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A Beginner’s Mind – are you still open to the concept of learning?

After a month full of tense play-offs in rugby and football, and a full line up of golf, tennis and cricket taking place this summer, it’s always an engaging topic of conversation to discuss the top performers and how they attain - and then retain – the winning edge. What is it that keeps them at the peak of their game? Here at Gazing, we believe that a key component of elite performance is having a beginner’s mind.

 

When we talk about a beginner’s mind, I am referring to be concept of being always open to learning. In martial arts and stemming from Zen Buddhism, this concept is known as “Sho Shin”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.  In an experts mind there are few possibilities to learn, but in a beginner’s mind the possibilities are endless.  The quote “Ancora Imparo” is often attributed to the great artist Michelangelo – but in fact a popular concept in his lifetime and found in many of the great artists work, simply means ‘I’m still learning’. It’s amazing to think that at the height of his achievements he had this attitude. How does it contrast to some of the comments that come out of so called experts in various fields?

As a training company, we are always delighted and challenged by people who are looking for that edge; that desire to improve, raise their game.  Call it what you wish, but that need to be always learning is critical for high performance. We work with a lot of top performers – in business, sport and education – and it appears to be a personal trait of all those that succeed at the top of their game. The acknowledgement that there is always the possibility to get better. It is sadly often missing from comments and behaviors in some performers. Those that give off the demeanor of having made it - being a bit special, without any need to take on board criticism or feedback. It’s a dangerous attitude and usually leads to an inevitable demise in fortunes.

In our work with the British Kyokushinkai full contact fighters, we saw just how important it was to have an attitude, if only to avoid being knocked off your perch! They worked incredibly hard to find the slightest edge and were always respectful of new information and ideas. There was no experts and no attitude, despite how good they were. From an outsider’s perspective, the highest rank attainable in martial arts is the black belt. In fact, within the sport, this is seen as the start of true learning and the black belts’ challenge is to work gradually back to being a white belt. The more senior black belt ranks will usually have some form of red or white to symbolize this challenge.

The more I learn the more I realise how much I have to learn.

We find that it is those with a beginner’s mind who are most open in their approach and maintain endless discipline towards skill acquisition. There is an acceptance and desire to improve – an acknowledgement that this is what people have to do if they want to attain and retain that ‘edge’.

Just to close this blog, we have two final illustrations which are a delight.

1. Being interviewed recently on Radio 4 for the release of his latest album of songs, 17-time Grammy winner Tony Bennet was asked why he is still working so hard. His response? “I have so much to learn about singing. I am still learning.” The interviewer was taken aback at such a beautiful heartfelt statement from an 87 year old master.

2. Likewise another 87 year old master, Funakoshi Gichin, who is often attributed as the founder of modern karate, showed the humility and honesty that comes with beginners mind.  In his last months of life, after over 70 years of practice and dedication, and in a state where he was literally having to be carried up and down stairs, Gichin was found sitting up on theedge of his bed practicing the basic fore fist punch. This is a technique that is taught in the very first karate lesson and repeated in every class no matter what. It is a technique he would have practiced tens of thousands of times.  He turned to his student and said, “I think I’ve finally made some progress!” 

His student wept.

Michelangelo, Funakoshi and Tony Bennett, true masters and absolute beginners. I am still learning.

So if you’re looking to up your game and become of those top performers – whether on the pitch or in the boardroom - ask yourself if you believe you have that beginners mind. Look around at the people you work with regularly and friends to see if you can identify those who are open to learning. From our perspective, once you tune into the thinking around being open to learning, it’s a game changer.

 

Bede Brosnaham, Product Director, Gazing Performance Systems

www.gazing.com  

@gazingtraining

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7.2.1 Privacy Policy

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