Open-mindedness is a fundamental skill that allows us to open ourselves to new ideas and experiences. Without it we would remain tied to the past, anchored to old ways of thinking, so it would be impossible for us to change.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said that "men are not prisoners of fate, but of their mind", so if you want to be truly free you have to break down the mental walls that you have built with the help of society.
What is open-mindedness?
Open-mindedness is receptivity to new ideas and experiences. On the one hand, it implies an attitude of openness towards the new, different and unknown and, on the other, it requires the ability to incorporate these novelties into our self.
Open-mindedness also implies a proactive attitude in seeking evidence against personal beliefs and ideas, to objectively evaluate them and, ultimately, change or enrich our vision.
Open-mindedness arises from the awareness of the fallibility of one's beliefs, points of view and experiences; that is, from recognizing that we can be wrong or deceived. Therefore, having an open mind goes hand in hand with intellectual humility.
The importance of openness
“Your guesses are your windows to the world, April from time to time or the light won't come in,” Isaac Asimov said, referring to the importance of open-mindedness. Having an open mind allows us to live unscrupulously and fully, so we can use all experiences as learning opportunities.
A study conducted at the University of Melbourne revealed that open-minded people perceive a completely different reality from that experienced by those with closed minds. Through a binocular rivalry exercise in which several images are presented per eye, the researchers found that open-minded people are able to combine both images, while those who are not sufficiently open-minded can only process one image at a time.
This means that, at the cerebral level, open-mindedness allows us to process reality in a different way, being able to introduce new elements into a global image, which others perceive in a disconnected way. Therefore, open-mindedness expands our world, literally.
This experiment demonstrates why open-mindedness has also been linked to greater creativity, divergent thinking and enormous cognitive flexibility. An open mind predisposes us to naturally analyze the environment in a broader and more global way, helping us to think outside the canons.
Obviously, everyone (or almost everyone) would like to have the necessary open-mindedness, but it is not that easy, especially because we are full of stereotypes, beliefs and prejudices ... These ideas help us to give order to our world and allow us to feel more safe, but they also limit our possibilities to see beyond them, to discover other realities that are perhaps more interesting and satisfying.
3 cognitive biases that compromise open-mindedness
We are all susceptible to developing errors in our judgments and thoughts, so the first step in developing open-mindedness is knowing these cognitive biases that keep us tied to old ideas and ways of thinking.
- Selective exposure. It is a tendency to only selectively expose ourselves to information that confirms our beliefs, so if you are liberal you will only read liberal newspapers and if you are conservative, conservative ones. Through this mechanism we avoid cognitive dissonance, but we also close ourselves to the new and to change.
- Primacy effect. It is the tendency to give more importance to the information we receive first, generally because it has a huge psychological impact, so we despise information that conflicts with the initial information. This cognitive bias prevents us from moving forward, keeping us anchored in the past.
- Polarization. It is a tendency to be less critical of the evidence that supports our beliefs, ideas and values, and to be overly critical of the data that contradicts them. Consequently, arguments to the contrary, far from convincing us, further polarize us in an attempt to reassert our beliefs.
The good news is that we can overcome these cognitive biases and take small steps to develop an open mind and discover a larger world.
7 strategies for having an open mind
- Get out of your comfort zone
We all move within a comfort zone where we feel safe, leaving this space scares us because we don't know what we will find outside. However, to develop open-mindedness we need to get out of that familiar space and try new things. These exercises for leaving the comfort zone will help you expand your universe without falling into anxiety. The key is to take small steps that help you feel more comfortable with uncertainty, novelty and change, until they become a part of your life.
- Question everything
Children question everything, but when we reach a certain point in our life we stop questioning things, we accept them almost unconditionally. The reason why?" it disappears from our vocabulary leaving room for resignation. On the contrary, to develop an open mind we have to go back to that childhood curiosity and ask ourselves the why of everything again. In this way we can challenge even those things that we always take for granted but which have probably lost their reason for being. At that moment your world will expand incredibly.
- Don't be afraid of making mistakes
We cannot develop open-mindedness if we are afraid of making mistakes. Instead, we must assume that when we take a different path, it is normal for us to be wrong at some point. There is no reason to feel frustrated or discouraged. Our mistakes allow us to learn and grow as people. When you allow yourself the opportunity to fail, you have the courage to take paths that were previously blocked by fear. Remember that only those who do nothing are never wrong.
- Recognize your vulnerability
One of the most terrifying things for most people is recognizing their vulnerability. In a society that encourages us to be strong, recognizing that we are vulnerable means going against the grain. However, to develop open-mindedness, we must first recognize that we don't know everything, that we are not invulnerable, and that we can make mistakes. This exercise in recognizing your vulnerabilities is an exercise in intellectual humility and wisdom that can be very inspiring.
- Let go of control
You cannot open your mind if you cling to control, your preconceived ideas, your ways of doing and thinking. If you want to allow new ideas and experiences to come into your life, you have to give up the need to control everything. When you start flowing, you open your eyes to the world and you begin to discover all the treasures it can offer you. Grasping for control is like driving through a tunnel, with limited vision. Letting go of control means starting to see the world at 360 degrees.
- Give up the need to judge
It is easy to assimilate a new idea that clashes with our beliefs, the difficult thing is to welcome a different and even antagonistic idea into our mental schemes, but it is precisely these that promote changes in our life. To allow these ideas to come through, you need to be able to temporarily suspend your judgment so that you can take psychological distance that allows you to objectively evaluate that information and determine if you need to change your mental patterns to include it.
- Open yourself to the world
People and even the things around us are an incredible source of inspiration and knowledge. The nature and culture that surround us are full of ideas, we just need to have the intellectual humility necessary to be able to see them and take advantage of them. When you least expect it, the person you least suspect can give you a valuable life lesson.