Updated: Oct 11, 2021
Unexpectedly, I turned into an English teacher! A dear friend of mine has a friend staying with her for a couple of months from Switzerland. This friend, we’ll call her Nola is enrolled in an English immersion program while she’s here so she can improve her English-speaking skills. In addition to her University learning, Nola asked if I would spend an hour each day tutoring her.
It’s been interesting in so many ways. First of all, have you ever tried to explain the English language? Holy Moly, it’s hard! I had to (and continue to) clear away some mental cobwebs about the different tenses. I wonder how many people have given much thought to the difference between past simple, past continuous and past perfect. I actually love words and language and forming thoughts into words, but it’s complicated!
The second thing about being a part of this teaching/learning process is my admiration of Nola for taking time to learn something new. It really puts one into a beginner’s mindset where wonder, curiosity, excitement and sometimes total frustration are felt.
A beginner’s mindset can be applied in a situation like this, where someone is literally learning something new. But it can also be applied to things we see and do on a daily basis, or even things that we already excel at.
A beginner’s mindset is studying a subject with an open mind, with eagerness, and without preconceptions, just as a beginner would, regardless of one’s level of knowledge or experience in that subject.
And MindfulAmbition goes even further to say that in the state of (beginner’s) mind, you are:
Free of preconceptions of how anything works
Free of expectations about what will happen
Filled with curiosity to understand things more deeply
Open to a world of possibilities, since you don’t yet know what is or isn’t possible
Take a minute to think back to when you were a kid learning something new. It’s quite possible you were overflowing with questions and allowing your imagination to run wild. And no question was off-limits or dumb; you were simply curious!
MindfulAmbition offers some steps you can take to deepen your Beginner’s Mindset…
Identify your expectations, and flip them around What have you assumed to be true about this experience or topic? Can you 100% know that it’s true? What would happen if you did the opposite?
Go slowly With known topics, you tend to operate on autopilot. By deliberately slowing down, you can force yourself to experience each step of a given activity more deeply. Physically slow down your movements, and your mind tends to follow.
Avoid pre-judgement When you think you know how something will go, resist the temptation to assume. Instead, take time to wait and see. Can you really know that it will happen in the way you assumed it will?
Break the topic down into building blocks Try to distill the topic or exercise into a simpler form. What are the basic elements at play here? How do they relate to one-another? Which elements are most important? Which could you get rid of?
Get curious by channeling your inner five-year-old Ask someone to explain a problem or subject to you in as simple language as possible. Don’t assume anything. Ask them the simplest questions, like “Why?” and “How does that work?” and “Why do you do it that way?” and “Can you say more about that?” (Or, swap roles, and try your hand at explaining it in the simplest language possible.)
Eliminate “should” from your vocabulary It’s fine to make hypotheses about how something will go. But “should”s attach yourself to an outcome. Let go of any expected outcome to remain open to broader possibilities.
Get rid of your extra arrows If you were learning archery for the first time, and had a quiver full of arrows, you might not consider your first shot very thoroughly. After all, if it doesn’t go well, you know you have more attempts. But what if the instructor only gave you one arrow? How might you approach things differently if you knew you only had one shot at it? Seek understanding, and do so mindfully.
Detach from your ego’s desire to be seen as an expert The ego likes to protect itself by knowing things and being right. But being right is rarely the real goal. Focus instead on seeing reality as it is, without bias.
Get fully present to the experience at hand Open your senses to what you’re experiencing, as if you’d never experienced it before. What do you see/hear/smell/feel/taste? What patterns exist? What is confusing? (Why?) What makes sense? (Why?)
Meditate to practice seeing clearly, without judgment In mindfulness meditation, the practice is to non-judgmentally observe the rising and passing of thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the present moment. In meditation, notice when you begin to expect how things should go, like what you’ll feel, or what you’ll think. This awareness of expectation provides an opportunity to let go, and return to your breathing. Remind yourself that every meditation is different, and that each breath is unique. Then, open yourself to the next breath…And the next…
Kacey is co-founder of Artemis Therapeutics with a Masters in Holistic Nutrition. She is a recent InnerMBA graduate from New York University’s MindfulNYU program. She is certified as a yoga instructor and Reiki practitioner. Kacey is passionate about justice and anti-racism and works to raise awareness and equity in her community.