Last week, immediately after I had welcomed all my students onto our advanced hypnotherapy diploma, I framed the entire week-long tuition block by explaining and discussing ‘Shoshin.’ It is also referred to as ‘beginner’s mind.’

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

This advanced hypnotherapy diploma had people from a number of different backgrounds, levels of experience and varying theoretical underpinnings, and with the field of hypnosis and hypnotherapy being so diverse, with so many people making such wide claims about what is right/correct within the field, how do you teach effectively? You advise on adopting Shoshin: A concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”.

When we refer to a “beginner’s mind” it refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, you become just as a beginner in that subject would.

When you allow yourself to be a true beginner, your mind is empty and open. This is incredibly important if you wish to learn more in the hypnotherapy field – when people are so invested in what they have already learned, when they are so loyal to the way they already do things, when they are so entrenched in existing dogma – that all needs to be left at the door in order to truly learn new things. I made a big point of the fact that I expected everyone present in class who had trained with me previously to especially do the same.

With a beginner’s mind you’re willing to learn and consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time. As you develop knowledge and expertise, however, your mind naturally becomes more closed. You tend to think, “I already know how to do this” and you become less open to new information. My experience has been that the field of hypnotherapy is particularly filled with experts unwilling to open their mind to alternatives or that they have anything more to learn. Many a hypnotherapist equipped with a diploma, believes that diploma has taught them the Gospel of what hypnotherapy is and how to best use it with hypnotherapy clients.

That is the danger that comes with “expertise.” It stunts further growth and we should all actually want the field of hypnotherapy to grow and develop, not to just be confirmed as what we currently believe. On our advanced hypnotherapy diploma last week, we examined forms of academic argumentation and being aware of cognitive bias (within ourselves as much as others). This is important, because we often tend to discount or ignore the information that disagrees with what we have learned previously and agree with the information that confirms our current approach (the confirmation bias heuristic). We think we are learning, we think we are developing, but in reality we are steamrolling through information and conversations, waiting until we hear something that matches up with our current philosophy or previous experience, and cherry-picking information to justify our current behaviours and beliefs. Many hypnotherapists or hypnosis professionals don’t want new information, they want validating information. Conferences, CPD trainings and advanced courses run the risk of attracting people invested in that approach already, and not truly challenging those present or offering them anything that is new, properly illuminating or that requires depth of thought.

My own advanced hypnotherapy diploma has been constructed to challenge, to discover, to develop and to be intensive. The only way to survive such, is to approach it with the beginner’s mind!

How To Discover Shoshin:

When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it.
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

Here are some other ways too:

1. You don’t always need to add value.

Have you been to a hypnotherapy CPD event or conference, where a group are all advising each other on what each other should try or do? Few are actually responding or listening, they are just advising.

If you’re constantly trying to add value (“You should try this…” or “Let me share something that worked well for my client…”) then you destroy the ownership that other people feel about their ideas. At the same time, it’s impossible for you to listen to someone else when you’re talking. So, a great first step is to let go of the need to always contribute. Step back every now and then and just observe and listen.

2. Resistance Is Futile.

If you’re on a hypnotherapy course, or having a conversation about hypnotherapy with a fellow professional and someone makes a statement that you disagree with, release the urge to refute it, resist it or correct them. They don’t need to lose the argument for you to win. Letting go of the need to prove a point opens up the possibility for you to learn something new. Approach it from a place of curiosity: Isn’t that interesting. They look at this in a totally different way. Even if you are right and they are wrong, it doesn’t matter. You can walk away satisfied even if you don’t have the last word in every conversation.

I get asked a great deal why I don’t challenge my Hypnosis Weekly Podcast guests more often and defend my own stance, especially when people have a pop at evidence based leanings – it is because I want to be humble, I want to be open and I want to respectfully consider that I can learn more from this conversation. My hypnotherapy students and clients will derive more benefit as a result too.

3. Seek More Understanding and Knowledge.

Those who know me well know that I like to talk. I like setting the world to rights. I like giving my opinion. I love to debate. I love to philosophise.

It is sometimes therefore a challenge for me to properly be quiet. To actively listen. That is, to listen without thinking about what I will say next or how I’ll respond, just opening my ears and my mind totally.

The simplest way to do that is to ask “tell me more about that.” It doesn’t matter what the topic is, I’m simply trying to figure out how things work and open my mind to listening deeply about the world through someone else’s perspective. Just hearing it is very different to listening deeply to it and allowing it to be considered and resonate within you.

4. Assume You Are Naive.

In his brilliant book, Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb writes, “I try to remind my group each week that we are all idiots and know nothing, but we have the good fortune of knowing it.”

Look, we are all human, even us hypnotherapists. We are fallible. It is understandable if we think we know it all from time to time. We all have to learn information from someone and somewhere, so we all have a tutor or a teacher or a guiding system that we adhere to within our hypnotherapy work. We invest in that system and it becomes part of our hypnotherapy work. The key is to realise this influence, to truly reflect and understand how our beliefs and biases are influencing decisions we make and the things we say within our hypnotherapy work.

We are all naive at times, but if you know that, then you can start to let go of your preconceptions and approach hypnotherapy (and life) with the openness of a beginner. Your clients and your career will appreciate it greatly. As a hypnotherapist, when you study, when you read, when you relate with fellow professionals, be humble and adopt a beginner’s mind, you’ll learn so much more as a result.

Two additional points I want to make about this blog post:

1. I rarely agree to have any kind of cross-legged type alternative pictures on my blog as I don’t think it has anything to do with hypnosis in particular. But, yay, I got to do that today.

2. My auto-correct desperately wants to change the word ‘shoshin’ to ‘shoeshine’ – so if the word shoeshine is randomly discovered anywhere other than here in this sentence, you know why…..

Are you looking for a meaningful and rewarding career? Want to train as a hypnotherapist?
Are you a newly qualified hypnotherapist looking to advance your skills or a seasoned professional looking for stimulating and advanced CPD? Visit the website of the Anglo European College of Therapeutic Hypnosis to peruse the wide range of courses, seminars and workshops we offer online and in the classroom, all led and taught by Adam Eason.