in Zen Buddhism may hold the answer. Shoshin translates into beginner’s mind. This beginner’s mind is the act of having an open mind, letting go of all preconceived notions, and looking at things from a fresh, untarnished perspective.

Sounds like the perfect solution, doesn’t it? Let’s explore how we can use this idea in our daily lives.

If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

The most obvious way to start using beginner’s mind is to engage in new things that literally put you in the position of a beginner. So learning new skills, going on adventures, and exploring the unknown is a great place to start and results in several benefits.

1. Experience Wonder

As we get older, we begin to lose that sense of wonder we all had when we were children. The world was full of possibilities and unknowns that we were happy to discover. Things get a bit stagnant as we age. By doing the new though, you bring back that wonder, that joy, and the fun of exploration. It’s a feeling that you can’t get any other way and one we should do our best not to lose.

2. Practice Failure

Anytime you try something new, you’re going to fail. Repeatedly. And that’s exactly what we need. This cycle of trying and failing and trying again is how we learn and grow. Unfortunately, society seems to perceive failure with a far too negative outlook. The truth is, failure is the best way to learn in all facets of life and the more comfortable we are with failing, the better off we will be.

3. Start From Empty

The biggest problem we all suffer from when we’re trying to be creative in a field that we’re already knowledgeable in, is getting past our own preconceptions. We have assumptions, rules, and beliefs tied to what we know. The beauty of learning something new is that we aren’t shackled by any such preconceptions. We start from empty and have a clean slate to work from. This emptiness leaves us open to all possibilities.

4. Lower Risk

Taking on something new means there’s nothing at stake. No one expects you to get it right the first time or the tenth time for that matter. You’re free of all pressure, stress, and risk to perform and you can simply experiment. It is in these moments of carefree exploration that we become the most creative and are willing to take the greatest chances. The value of such an environment can be immeasurable.

5. Break the Rules

Let’s face it, all rules are meant to be broken; when you really think about it, a rule may have made sense when it was originally formed, but may not apply any longer. The great thing about being a beginner is you don’t even know what the rules are! That makes it far easier to break them. This lack of boundaries leads to crazy ideas and innovation that others too close to the field would never stumble across.

Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.Mashall McLuhan

Applying this approach to what we don’t know is simple enough. There are always new things to do. On the other hand, using this mindset on the things we already know, is much more difficult. The goal here is to experience the new, so that we can once more take on the role of the beginner. Here’s a few ways to do exactly that.

1. Question Assumptions

Everything is colored by assumptions. How you do your job, how you eat your food, how you learn a skill, and so on. A great way to enter beginner’s mind is to challenge these very assumptions that we often take for granted. Is that assumption actually valid? What if you changed it? Altering or ignoring an assumption here and there can make anything feel like new.

2. Pay Attention

As is often the case, when we get good at things, we don’t pay much attention to what we’re doing. It becomes a rote process of steps that we simply understand. While this is great when you’re working and trying to get into a flow, it also means you may be missing out on an opportunity. If you pay attention to these steps along the way, you may notice something you do that isn’t quite right or that could be done better. Just paying attention to the things we take for granted, will help us notice what we may be missing.

3. Solve Problems Differently

When we see a problem that we’ve faced repeatedly, we know exactly how to solve it. Instead, try and find an alternative solution. Try something unconventional that breaks from your typical approach. You may or may not discover a method that is better, but more importantly, that problem takes on an entirely new meaning. You have to think different, which is what you’re striving for.

4. Try New Perspectives

A great piece of advice for every facet of life, is to empathize with others and view things from their perspectives. Think about what things look like from the perspective of the customer, the manufacturer, the spouse, or pretty much any other stakeholder besides yourself. Seeing things from this new angle can reveal problems and ideas that were otherwise overlooked by you.

5. Intersect Fields

Finally, try to take two fields that you know well and put them together. This almost always results in something interesting and new. See how they combine. See what you can use from one that could be applied to the other. This intersection of fields leads to novel ideas and interesting solutions that you’ll never have thought about before.


The beginner’s mind is a beautiful thing, if we embrace the idea that we truly don’t know anything.

So the next time things are getting a little too familiar or you’re trying to innovate, try and use these steps to enter into the beginner’s mind. It can transform the known into the new and I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Image via flickr

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