The Beginner’s Mind and Why we need Mentors

Every time we begin something new – a job, an education, a sport, a hobby or anything that holds value to us, we enter it with a beginner’s mind.

The Beginner’s Mind

A beginner’s mind has bits & pieces of information about the new endeavor which it has picked from different secondary sources – reading about it in books, listening to the opinions of people, watching others do it efficiently etc.

We enter the new endeavor with a lot of hope and passion, and at the same time we know nothing about what lies ahead.

In the year 2009, I began two new and crazy endeavors – Lawn Tennis and Swimming.

A few of my colleagues used to play Lawn Tennis every day in the morning. One day they asked me to join. I knew little and less about Lawn Tennis at that time and without much hesitation, I agreed. I saw them playing for the first few times, then they offered me their racket and I began to make my first shots. In a short while I bought my own racket and began running across the court, throwing the ball here and there, even trying my hand at the serve. As I spent more time on the court, I got better at handling the ball and the court but my skills were unpolished.

A few months later I moved to a new place and every day from the window of my apartment I could see that beautifully curved, blue colored swimming pool of the clubhouse which was located right next to my apartment building. I had no idea how to swim but felt all the same to jump into the pool. After watching people enjoying the waters for enough number of days, I decided to get into it myself. I got my costume and gear ready and decided to learn how to swim. I was lucky enough to have wonderful friends and an amazing instructor of the clubhouse who taught me the basic techniques of making myself comfortable in the water before I could swim. He taught me the importance of taking bubbles in the water, taught me the right arm position for making strokes, taught me the correct leg movement, taught me how and when to breathe while swimming.

Although I’m not a pro either in Lawn Tennis or in Swimming, when I look back at these two endeavors of mine, I can say with complete confidence that I suck at swimming much less than that at Tennis!

All because of the fact that I had pretty good people from the very beginning to tell me the right way to learn swimming.

The Importance of a Mentor

When I think of entering a new endeavor and the beginner’s mind, one thing that comes to mind is a topic we learnt in high school Chemistry called Diffusion.

Imagine an air-tight container filled with smoke. The moment the door of the container is open, the smoke will come out of the container in a random manner until it is completely mixed with the air. The color of the smoke will be darkest near the door and will reduce gradually as we move away from the container.

This is Diffusion.

And this is what happens every time we begin anything new. Our energy, which was originally boxed in a container, is now allowed to break open itself towards the endeavor we are trying to accomplish. Consider Tennis for example. My mornings which were originally spent sleeping or doing nothing of value are now being spent towards playing Lawn Tennis. Energy is diffused in the direction of Lawn Tennis.

The problem with diffusion is it is random. With no external influence guiding my way through, my energy is going to randomly flow towards Tennis in whatever manner I have read, watched or learnt in the past. While I am going to play Tennis in the best possible manner, I am not going to put my energies in building the right technique because there isn’t anyone to tell me the techniques at the first place.

My act of learning and playing Tennis without the presence of an external influence of a guide would look something like this.

With the help of someone experienced in the game of Tennis, i.e. with the guidance of a mentor or a coach, that same diffused energy can be channelized in a singular direction aimed at learning and practicing the right methods and techniques of playing Tennis.

The same act of learning Tennis with the help of a mentor or a guide would look something like this.

Reaching towards the goal of learning Tennis the right way and getting good at it can be attained in a much better manner with the help of a mentor or a coach. And the better the mentor, the better and more effective will she/he will be able to pull the pupil up in the journey from novice to professional.

This is what happened with me in swimming. With the help of my coach and my friends, I was able to learn the sport in a more effective manner by practicing the right techniques from the very beginning.

80/20 rule of learning anything new would tell that 80% of novices make the same 20% of mistakes in the process of learning because of which they are never able to channelize their energies in the right direction towards mastery. All those critical mistakes may well be avoided by the mere presence of a mentor or a coach.

Think-it-over: If you are one of those who can do the groundwork without the help of a coach and figure out the right techniques of practice, I’d say ‘Kudos’. If you, like me, think that you need help to grow in any new endeavor you make, why are you so shy of accepting this as a fact? And what are you waiting for?

Decide what you want to do, go get yourself a coach and start learning the right way. I’m sure in no time you’d be comfortable in it, enough to be able to reciprocate the knowledge to someone who would be in a similar situation you were when you began. And… I’m sure you’d do it in style!