How Forgetting Everything You Know Can Improve Your Practice

As an expert in your field, how often do you find yourself looking back and thinking about how long it took you to get to where you are today?  You may have spent nearly a decade in school, or perhaps longer, trying to retain every ounce of information.  How many years after that did you spend climbing the ranks or building your practice?  Most clinicians have dedicated their entire lives to mastering their craft.  Between the sleepless nights and financial burdens, they have sacrificed and given their all to become the accomplished professionals they are today.

What if I told you that the key to developing yourself further was to toss all of that knowledge out the window?

Now, before you assume that I’ve gone mad, or you decide to hit the ‘defragment’ button on your neural network, allow me to explain myself.  I am by no means encouraging you to start systematically removing basic human anatomy or the fundamentals of the human psyche from your memory bank.  What I am merely suggesting is that you try putting aside your experience and all of the preconceived notions of what it means to practice within your field, and try looking at each circumstance as new and unique.

Throughout your life, you have been accumulating information.  Events and experiences (both significant and trivial) combined with what you have learned throughout your education have come together like bricks to build the wall of your unique viewpoint - your established perspective.  The height and width of that wall may vary, [and it is certainly not done being built] but some inherent difficulties come from working with brick.  Its opacity, for one, may prevent us from seeing what lies beyond it, unless we build accordingly.

A Beginner’s Mind

Imagine a group of children creating a story or playing make-believe.  Some of the children may be adding details that seem outlandish or completely irrelevant to the rest of the story.  Others may build on that, or take the story in the opposite direction.  Regardless, each one has something valuable to contribute, and together they make up an entire fantasy.  They aren’t judging each other’s input based on previous experiences; they are simply allowing each portion of the story to come together organically and growing it from there.

In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,
but in the expert’s there are few.
— Shunryu Suzuki

When we take on a beginner’s mind, we allow ourselves to see the world with fresh eyes.  Instead of taking into account our preconceived ideas when confronted with an issue, we are given a chance to take it on without expectations.  Not only does this practice encourage creative new methods of dealing with familiar problems, but it increases our level of self-awareness by providing us with a chance to explore and interpret our own perceptions.  This understanding not only evokes better experiences with patients and colleagues but can also lower stress levels and reduce anxiety.

Collaboration is the key to innovation.

Modern problems require imaginative solutions.  To truly provide for our patients, we must be willing to treat them entirely - viewing them as a whole.  This means coming together, using our combined wisdom, and accepting that the methods inherent to our us may not always be the most effective.  Diverse backgrounds and skill sets are essential for creating a medical community with the fortitude to take on the burdens of contemporary healthcare.  Approaching issues with a beginners mind can give us this courage to innovate.

When we allow our assumptions to determine the outcome before taking on the problem, we may find ourselves feeling apathetic or even anxious.  Exploration, and ultimate acceptance, of new perspectives, can inspire the ingenuity necessary for moving forward.  By putting aside prejudgments, we embolden ourselves to grow, while finding greater meaning in the journey.

In daily life

The benefits of cultivating a beginner’s mind go far beyond exchanging ideas among peers.  This mindful way of thinking can help improve interactions with your patients as well.  Consider a patient with whom you often find yourself particularly frustrated.  Maybe you are constantly encouraging them to lose weight or to quit smoking, and they have consistently chosen not to heed your advice.  How do these meetings typically play out?

The benefits of cultivating a beginner’s mind go far beyond exchanging ideas among peers.  This mindful way of thinking can help improve interactions with your patients as well.  Consider a patient with whom you often find yourself particularly frustrated.  Maybe you are constantly encouraging them to lose weight or to quit smoking, and they have consistently chosen not to heed your advice.  How do these meetings typically play out?

 

Do you walk into the room already assuming they have not made an effort?

Does your frustration lead to defensiveness on their part?

Is anything accomplished?

 

Now imagine walking into that same room with that same patient, but this time, throw away all of those previous experiences and expectations you have before entering.  By not walking into the situation prepared to be disappointed, you will be able to address the patient with an empathetic ear.  Even if they have not yet succeeded in making those changes, your compassion may lead to new understanding of what is holding them back from doing so.  It may even drive them to leave your session feeling inspired to make those changes.

Becoming an expert at being a beginner

 

Here are a few ways you can strengthen your ability to use a beginner’s mind on a daily basis:

 

  1. Let go of being an expert
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail
  3. Let yourself say “I don’t know.”
  4. Try new things
  5. Enjoy searching for the solution, not rushing to get there
  6. Allow yourself to enjoy the little things
  7. Practice asking more questions than providing answers
  8. Let your mind wander occasionally - it encourages creativity

 

When we come together to exchange ideas and learn from one another, we create opportunities to deliver more efficient care to our patients.  We also open ourselves up to a greater understanding of what it means to heal and to be a healer.  This higher meaning is what drives us to build communities, such as ours.  Whether collaborating with peers, helping patients, or in your daily life, the cultivation of a beginner’s mind can help you gain a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.

Take a second today and give it a try, whether with a peer, a patient, or even a child.  Remember, practice makes perfect - even when perfection is not the goal.  I encourage you to share your thoughts or experiences.

Sara Simon

Asbury Park, NJ

Sara Simon is an Integrative Health Coach and a freelance blogger with a passion for collaboration between health and wellness professionals.  She is currently working to expand her own practice and help others find creative new ways to expand theirs.