Shoshin and the Art of Learning

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there a few.” - Shunryu Suzuki

In the digital age, we are seeing a far greater push to be relevant -  to have all the answers.  This new climate inevitably puts us in a position of always trying to prove what we already know, in place of assuming we know little.

Shoshin, or the Zen concept of ‘Beginner’s Mind’, represents the ability to embrace the curiosity to always seek out what we have yet to learn.  With the beginner’s mind, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and perspectives, especially the one’s that may conflict with beliefs we’ve inherited.

In Martial Arts, we call this the White Belt mind, symbolizing the identity of the beginning practitioner, eager to learn anything and everything.  As we progress through life, the key is to maintain that vigor for learning, regardless of how much information we’ve gathered.

In fact, it is more crucial that the seasoned professional be open to relearning, more than the beginner.  Our bandwidth for new information has shrunk, and the likelihood that we’ll identify something that can complete transform us shrinks as well.  For this reason, we must be even more open to listening, studying and learning from those around us.  Last year, we shared our four rules on how to maintain the white belt mind.  These harmonize with the concept of Shoshin.


Be the Proverbial Student
Never stop learning.  Never assume you have all the answers.  Always assume you have something to learn from everyone.  Always be prepared to lose and learn from anyone, regardless of their age, education or cultural heritage.


Embrace pain in the name of growth
Pain is a necessary component to growth.  The strained muscle adapts and grows.  The heart that is exercised beats stronger.  The failed plan becomes a predictable lesson for future endeavors.  The fist of 10,000 punches is like iron.

Value necessity over popularity
Popularity will come and go, and is rarely adaptable.  A technique in the fighting arts might look flashy, but have no necessity in a fight.   Necessity is as adaptable as they come.  To do work that is of necessity is to have the identity of the Problem Solver.  When you are committed to solving interesting problems for many, you will be a necessity.  When you are interested in doing what will get you attention, you will be a fad.  Necessity also pushes us to constantly learn.  As the needs of our environment change, so must our own abilities and perspective.

Let go of your fear of time
Too often we allow fears of time to rule our decisions.  “It will take too much time” “There’s not enough time.” “I’m too old.” “I’m too young.” To be the proverbial beginner, you must let go of time.  Be patient enough to do a thing well.  Be ambitious enough to optimize and move quickly when needed.


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