How to Short-circuit the “Expert”

“In the mind of the expert, they say there are very few possibilities but in the beginner’s mind, there are infinite possibilities .”

–Jon Kabat-Zinn


My almost 2 year old daughter is fearless! No matter the danger, she is willing to try everything. “I DO IT MYSELF!” is frequently heard at a volume of 11 around our house, in the backyard, and in local parks as she tries to do things that seem way too difficult from my “expert” perspective as her father. My 4 year old son is a little different.

He’s more careful, more calculated. Typically, he makes sure that his steps and holds are true and will be a little weary about trying a “big kid” ride at the Washington State Fair. This is learned, whether through experiences of being hurt (physically and/or emotionally) or because he has been told “it’s dangerous!” one too many times by his overly cautious parents. I often times I find myself urging him to “Give it a try!” and “Just wait and see! You’ll love it!” in an effort to prevent him from missing out on something awesome. We, as adults, may look at the two and think to ourselves that it is much better to be careful than it is to be fearless. Sometimes this is true and others it is simply untrue.  The key is to figure out when being an “expert” helps us and when it gets in the way of having fun and achieving something great.

When I know that a test set is coming up or when I know the gun is about to go off at the start of a race, I’m admittedly anxious. I wrote about it in a previous post (here) and how, at times, that anxiety can run away from me pretty quickly. At this point, my sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system) is in firing on all cylinders and, as a result, my heart rate increases, I breath more effectively, and my digestive system is inhibited so that I’m not interrupted in the face of danger. There’s no question that in these moments I’m feeling threatened. Threatened by my fellow competitors, by how much I know racing at my best will hurt, and, most importantly, by the possibility of failure (in my own eyes and the eyes of others; There’s some psychotherapeutic work that needs to be done there…believe me, I know :-)). The sympathetic nervous system is there to hold my hand and these processes are going to bolster my performance (thanks evolution)! However, the human gift of abstract thinking starts to poke it’s little head into the equation and because of my previous experiences (good or bad) and the messages and values that are entrenched in my character, my sympathetic nervous system is redlining and nothing can redline for too long.

Cue beginner’s mind: A mindfulness attitude that will shift my focus and short-circuit the influence of my “expertise”. Basically, the idea is to see things from the eyes of my 2 year old daughter. Everything is new! Everything is exciting! I have never TRULY experienced this very moment and, as such, how can I possibly be an expert? Let me just simply see what happens because, in reality, this is all new to me (even if I’ve done it 1000 times, nothing is ever exactly the same). Let me take in the beauty of what is happening (or not happening) around me without judgment, with pure curiosity and eyes WIDE OPEN. In doing so, I can actually enjoy myself and trust that evolution has engrained the firing and receiving of a complex interconnected  system of neurons that will naturally increase my performance.

I do, however, need to remind myself that this sort of thing takes practice. Therefore, I will continue to put myself in uncomfortable situations while welcoming the attitude of my inner child.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time!


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