Open-Mindedness: 5 Practical Steps To Open Your Mind
For a moment, I’d like you to picture the human mind as a container.
Each person’s mind, or container, has boundaries that are essential to distinguish it from the rest of the world and other people. Each person is responsible for the contents of the container, making sure that they update, reassess, and evaluate the knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts inside.
If this container had no boundaries, and was always wide-open, monitoring all the contents would quickly get confusing or overwhelming. If this container had a fortress around it, made of steel, and was never open, the contents themselves would become stale and soon outdated or incorrect beliefs would make it exceedingly difficult to adapt to an ever-changing world.
Being open-minded means having the ability (and the motivation) to discern when to “open” this container, and to accept new content, or update existing content in the form of ideas and beliefs. Being an open minded person is a way of staying flexible to life’s challenges, is the foundation of a growth mindset, and is a quality that makes for good partners in romance, friendship, and business.
Keeping with this metaphor, in this article we’ll explain the role of open-mindedness, how to “manage” your container, and how to make sure you’re getting the right balance of receptibility and self-trust.
Being open-minded means…
The common use of the term open-minded generally applies to someone who is flexible in their thinking. These people are “open” to new ideas, new perspectives, and new approaches.
In Encounter, author Milan Kundera explains how it takes “great maturity to understand that the opinion we are arguing for is merely the hypothesis we favor, necessarily imperfect, probably transitory, which only very limited minds can declare to be a certainty or a truth.”
It isn’t necessarily true, however, that open-minded individuals are strictly defined by having the humility to accept where they are currently, in terms of the perspectives and beliefs they hold. Instead, it is the willingness to always scrutinise and consider updating this “matrix” of thoughts that is the mark of someone who will always grow.
Within the field of personality psychology, open-mindedness is best captured with “openness to experience,” or “openness.” According to Scientific American:
“Open people tend to be intellectually curious, creative and imaginative. They are interested in art and are voracious consumers of music, books and other fruits of culture.” Because of their willingness to take on new information, open-minded people are often highly creative and curious.
One study from 2017 even found that open-minded people literally see the world differently from close-minded people, with personality and mood having a direct influence on perception.
Open-minded vs. Close-minded
Let’s pick up our container metaphor again to explore the difference between open-minded and close-minded individuals. You could argue that the barriers that get in the way of new information are based on cognitive biases or mental heuristics — the mental “shortcuts” that make processing information easier.
There are certain biases that keep people stuck in old patterns of thinking, from cognitive dissonance to confirmation bias. The former explains the tension people experience when receiving information that conflicts with pre-existing beliefs, and how that information is manipulated to hold those beliefs in place. The latter explains how people often find evidence for pre-existing beliefs or assumptions, and reject conflicting evidence.
Equally, a person’s overall mindset can distinguish between whether they’re open-minded or closed-minded. Psychologist Carol Dweck, whose work can be found in the Cambridge University Press, is the guru of mindsets, and her work on the growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset gives a profound insight into the distinctions, and differences, between the two approaches.
Someone in a fixed mindset (i.e close-minded) avoids challenges and personal growth, gives up easily, and views intelligence as rigid or fixed. Those who adopt a growth mindset (i.e open-minded) embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see intelligence, and other skills, as adaptable.
Dweck’s work is a powerful reminder that, although some personality types might be more prone to openness, adopting a growth mindset shows that increased open-mindedness is a skill that can be learned, and developed, over time.
This ethos also links to the discovery of neuroplasticity — which demonstrates how the brain itself creates new pathways when learning new things, or taking novel approaches.
How to be a more open minded person
One characteristic of open-minded people is that they’re always looking for ways to push outside of their intellectual comfort zone, which comes from a willingness to adapt to new information.
That means no matter how open-minded you currently are, there are techniques and approaches that prime you to be more receptive.
Below are five steps to get you started:
1. Adopt a growth mindset
The number one starting point is to utilize the knowledge Dweck has developed over decades of research. That means always looking for ways to improve, and grow, and understand that nothing about you is already fixed.
It’s worth noting that the growth mindset is forgiving of setbacks and perceived flaws — so make sure to stay compassionate when identifying areas you’d like to change.
2. Embrace new ideas
Remember Kundera’s words: opinions are hypotheses we’re arguing for. Developing an open mind means accepting that any belief you hold, or any opinion or perspective, is likely the best guess with the information you currently have. That requires the willingness to explore information that can either expand your current view, or might undermine it completely.
3. Get used to cognitive dissonance
Discovering other ideas and perspectives from some other person – one that conflicts with your current view – can cause a lot of inner tension or resistance, particularly if you’re prone to a certain closed mindedness However, the more you get used to this feeling, the more likely you’ll develop the ability to adapt when necessary. That doesn’t always mean surrendering beliefs or positions you believe to be true — a level of discernment is required before accepting new information.
However, discernment is generally considered just, and fair, in the way it looks at new ideas. People who are able to discern healthily don’t look to see if the new information fits a pre-existing view (confirmation bias) or seek to minimize or reject ideas before re-assessing beliefs. They look at the information while accepting it could change their perspective, even if accepting these new arguments results in a bruised ego.
4. Regularly update your “software”
In other words, make sure you check in with yourself and allow life to show you the ways in which you might be resisting change. New beliefs or perspectives might form that feel right, only to be later conflicted or challenged.
All of us are susceptible to becoming complacent. Open-mindedness is an ongoing exploration and curiosity towards life and the current status quo, which includes spotting the times when you might slip up.
5. Start a meditation practice
Meditation is a catalyst for becoming open-minded and more free in your thinking, something most people are interested in. It transforms the way in which you view your own beliefs and thoughts.
By observing them with non-judgment, over time, the distance between thoughts allows for greater mental clarity. More awareness also means more flexibility, as you’re better able to detect the moments when you’re about to go down familiar mental habits.
As well as being a tried-and-tested technique for thousands of years, science is discovering this to be the case. In 2011, one study found that mindfulness meditation led to more openness and curiosity, because “the voluntary exposure to a wide range of thoughts, emotions, and experiences suggests that increases in openness can be expected due to the practice.”
As this study found, the key element of mindfulness meditation, which opens people to new experiences, is non-judgment. When we either resist or indulge in certain thoughts (or beliefs or perspectives), we’re less likely to see them clearly.
By accepting their presence, they become fully conscious, and with that clarity comes the flexibility to change.
A big part of personal development is the willingness to live a full life. That means, for example, pushing yourself to adapt and grow, to infuse a renewed sense of curiosity about the diversity of experiences and knowledge available to you. At the center of that is an open mind.
Receptivity to other people’s points of view, or new ways of seeing the world, invites inclusion, wisdom, and greater intimacy into your life. There is a word for this: humility.
As Socrates once said, “I know that I know nothing.” The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. Only when we think we know, only when certain we’re right or convinced our perspective is the perspective, do we close ourselves to that mystery.
Open-mindedness is the acceptance that we find ourselves born into a vast, mysterious universe, and the quest for more understanding, more learning, and more surprise, is at the core of the human condition, and our desire for continued growth.
Interested in growing? Check out our growth quotes for a little extra motivation!