The mindset of humility is more geared toward a mindset of perpetual learning, but the latter can’t happen without the former. In order to learn effectively, you must remove your ego from the equation and embrace the fact that you might not know everything and have to humble yourself.
You can do this first by trying to use the beginner’s mindset.
This is when you attempt to act as if you are seeing things for the first time.
When something is novel, you are completely open to information.
What questions might you ask and what details might you focus on? Step out of your expert mindset of seeing the big picture only and get back to a beginner’s curiosity.
- The Art of Intentional Thinking: Master Your Mindset. Control and Choose Your Thoughts. Create Mental Habits to Fulfill Your Potential (Second Edition) By Peter Hollins
- Get the audiobook on Audible at https://bit.ly/IntThink
- Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-shownotes
- Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://www.PeteHollins.com to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
- For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
- For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg
The Mindset of Humility
There’s nothing like a true sense of pride in accomplishment, reaching a goal you’ve worked to achieve, and feeling the elation of success.
Everyone craves that emotion.
After we get to that point of satisfaction and live in it for a little while, it’s always a fantastic idea to restate a very specific affirmation: I know nothing.
“Wait,” you’re saying, “I just gave you six chapters of my life, and once I reach my destination, you’re telling me I don’t know anything? Are you trying to get me to buy the sequel to this book?” No, I’m not, though please feel free to buy as many of my books as you like.
I’m saying that while your accomplishment has been made, your journey isn’t done.
Actually, it’s just started, and you have many levels of depth and insight to peel back—in theory.
Whether it is literally true or not, imagine yourself as always being on a path until you are literally drawing your final breath.
By ascending to the top of where you want to be, you’re actually just opening up to more opportunities to learn, be humble, listen, and understand how very little you truly know.
The ultimate and most valuable mindset to have is one of perpetual and humble learning.
Similar to the growth mindset, willing to be humble and putting yourself in a lower tier of knowledge relative to others helps you appreciate experience, increase your personal insight, and strengthen your confidence.
It also helps to remove the fear, inadequacy, or other stress that sometimes comes with our encounters with the unfamiliar.
Adopting a learning mindset shouldn’t be a blow to the ego, although it sounds like you should devalue yourself in favor of others.
What you’re doing is not related to your ego—it’s just putting yourself in a position to be able to listen to others and keep improving yourself bit by bit.
The ego hates to admit it, but imagine how much differently you would act if you could just state with a straight face, “I’m willing to hear you out and really listen to you.” Your chances of continued success run much higher with that mindset than with one that’s closed off to learning.
Letting go of your ego in a relationship, for example—realizing you can’t know everything about the person you’re with—helps foster understanding and a free exchange of emotions and information, and it certainly deescalates potential flare-ups.
Putting aside ego and humbling yourself to admit that you indeed were the one to make an error makes a bad situation better because people will see how honest of a coworker you are.
This chapter is about putting your ego on pause and how to accept that none of us are ever a finished product.
How do you become a more finished product?
The Beginner’s Mindset
The mindset of a beginner—even to the point of considering yourself a novice or amateur in something you’ve known about for years—is extremely beneficial in helping you view the world as a learning grounds to finish the product of you.
A common misconception about being an “expert”—even among experts—is that it implies you don’t have to learn anything anymore.
You’ve reached the fullest extent of knowledge possible in a given situation, and any suggestion that you could still learn more is almost insulting.
You think—or feel—that you’ve already transcended all limitations and that there’s nowhere to go but down.
However, ideally, there’s not much difference between a beginner’s mindset and an expert’s mindset.
That’s because when someone decides they want to become an expert on any subject, the first thing they have to accept is that they will never stop learning about that subject.
Long after they’ve established themselves as an authority about that subject, they will still be learning about it and discovering just how much they still don’t know.
An expert never stops wanting to fill in those gaps.
The expert and the beginner therefore share an openness to new knowledge and insight.
The beginner’s mindset is drawn from the Zen Buddhist concept Shoshin, which is described as “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.” Every time you come across a new situation, no matter how shopworn or streetwise you think you are, reorient yourself to experiencing it as a beginner.
Release all of your preconceived notions or expectations about the experience.
Treat it with curiosity and a sense of wonder as if you were seeing it for the first time.
As a quick illustration, imagine you see a herd of zebras outside of your bedroom window—hopefully a novel situation for you.
Once you get over your initial shock, what are your initial observations and questions? Does this situation remind you of something you’re already familiar with or have seen in a movie, perhaps? You’d try to make sense of it all and construct and narrative to understand it through.
What happened beforehand and what will happen after? What details are surprising or downright odd when you think about it beyond first glance? You’d certainly focus on “why” and “how” questions.
You would probably also be overwhelmed with sensation and stimuli.
Now let’s take another example of learning how to play a new instrument.
What questions would you ask? Where would you even start? You wouldn’t know what’s important, so everything would seem significant at first.
You’d probably be curious as to the limits of the instrument—first in how to not break it and then in its overall capabilities.
You’d be filled with wonder and also caution for fear of making an error or breaking it.
The impression it makes on you immediately won’t be forgotten for a very long time.
Those are the underpinnings of the beginner mindset.
When you try to reprogram your mind to a blank slate and act as if you truly have no knowledge about something, knowledge will come far easier than acting like you do through the form of extensive questioning and curiosity.
It should be emphasized that the beginner’s mindset empowers the ability to ask dumb questions.
So-called experts rely on assumptions and their own experiences, often without further investigation.
When you feel comfortable asking dumb questions, nothing is left up to assumptions and chance, and everything is out in the open and clarified.
You can approach both new and familiar situations with this same principle.
Next time you’re driving a car, try noticing the things you would automatically do otherwise and say them out loud to yourself.
Along with that, focus on what you sense when you’re behind the wheel but have long since stopped paying attention to: the ridges in the steering wheel, the glow of the dashboard odometer, or the sound of the air conditioner.
Even these crushingly insignificant details could unlock and reveal some new element or impression that you’ve never experienced before.
The beginner’s mindset requires slowing down and paying attention to what you’ve ignored for a long time.
“I Know It All” vs. “What Don’t I Know?”
Like the beginner’s mindset, the intellectually curious mindset (“What don’t I know?”) is almost synonymous with the expert mindset (in my expert opinion, anyway).
The difference is that the intellectually curious mindset is aggressive about finding answers, learning more, and absorbing as much knowledge as we can about different issues, principles, and beliefs—especially ones that run counter to our own.
This kind of assertive approach to discovering new information is an effective means of staying humble and allowing yourself to improve while your ego is on sabbatical.
The key is to regard everyone you know and meet as a potential spring of knowledge, someone who can tell you something you didn’t know every time you encounter them.
Actually, more than a spring of knowledge—a huge spring of fascinating knowledge.
The intellectually curious person does not stop pursuing the answer to the question “Why?” They don’t settle for the standard party-line answers they get at surface level—they get more integral and exact until they’ve uncovered the ultimate root and foundation of the topic they’re investigating.
They assume there are multiple levels of complexity in everything, and they’re eager to discover what those levels are.
The ways to become more intellectually curious might seem obvious at first glance but need to be kept uppermost in mind.
If a topic rouses your interest, follow it relentlessly through reading, research, and answering your own questions.
Engage with people in the field you’re most interested in, and never be afraid of asking a dumb question.
Embrace your state of not knowing as a launching pad, not a handicap.
Security expert George Treverton suggests that a good way to approach the unknown is as a “mystery” as opposed to a “puzzle” like a crossword or jigsaw.
“Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries,” Treverton wrote in Smithsonian magazine.
“Treating them as puzzles is like trying to solve the unsolvable—an impossible challenge.
But approaching them as mysteries may make us more comfortable with the uncertainties of our age.” Intellectual curiosity is not exactly the same as, say, Googling for Hollywood gossip and getting the complete story on a given Real Housewife.
Instead, it’s a directed effort to gain insight on a topic with relevance that resounds in our lives in some way.
Author Philip Dow suggests taking 10 minutes a day—an almost ridiculously easy time commitment—to dive into a topic or subject that interests you but you haven’t had the time to learn about yet.
It’s even better to find a topic that has a direct impact on or a particular significance to your life—if you’re a parent, you might examine child development; if you’re politically active, you might study history and current issues; if you’re an athlete, you might learn about motivational techniques or sports law.
Whatever your choice, never be satisfied with the first answer you get: go deeper, get multiple sides, and challenge what you think you know.
There’s everything to gain from the intellectually curious mindset.
Remember, how differently would you act if ego and pride weren’t in your way and you weren’t concerned with appearing stupid or weird? You’d feel absolute freedom to pursue your curiosities down deep rabbit holes.