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 the old ways of thinking, so that it would be impossible for us to achieve a transformative change. Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “Men are not prisoners of destiny, but of their own mind”, so if you want to be really free, you need to tear down the mental walls that you have built yourself, with the help of society.
What is an open-minddness?
Open-mindedness is the receptivity to new ideas and experiences. On the one hand, it implies an attitude of openness to the new, different and unknown and, on the other hand, demands the capacity to incorporate these novelties into our “ego”.
Open-mindedness also implies a proactive attitude of seeking evidence and evidence against personal beliefs and ideas, to weigh them objectively and, ultimately, change or enrich our vision.
The open-mindedness arises from the awareness of the fallibility of one’s own beliefs, points of view and experiences; that is, to recognize that we can be wrong, deceived or not be at all right. Therefore, having an open mind goes hand in hand with intellectual humility.
The great importance of mental openness
“Your assumptions are your windows to the world, open them from time to time or the light will not enter”, wrote Isaac Asimov, referring to the importance of mental openness. Having an open mind allows us to live more unprejudiced and full, so that we can take advantage of all experiences as learning opportunities.
A study conducted at the University of Melbourne revealed that open-minded people perceive a reality completely different from that experienced by those who have a closed mind. Through an exercise of binocular rivalry in which different images are presented to each eye, the researchers found that people with an open mind are able to unify both images, but those who lack mental openness can only process one image at a time.
This indicates that, at the brain level, mental openness allows us to process reality differently, being able to introduce new elements in a global image, which others perceive in an unconnected way. Therefore, mental openness expands our world, literally.
This experiment also demonstrates why mental openness has also been linked to greater creativity, divergent thinking and great cognitive flexibility. An open mind predisposes us to naturally analyze the environment in a wider and more global way, which helps us to think outside the canons.
Obviously, everybody (or almost everybody) would like to have the necessary mental openness, but it is not so simple, especially because we are full of stereotypes, beliefs, preconceived ideas … These ideas help us to give order to our world and allow us to feel more secure, but also limit our possibilities to see beyond them, discover other realities that perhaps are more interesting and satisfying than what we know.
3 cognitive biases that impair mental openness
We are all susceptible to develop errors in our judgments and thoughts, so the first step to develop open-mindedness is to know those cognitive biases that keep us tied to old ideas and ways of thinking.
- Selective exhibition. It is the tendency to selectively expose only the information that ratifies our beliefs, so that if you are a liberal you will only read liberal newspapers and if you are conservative, you will only read conservative press. Through this mechanism we avoid cognitive dissonance but we also close ourselves to the new and the change.
- Primacy effect. It is the tendency to give more importance to the information we receive first, generally because it causes a great psychological impact, so that we will despise the data that comes later and go against that initial information. This cognitive bias prevents us from moving forward, keeping us anchored to the past.
- Polarization. It is the tendency to be less critical of the evidences that support our beliefs, ideas and values and to be excessively critical with those data that go against. As a result, contrary arguments, far from convincing us, polarize us further in an attempt to reaffirm our beliefs.
The good news is that we can overcome these cognitive biases and take small steps to develop open-mindedness and discover a wider world.
7 strategies to have an open mind
- Get out of your comfort zone
We all move within a comfort zone in which we feel safe, leaving that space scares us because we do not know what we will find outside. However, to develop an open-mindedness we need to get out of that familiar space and try new things. These exercises to leave the comfort zone will help you expand your universe without experiencing too much anxiety. The key is to take small steps that help you feel more comfortable with uncertainty, novelty and change, until they become part of your life.
- Question everything
Children question everything, but when we reach a certain point in our lives, we stop questioning things, we simply accept them almost unconditionally. The “why?” practically disappears from our vocabulary leaving room to resignation. On the contrary, to develop an open mind we need to return to that childish curiosity and ask ourselves again why of everything. This way we can challenge even those things that we always take for granted but that have probably lost their reason for being. At that moment your world will expand incredibly.
- Do not be afraid to make a mistake
We can not develop if we are afraid of making mistakes. Instead, we must assume that when we embark on a different path, it is normal that at some point we are wrong. There is no reason to be frustrated or discouraged. Our mistakes allow us to learn and grow as people, learning valuable lessons. When you give yourself the opportunity to fail, you dare to take paths that were previously vetoed by fear. Remember that only he who does nothing, is not 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 is going against the grain. However, to develop open-mindedness we first need to recognize that we do not know everything, we are not invulnerable and that we can make mistakes. This exercise of recognizing your vulnerabilities is an exercise in intellectual humility and wisdom that can be very stimulating.
- Let go the control
You can not open your mind if you cling to control, to your preconceptions, to the ways of doing and thinking. If you want to allow new ideas and experiences into your life, you need to give up the need to control everything. When you start to flow, you open your eyes to the world and begin to discover all the treasures that it can offer you. Clinging to control is like driving through a tunnel, with limited vision. Releasing control implies seeing the world in 360 degrees.
- Get rid of the need to judge
To assimilate a new idea that hunts with our beliefs is easy, the difficult thing is to accommodate in our mental schemes a different and even antagonistic idea, but it is precisely this that promote the quality leaps in our life. To allow these ideas to arrive, you need to be able to temporarily suspend your judgment, so that you can adopt a psychological distance that allows you to weigh that information objectively and determine if you need to change your mental schemas to include it.
- Open yourself to the world
The people and even the things that surround us are an incredible source of inspiration and knowledge. The nature and culture that surround us are full of ideas, we just have to have the necessary intellectual humility to know how to see them and take advantage of them. When you least expect it, the person you least expect can give you a valuable lesson in life.
Antinori, A. et. Al. (2017) Seeing it both ways: Openness to experience and binocular rivalry suppression. Journal of Research in Personality; 68: 15-22.
Kaufman, S. B. et. Al. (2016) Openness to experience and intellect differentially predict creative achievement in the arts and sciences. Journal of Personality; 84 (2): 248-258.
Silvia, P. J. et. Al. (2008) Assessing creativity with divergent thinking tasks: Exploring the reliability and validity of new subjective scoring methods. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts: 2 (2): 68-85.