Think about the last conversation you were part of. What was the context and how did you show up? Was it exploratory? Did it feel like a debate? How much time did you spend speaking versus listening?
Chances are good that you had an opinion and you found a way to share it. Most of us do. In fact, we are all hard-wired to develop one about almost everything. What’s your favorite color? TV show? political party?
It seems that from the earliest stages of our development we are asked to take a stance. Having a point of view is not only encouraged, but it is also often expected so that people can make sense of how to relate to one another.
I agree with you or I don’t. We align or we don’t.
Ambiguity, the middle ground, and gray areas make people nervous, and our inability to spend extended time in this space pre-disposes us to closed-minded consumption of the world. Still, we know that being open-minded is a desirable trait we should all seek to channel.
“A psychological study conducted by researchers Anna Antinori, Olivia L. Carter, and Luke D. Smillie revealed that open-minded people may live in a completely different reality. They found that openness and mood can affect how you visually perceive the world, which can affect creativity. Research shows that your personality traits (patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving) not only change your outlook on life but also change the way you perceive reality at work, and how you relate with family, friends, and romantic partners.”
That’s right, heavy stuff. It turns out that open-mindedness has an incredible impact on our own self-efficacy, longitudinal success, and happiness. But if it were easy, wouldn’t we all just do it?
It also turns out, being open-minded takes work and it is easier for some personality types than others.
According to Anna Antinori’s study of 123 volunteers given the big five personality test, where openness was among the criteria measured,
“people who find it hard to consider other alternative realities in life and work take longer to make a significant improvement in life.”
Does this mean it is impossible to change? No.
The good news is that all people, regardless of personality style, have the capability of building new schema through a process known as accommodation. You can effectively learn something new, adjust the way you categorize prior learning, and file it away safely as a new/added perspective.
Of course, this does not happen without work. It starts with a very real commitment to practicing growth step by step. Here are 10 tips on how to train yourself to be open-minded.
1. Slow Down
If you really want to access new ways of thinking and being, you can’t be in a hurry. Opening up your mind requires you to take a pause. It requires you to be intentional about seeking new information/data/possibilities beyond your own instincts.
As the host of The Stubborn Heart Network, every Thursday, I open up space for folks across lines of difference to login and connect with others to explore ideas, offer support, collaborate, and learn from one another. I call this time “Thursdays at 1.” Together, we press the pause button on life. Log into Zoom, dig deeper, and new perspectives surface.
Terry Johnson, one of the participants, described his pursuit of open-mindedness as an undertaking- saying that,
“I am not imposing my emotion on others because it makes me feel better. . . being open-minded means being willing to accept others feel differently than I do.”
Vicki Moore, a fellow participant and author of the upcoming book Life Beyond Should, explained that open-mindedness requires us to interrogate our “why.” She said that she thinks of it like a business root cause analysis: why do I think this way? why am I having a visceral response to an alternate way of thinking? Continuing down the why path helps her to acknowledge closed-minded thinking and get back on the path to listening with intention.
When we are in a rush, we take shortcuts, make assumptions, and miss the chance to change.
“Thursday’s at 1” is a formal place to take the time to practice having an open mind, but it isn’t the only way. Slowing down at the moment, slowing down in life, and slowing down our thinking makes space for more inquiry.
2. Get Curious (Genuinely Curious)
Aim to learn something from every exchange. Without meaning to, many of us set out to confirm our own thinking rather than access a truly new thought. We take comfort in knowing what we think we know.
Our overwhelming desire to snag an “I told you so”, is wrapped up in a cognitive tendency known as confirmation bias. We must overcome the urge to seek data that corroborates our thinking while simultaneously combing out information that challenges our already developed thoughts.
We can do this by approaching the world with wonder and child-like curiosity. If we get deeply curious about everyone and everything around us, we open ourselves up to content that widens our perspective.
3. Be Mindful
Jason Johnson, host of the Own Your Space podcast and a participant in “Thursday at 1,” noted that in pursuing an open mind, there is a benefit to learning how to be present. He said that being present helps him to achieve greater awareness. He likes to engage in meditation that propels him to the here and now, thinking about the moment at hand, not yesterday or tomorrow.
According to Deborah Norris, neuroscientist and author of In the Flow: Passion, Purpose and the Power of Mindfulness,
“practicing mindfulness meditation in which one sits in curious awareness of the breath literally trains the brain to become more open-minded.”
When you take yourself out of your comfort zone, you create new opportunities to be surprised—surprised by the things you see, learn, and absorb outside of your typical surroundings.
In the era of remote work and the new ways of being and doing at our fingertips, exploring doesn’t have to mean literally packing a bag and leaving for a trek. It is possible to explore new relationships, virtual experiences, and collaborations from our own homes. Take the time to try out a program, take an interactive course, or participate in a networking event.
When you explore new settings, you showcase a willingness to experience the world in a new way, thus, opening yourself up to others’ perspectives, lived experiences, values, and stories.
5. Find Opportunities to Think Creatively
Push the boundaries of your own thinking by positioning yourself to use your brain in new and different ways.
In our daily lives, we become known for our strengths and people typically seek us out for the thinking they know they can count on us for. It is up to us to stretch ourselves. Try an improv lesson, sign up for a pottery class, or simply try to learn the latest dance routine circulating on Tik Tok.
When we practice creative thinking, try to solve problems in new ways, and experience what it is like to succeed in other ways, we often become open to the possibility that there are many ways to be good at something. There are subsequently many ways to be “right.”
6. Practice Zooming in and Zooming Out
Perspective is everything. Sometimes, we are in the weeds examining the details, and other times, we have to widen the lens to see the big picture. Each perspective offers us valuable and unique information. Our ability to meaningfully radiate between the two to access multiple perspectives allows us to expand our scope of understanding.
You can practice shifting your lens regularly to prevent yourself from becoming single-minded in your interpretation of an idea, event, or exchange. Challenge yourself to zoom in and zoom out, imagine all of the possibilities, and consider multiple interpretations before adopting any one interpretation too permanently.
7. Try “Yes, and…”
Open-mindedness isn’t all fun and games, but it can be fun. Try “Yes, and..”
This is an improv game that teaches the value of accepting each other’s ideas and cooperating. Classically, the game is played in pairs or with the whole group in a circle.
You can play this as a literal exercise or channel the central message to inform your own thinking processes. When you hear something new, different, or confusing, approach it with a desire to understand, add on, complement, or develop a deeper understanding to further the collective goal of the exchange you are part of.
8. Ask Questions Whenever You Can
Furthering your understanding starts with asking good questions. Inquiry is the root of all learning.
Socrates is an early Greek philosopher, known for the Socratic method. The Socratic method is “a form of a cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.”
His goal—like yours—is to be expansive, explorative, and open in our thinking.
When you are asking questions to seek learning, “make sure your questions are open-ended enough to promote inquiry. Good questions guide people to explore different perspectives. Each question should lead to a discussion, rather than one answer.
9. Assume You Are Never the Only Expert
That’s right, you are never the only expert.
“When people think that they are an authority on a topic or believe that they already know all there is to know, they are less willing to take in new information and entertain new ideas. This not only limits your learning potential, but it can also be an example of a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. This bias leads people to overestimate their own knowledge of a topic, making them blind to their own ignorance.”
Don’t fall victim to this. When you consistently seek to find value in the thoughts of others, the likelihood that you will find something to appreciate increases exponentially. You don’t have to adopt everyone’s ideas but seeing every exchange as a chance to learn primes you for a more fruitful exchange.
10. Observe the Benefits of Expanding Your Perspective
Pay attention to the personal development and growth you experience as a result of seeking to approach life with an open mind. When you experience renewed energy, deeper connections, meaningful learning, and purposeful advancement, you’ll continue to make the effort.
As we navigate a world-changing before our eyes, each one of us wakes up with a choice to open up our hearts and minds.
We know that being open-minded takes practice, effort, and intention, but we also know it is well worth it. Just follow these 10 tips on how to be open-minded and you’ll be better equipped to tackle life with better perspectives.
This article originally appeared on Lifehack