Being open-minded isn’t always as simple as we think it might be. In fact, you might even need to train your brain how to be open-minded.
We’ve all been in a conversation that makes us roll our eyes and wonder how someone can be so close-minded. Things our grandparents say can make us cringe, and some comments make us wonder whether we really agree with things our friends say.
But what we sometimes don’t realize is that open-mindedness is as much of a skill as anything else. It takes time and active practice to train our brains on how to be less close-minded and reap the rewards of figuring out how to have an open mind.
What Is Open-Mindedness?
We are constantly told to keep an open mind. For as long as I can remember, open-mindedness was continually praised as a desirable trait to be strived for. But while they were telling me to have this skill, they never really explained what it means to have an open mind.
Generally defined, open-mindedness is a willingness to try new things, or unprejudiced in decision making. But, what does open-mindedness look like, and how can I be open-minded?
1. Listening to others and actually listen
Open-minded people don’t just listen, they hear the thoughts of others and respond appropriately rather than listening to appear polite.
2. Aren’t afraid to have their ideas challenged
The truly open-minded embrace the challenge and engage in those conversations. They might even learn from them.
3. Accept when they are wrong
When they’re wrong, they accept it and adjust their opinions appropriately.
4. Allow others the opportunity to share their thoughts and beliefs
Whether it’s a new idea or a certain belief, it’s always an opportunity to learn and engage with others.
5. Do not belittle the thoughts and beliefs of others
Not everyone is going to agree with you, but the challenge is reacting appropriately. Be respectful toward what others have to say.
6. Take part in constructive debate
When people disagree with you, there are two ways of seeing it. Either you see it as a challenge or a threat. Only one of those views is open-minded.
7. Have empathy for others
You don’t have to have had the same experience with someone to have empathy, you don’t even have to understand what they’re going through. When others share their experiences, believe them, and empathize the best way you can.
8. Are humble about their own knowledge and expertise
There is nothing worse than a smart person who knows they’re smart and wants the world to know it, too. Being truly open-minded means you don’t need to show off your expertise because you utilize it properly.
The Benefits of Being Open-Minded
So, we know what open-mindedness is, but what perks can being open-minded bring to our lives?
- Constant learning. By challenging your beliefs and listening to others, being open-minded teaches you new things about others, the world around you, and even yourself.
- New experiences. By embracing saying yes, you open yourself up to new things, new places, and new people.
- Personal growth. Listening to others and being willing to change your own ideas helps you to grow as an individual.
- Mental strength and happiness. Removing the fear of disagreement gives you a greater overall resilience and mental wellbeing.
How to Be Open-Minded, According to Science
1. Read arguments against your beliefs.
While this might seem uncomfortable, and you might say completely pointless, hear me out. It has regularly been shown that actively listening to the opinions of others, even where you disagree, promotes a more conducive conversation for learning and growing.
Trying to force someone to accept their position as wrong pushes them to feel defensive and refuse to change their minds. When people feel listened to, they are more likely to listen to others and take their views into account. So, next time you hear an opposing opinion, listen and be respectful. You might find your own views aren’t completely correct, either.
2. Fight the Confirmation Bias
Just like we should listen to views that oppose our own, we should also try to fight the confirmation biases we hold. If you don’t know what confirmation bias is, you can read more about it here.
Essentially, confirmation bias is the tendency humans have of surrounding themselves with people, information sources, and media which only confirms the beliefs and opinions we already hold. This type of cognitive distortion stunts our personal growth because it means we never get challenged and struggle to be more open-minded.
Allow yourself to be challenged and don’t be afraid of disagreement.
3. Ask questions
Part of becoming open-minded is understanding that just because we hold a view does not make it right. Just like your mum told you not to believe everything you read on the internet, be prepared to ask questions about the things you hear and read.
Think about the source and any potential biases they might have. Think about your own biases which might affect your opinion. Have you looked at how someone in an entirely different situation might view the issue?
4. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness helps us to center ourselves and be more present, allowing our thoughts to wash over us instead of taking control. The better we are at this, the more control we have over subconscious biases that might cloud our judgment.
Find a method that suits you, whether it’s through meditation, yoga, or even coloring, and give yourself some mental clarity.
5. Embrace ambiguity
We are naturally wired to stay away from the unknown. If something isn’t one thing or the other, it feels unsafe and makes us insecure. However, if you really want to push yourself to open a closed mind, embracing the grey areas can be one of the most beneficial ways to do so.
Labels are constructed entirely by humans, and so you have the power to remove them if you want to. Don’t be afraid to investigate what you don’t understand, and prepare to have your mind changed when one thing turns out to be another.
6. Get out of your comfort zone
Turn ‘I would never’ into ‘I will,’ and push yourself to do something unexpected. It will make you uncomfortable at first, but you might end up finding something new to enjoy. You might gain understanding into a perspective that baffled you, or maybe just meet some new and interesting people.
Either way, jump out of your comfort zone and turn some ‘never’s into ‘now’s.
7. Practice and patience
Like any new skill, when you decide to become more open-minded, it is going to take time and practice for it to feel more comfortable. Forgive yourself when unconscious biases sway your thinking and stay present as much as you can.
Remember that you are quite literally training your brain to think differently, and that takes time.
If you are wondering how to be open-minded, it’s probably because you’re unsure where to start. The good news is that small actions add up to make a big change over time, so if you’re not there now, you will be one day.
The most important thing is that you’re making the effort to make real change and hopefully reap the rewards that open-mindedness brings. Growth is not always easy, and it does take work, but working being more open-minded is one of the most worthwhile efforts you can undertake.
Keep up the good work and let yourself make mistakes. Making mistakes and learning from them is just all part of the process when you decide to be more open-minded.
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