Beginner’s Mind

It happens to all of us. We get worked up about something that we’re really confident is a for sure thing. Then they call the lottery numbers and we’re still broke. Being disappointed by or in something extends way beyond buying lottery tickets and hoping to strike it rich. It’s easy to be disappointed in just about anything when we realize it didn’t meet our original goals or expectations.

A few days ago I read a post from Marc Chernoff on 3 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than It Has To Be. While not directly related to this discussion, one of the things he points out is this situation:

Imagine you had a ripe, juicy apple sitting on an otherwise empty table in front of you.  You pick it up eagerly, take a nibble, and begin to taste it.

You already know how an apple should taste, and so when this one is a bit more tart than you expected, you make a face, feel a sense of disappointment and swallow it, dissatisfied.

Or perhaps the apple tastes EXACTLY as you expected – nothing special at all.  So you swallow without even pausing to enjoy its flavor, and you move on with your day.

In the first scenario, the apple was disappointing because it didn’t meet your expectations.  In the second, it was too plain and unexciting because it met your expectations to a T.

Do you see the irony here?

It’s either not good, or not good enough.

Let’s think about that for a second. In this scenario, the consumer of the apple is inherently disappointed because the apple was either nothing remarkable or just sucked. Both are levels of disappointment, the former being veiled and not all-encompassing.

One way to avoid so much disappointment in life is to go into things with and open mind. The other, stop having expectations for things you aren’t intimately familiar with and be flexible. I can walk into Whole Foods and subsequently walk out and be disappointed they don’t have a certain brand of something I want. I could also walk into Whole Foods and buy an alternative brand to something I want because the original brand wasn’t available. In the latter situation, I’m no longer disappointed I couldn’t get X product. Sure it wasn’t the brand I wanted, but I went into Whole Foods with the idea that it might not actually be there in the uber-specific format I desire.

In consuming the apple from earlier, Marc goes on to say:

Now imagine you try this: eliminate your expectations of how the apple ‘should’ taste.  You don’t know, and you don’t pretend to know, because you haven’t tried it yet.  Instead, you’re genuinely curious, impartial and open to a variety of flavors.

You taste it, and you truly pay attention.  You notice the juiciness, the grainy texture of the skin, the simultaneously sweet, tangy and tart flavors swirling around your tongue, and all the other complex sensations that arise in your awareness as you chew.  You didn’t know how it would taste, but now you realize it’s brilliant!  It’s brand new, because you’ve never tasted THIS apple before.

Mindfulness practitioners often refer to this as “beginner’s mind,” but really it’s just the outcome of a mindset free of needless expectations.

Beginner’s Mind. All of this boils down to having a beginner’s mind. Going into a situation without pretense, already being convinced, or otherwise having a jaded view.

Also called “keeping an open mind.”

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