The concept of shoshin, or the beginner's mind, is from Zen Buddhism and refers to the open-mindedness that comes with inexperience. It's easy to think that the awe and wonder of childhood are behind us, but thinking like a beginner can happen at any moment in life. And research shows that cultivating a beginner's mind can promote better mental health.
As adults we usually have no choice but to optimize our thinking for efficiency. But the child's mind is tuned for learning. Dr. Alison Gopnik, head of the Cognitive Development and Learning Lab at UC Berkeley explores how young children are in certain ways better than adults at thinking creatively. In her book, The Philosophical Baby, she explains how the same abilities that "lead children to create imaginary friends... lead grown-ups to create plays and novels. Imagining how they could be different actually lets children, and adults, become different. We can turn ourselves into our imaginary alter egos.”
Here are our favorite strategies for opening your beginner's mind.
Develop a new interest.
Developing new interests, behaviors, and habits can many times have a greater impact on how we feel than changes to our circumstances.
Ask for help.
If you're trying something for the first time, let go of the belief that you have to figure it out alone. Getting help is central to a beginner's mind.
Make time to experiment.
Give yourself enough time before deciding something is not for you. Mental health experts recommend trying a new hobby for at least 20 hours, or daily for 30 days.
View failure as feedback.
Failure is part of the learning process, not a reflection of who you are. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from challenges, is strongly linked to mental health.
Let go of expectations.
Resist the urge to have specific expectations about the outcome of your new interest. Instead remind yourself that you've already accomplished the goal of practicing a beginner's mind..
Think like a child.
Take note of details that fascinate children but are easily overlooked by adults. The color of the sky, the lines in the sidewalk, the sound of someone's voice, are all rich with new information.
Save this post for the next time you're starting something new or when you’re feeling tired of adulting.
- Amplifying organizations and mutual aid groups that are dedicated to supporting mental health in our most vulnerable communities.
- Sharing our favorite tools for balancing your mental health today, and revisiting tried and true techniques that have been proven effective time and again.
- An open conversation about how you've been feeling lately, and which strategies you're using to protect and enrich your mental health.