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

One of the major goals I have for myself in this life is, no matter what, to continue to grow and develop myself. I strive for this for two reasons. First, I truly believe that there is no neutral ground in life. Every day, you have a choice; growth or atrophy, and if I have anything to say about it, I reject atrophy. The second reason I want to be continuously developing comes from John C. Maxwell’s book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. I want to develop myself so there is more of me to contribute to others’ lives. As Jim Rohn said, “I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.”

However, along the path of self-development, something tricky happens to the brain when we start to get competent at a certain skill or subject. We begin to believe we know everything about the topic, and consider ourselves to be “experts.” This means, we shift our mindset from asking questions to giving answers. While I think it’s vital to teach those who we have more experience than in whatever subject we consider ourselves masters in, it’s even more vital to continue to ask questions and learn more.

In addition, when people start to become effective at anything, they mistakenly attach their ego to it. In this scenario, the ego becomes an enemy to growth, because it reaffirms the fact that we are “good”. If we are “good” then we shouldn’t ask stupid questions, and we’re done failing in marvelous fashion… THIS IS THE WORST POSSIBLE THING THAT CAN HAPPEN. Why? Because we attach our self-worth to being “good” at whatever we’ve decided to learn. Now that we are “good” or “above average” failures seem monumental, and asking questions is embarrassing. Please know this:

Whenever you fail, and you feel embarrassed, that is your ego being bruised.

It’s a result of you falsely placing self-worth on an external factor that you may or may not be better than the average person at. It’s natural, and it’s destructive to growth.

Have you ever seen a child try to learn how to walk? They have no ego. They fail many, many times. Not once do they reflect inwards. Not once do they ask questions about why Joey started walking at eleven months and here they sit, a fourteen month old and still can’t walk. Since they’ll never be able to walk, they’ll never be able to get a job, which means they’ll never find someone to love, and they’ll end up lonely as they watch all their other toddler friends get married and have toddlers of their own and post it on Facebook. This doesn’t happen. They stay in the present, and they get back up, and try again. No ego bruised, and no worse for the wear.

Here’s the secret to continuing to grow past this plateau: When you become competent at any skill, you should keep an eye on the amount of self-worth you correlate with any given activity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to look foolish. Embrace failure, fear, and pain. These are often indicators that you’re out of your comfort zone, and you’ve entered into your growth zone.

This is what some people refer to as having a “beginner’s mindset” or a “growth mindset”. The greatest areas of growth that people make on any given subject is when they enter it with that type of growth mindset. They acknowledge that they know very little about something, and they look to experiment and find out the right and wrong ways to go about learning any given skill set.

A good student will continue to ask questions and remain aware of the fact that…

Even when they feel like they have mastered a certain topic, there is a never-ending amount of knowledge to be learned.

You’ll know when you are approaching something with a beginner’s mindset when you deeply feel that you’ve learned a vast amount of knowledge, but there is still so much more to learn.

One of the best metaphors that I’ve heard when it comes to this was given to me by a beloved professor of mine, Andy Fitz-Gibbon.

Think about blowing up a balloon. The air inside the balloon represents what we “know” or the skills we’ve gained, while the surface area of the balloon represents what we don’t know. The greater the air on the inside grows, even greater grows the outside surface area. In that same manner, the more we know about any given topic, if we have the right perspective, the greater we realize the area of unknown, or unaccomplished becomes apparent to us.

Spark Your Growth

Think about the thing you know the most about, or attach the most ego to. Reflect on whether or not you are continuing to ask questions, or if you have just resorted to giving answers and have stopped growing. If you have resorted to just giving answers, start adopting a beginner’s mindset and begin asking questions. Work on approaching familiar things from an entirely different perspective.

One great way to get completely fresh perspectives is to ask someone who knows nothing about the topic at hand.

They won’t have any preconceived notions about what the standard process of operations might be, and thus, might suggest something completely revelatory, or it might be absolute gibberish, but at least it’s a new perspective, and might get you thinking from a new angle.

This is the mindset for success

»Do you have any other ways the ego can hold us back from growth? Please let us know in the comments below.