Beginner’s Mind: The Benefits of New Learning in Later Life

By: Vibhu Nagral

Have you ever brushed your teeth as if it were the first time doing it? The taste of the toothpaste, the foam of freshness, the tingling of oral clean and shiny squeaky clean teeth! It’s a re-energizing experience.

Rediscovering the newness of our old habits has a learning and a growth edge of being in the “Now”. The Japanese even have a word for it: Shoshin or beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is a mindfulness concept from Zen Buddhism. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconception when studying a subject – just as a beginner would. It can apply whether we are learning something new, studying at an advanced level, or ‘relearning’ an old habit such as writing with your non-dominant hand or brushing your teeth a different way. And it has tremendous benefits for our brains.

Learning something new just for the fun of it is refreshing. It should not be goal oriented, which can put too much pressure on being successful. The stress-free thrill of the challenge keeps the mind alert and sharpens cognitive ability.

Too often adults avoid trying new things because they worry they’ll fail, won’t be good at them, or simply look silly trying. However, being a beginner can improve your memory and open you up to new—even exciting—experiences.

Having an open mind at any age results in an individual’s ability to stretch their brain’s capacity to build neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to be flexible and grow. Our mind has a tendency to either live in the past (by carrying forward ideas and conditionings) or imagine a future which has yet to unfold. But a beginner’s mindset is simple, innocent and relaxed. No preconceived notions, no history, no bias. Free from all the weight of the past or worry of the future, the beginner’s mind focuses on the here and now, which is a powerfully healing concept. While the exercise might not be effortless, reveling in the joy and challenge of learning something new can be exhilarating, and boost not only your brain but your confidence and emotional well-being. Embrace the possibility of failure, because even failure is a learning experience.

We all have the ability to develop a beginner’s mind at any age and stage – one that is open and bright, and can keep our brain healthy – where the joy of learning remains evergreen and at ease. For the new year, make a commitment to do something for yourself and explore the possibilities of learning something new. Whether learning to play the guitar or enhancing your cooking skills, do it for the fun of it, with no agenda other than to experience the learning. You’ll notice the transformation to a bright and sharper mind!

References:
https://medium.com/mind-cafe/how-the-japanese-concept-of-shoshin-can-lead-you-to-excellence-5ffcd13fdfed
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/think-youre-too-old-to-learn-new-trick

 

Vibhu Nagral, health, wellness, and lifestyle medicine coach

Vibhu Nagral is a wellness and lifestyle medicine professional with over 20 years of global experience in health education, yoga therapy, and coaching. With a career in both the US and India spanning private practice, corporate workshops and consulting with doctors/hospital networks, her current focus is brain longevity therapy.

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