The Beginner's Mind

The Beginner's Mind

Written by Miller Hollstein

As I mentioned last week, I spent most of my life hating running. 

I was slow, clunky, and honestly, completely clueless. 

But, in the last year and a half, I’ve experienced a complete transformation.

How? By admitting I didn’t know anything. 

I learned this valuable lesson in one of the most intimidating places for a beginner: the skatepark.

Everyone knows skaters are punks. They judge you and make fun of you. 

And don’t even think about taking up any space to try and learn a new trick unless you’re part of the “crew.”

That's what I thought, at least. 

But, as it turns out, skaters are some of the nicest, friendliest, and most supportive people I have ever met. Why?

Because they’ve all been through the learning process. They all started from square one.

They were all beginners. They sucked. They get it.

They understand the hopeless, embarrassing insecurity that accompanies this. 

But they don’t care. 

And neither should you. Just accept it - it's part of the process. 

The truth is, being a beginner at anything sucks.

You’re not proficient at the fundamentals, so you feel goofy and insecure. And, a lot of the time, you don’t even know what you don’t know, making progress extremely hard. 

Running is no different.

For most of my life, I blindly accepted the excuse that “running isn’t fun” when I should have just admitted that I was terrible at it and had no clue what I was doing. 

But our egos often get in the way. 

Mine certainly did, until I saw (and learned from) someone trail running with a full pack while I was on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. 

That’s when everything changed.

In my head, I rationalized that trail running with a pack on had to be different from normal running. So, I threw out everything that I thought I knew about running and started from scratch. 

I began to observe and learn, soaking in everything I could… like a beginner. 

I studied foot placement, gait, breathing, knee drive, muscle activation, shoulders, core, the mental side, and biomechanics as a whole. I even listened to books and podcasts about it. 

As I absorbed this information, I started to do a little jogging myself. 

Slowly and for short bursts I began to run. 

(And when I say short, I mean like 20 seconds lol - carrying a full pack really takes a toll on the body.)

But, it was working!

Every day, I would add a little bit more running to my hiking, seconds at a time, until I could run almost every downhill I came to with ease and without hesitation. 

So, what’s the point here?

I needed to train like a beginner. To start over and learn from scratch. To clear my head and embrace the concept of “shoshin.”

In Zen Buddhism, “shoshin” means “the beginner’s mind.” 

It’s about embodying the mindset that you know nothing - being open and accepting.

This concept is often supported by the following quote:

"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind, there are few."

I unknowingly embraced shoshin on the trail when I convinced myself to learn trail running. 

Obviously, the things I thought I knew had not worked for me in the past. 

I just needed to start fresh and… forget.

Forget about pace, forget about heart rate, forget about speed.

Forget about what I thought it meant to run.

When I removed myself, my ego, and my know-it-all brain from the equation things began to click, and running became fun!

If you are feeling stuck (not just in running), think about shoshin, about the beginner’s mind. 

There is a reason children learn fast - they have no expectation of the result. 

Neither should you. 


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