Opening the Door to Possibility and Opportunity


When I roll these words around in my head, my sense of being always changes. On one hand they are just words, but thinking them and saying them generates a sense of excitement, energy and enthusiasm for challenging the status quo and moving forward. Is there any other way to be? I keep coming back to this question. Is there any other way to be? When I think of the people that I admire, who inspire me and that I enjoy being with, they embody these characteristics. A mindset that is open to possibility finds opportunity.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few’.

Shunryu Suzuki

In medicine we have worked to cultivate expertise in our chosen field, but that very necessary focus on always being the expert may unintentionally limit us from exploring areas which may be novel and uncertain. Despite having met and overcome many challenges during our careers, with time we may become fearful of change and of venturing into areas where new skills are required. Imagine for a moment relinquishing the mantle of “expert” and approaching a patient, a colleague, a conflict with a completely open mind. With curiosity. Without judgement. Just hearing what is actually being said or experiencing what is truly happening in that  moment. It is likely that you will be privy to a wealth of information that would have completely passed you by, if you knew all the answers before you even knew the question. 

Beginner’s Mind fosters creativity, which is at the heart of practicing  medicine as both an art and a science. In her article “How Creative is Your Doctor?”, in the New York Times, Dr. Danielle Ofri references the incomparable Dr. Oliver Sacks, and describes the way in which he collaborates with a patient with severe Tourette’s syndrome, to create an outcome that allowed this patient to flourish as a unique human being and for the physician to truly be a healer. With an open mind, answers and solutions can come to us without really trying. They are just waiting to be seen.

What are three steps for Beginner’s Mind?

Pause and Take a Breath

Just set a moment in your day to stop and take a deep, mindful breath. This might be as you get ready to go into a patient’s room or when you are in a discussion with a staff member or colleague. As you breathe, just let all your preconceived ideas settle like sand in water, and allow clarity and openness to percolate through your mind.

Be curious

As you listen to a patient with a chronic , unresolved problem or are confronted with a demanding situation, bring curiosity to what you are hearing and allow yourself to consider new ways of thinking that might provide an answer.

Be a Life-long Learner

See not-knowing as an opportunity to continuously be open to asking questions and increasing your knowledge and expertise.

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