You’ve probably heard the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Or perhaps you’ve heard people described as “set in their ways.” Those sayings aren’t typically issued as compliments, but it’s safe to say that many of us may fall into those descriptions. Perhaps you can zoom out and see that your own life is full of routines and habits that you’ve developed over the years. From your morning coffee to the type of people you’re around, is your life similar from one day to the next?
There’s no real problem with that, except that you may end up hanging out in your comfortable silo or echo chamber. This is a place that feeds your own belief system and ideas and doesn’t offer up any room for growth. It’s not easy to move outside of your comfort zone to try something new or to hear things from a different viewpoint, but it’s a worthy endeavor to pursue.
If you can learn how to be open minded, you’ll be able to move out of that chamber. It can start with changing up your morning routine and can go as far as engaging in friendly and curiosity-fueled conversations with people whose political views don’t align with yours. Life becomes a smorgasbord, with variety at every turn. Your creativity will most likely be turned up a notch.
What traits do the broad minded possess? What does being open minded mean?
1. They Are Curious
According to the Big Five personality traits, an empirically-based model used to interpret personalities, people who are considered open to experiences bring curiosity to the table. They might wonder, “How does this work?” They are open to experiences and new ways of doing things.
Think about the most curious people you know; consider what it’s like to be around them. Do you enjoy having conversations with them? They likely ask you questions that help you better understand your experiences and challenges. They aren’t asking these questions because they’re trying to “fix” a situation, but because they are truly curious to know more.
Are you curious about what makes these folks tick? There might be a biological component to this curiosity. Curious people may generate higher levels of dopamine. According to Pierce Howard, Ph.D., a researcher at Paradigm Personality Labs, “Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that, when released and transmitted, causes us to feel curious, to question, to imagine, to move about, and to feel pleasure in so doing.”
One way to experience life with more curiosity is to look at things from a young child’s point of view. Parents might get tired of answering their children’s “why” questions, but you can learn a lot by looking at the world through fresh, child-like eyes. Instead of making assumptions about how things work or make judgments about someone, what if you bring an open, curious mind? Try to ask questions before jumping to conclusions.
2. They Say “Yes”
People who are open minded are open to new approaches. That means they are not quick to say “no” when someone has an idea.
This is a skill you can hone. If you’re familiar with improv comedy, you know that one of the “rules” is “Yes, and ...” This means that you go along with whatever is happening on stage and you add on to it.
For example, if your fellow improv actor starts swinging a pretend golf club on stage and says he’s getting ready to tee off on Mars, you wouldn’t say, “What are you doing? We humans can’t survive on Mars.” You would go along with him and perhaps pretend to be his Martian caddy, or you might jump in and act like you’re playing golf in a hot, dry climate.
How does that apply to everyday life? If your friend reaches out and asks if you want to do something out-of-the-ordinary, like attend a show that features performing cats, your initial instinct might be to pass. Perhaps you’re a dog person, and talented cats do not intrigue you. Try to say “yes” instead of your knee-jerk reaction to say “no.” You might have a great time, or you might have a terrible time. Either way, you’ll have a story to tell, and you’ll spend some quality time with your friend!
How might this help you in the workplace? Let’s say your colleague has an off-the-wall idea to present at your next client meeting. Instead of a quick “no,” you could say, “YES, that is one idea we should consider, AND let’s think about how it might play out.”
Saying “yes” initially doesn’t mean you have to completely agree and go along. Here’s an example of how you can say yes but keep the conversation going. Try: “Yes, and...” when your partner brings up a plan for a night out and you’re not a fan of her idea. You could say, “YES, I’d love to spend a night out on the town with you, AND perhaps we can consider a different place.”
3. They Are Creative
Open-mindedness correlates to creativity. Columbia University psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman writes that “openness to experience—the drive for cognitive exploration of inner experience—is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity.”
When you think of creativity, you might think you either have it or you don’t. If that’s the case, perhaps your view of creativity is too narrow. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a musician, writer, or artist.
Gary Ware, the founder of Breakthrough Play, uses play to help adults be more creative and better communicators. He says, “Creativity is often confused with artistic ability. Creativity is the ability to think of new and novel ideas—it’s critical thinking. It’s a muscle, and the more you work it, the better you will be. Creativity also gives you the ability to see things from different perspectives.”
Ware suggests three simple strategies for tapping into creativity:
- Take a walk while being present (without listening to music or talking on the phone). Keep an eye out for something you haven’t noticed.
- Take a shower.
- Listen to music and dance.
Ware also recommends playing games to cultivate creativity. Here’s a quick game that will get your mind into a state of thinking outside of the box:
Round 1: Walk around your space, point to things, and say out loud what they are. For example, “That is a plant, that is a table…”
Round 2: Point to things and say what they are not. “That is not a car, that is not a shoe…”
This easy game will be sure to get those creative juices flowing.
By bringing a more creative approach to various aspects of your life, whether it’s at work or at home, you’ll not only usher in more open-mindedness, but you’ll benefit from a by-product that can’t be beat—more fun.
4. They Don’t Cling to Their Opinions
People who are open to experiences, or open-minded people, recognize others’ viewpoints and beliefs and honor them. While it might seem natural to believe your opinion about something is 100 percent “right,” it’s skillful to bring awareness to others’ perspectives.
Opinions may seem benign, but strong opinions create much of the division and strife of today’s world. This is a point that Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chodron writes about in some of her books. In When Things Fall Apart Chodron writes, “When we hold on to our opinions with aggression, no matter how valid our cause, we are simply adding more aggression to the planet, and violence and pain increase... The way to stop the war is to stop hating the enemy. It starts with seeing our opinions of ourselves and of others as simply our take on reality and not making them a reason to increase the negativity on the planet.”
Think about what might happen in your life if you could lessen your grip on your strong opinions. Could you try to open yourself up to another’s perspective by putting yourself in his shoes? What about reading news from the “other” side’s media news outlets and having an open mind while you do it?
Imagine what the world would look like if more people, including political leaders, could take the time to work on their emotional intelligence and fully understand others’ perspectives and points of view. Chodron says it best in Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change: “All the wars, all the hatred, all the ignorance in the world come out of being so invested in our opinions.”
5. They Take Time to Reflect
People who are open to experiences take more time for introspection than the average person.
In fact, psychologist Kaufman writes in his book Wired to Create that “The capacity for solitude may be a sign of emotional maturity.” He further explains that, “What artists know from experience, neuroscientists have discovered in the lab: Solitary, inwardly focused reflection employs a different brain network than outwardly focused attention.”
He points out that people don’t often take time for solitude, because today’s world offers distractions at every turn. Therefore, it may seem impossible to make time for so-called unproductive activity. However, our minds need downtime in order to view things from a new perspective and in order to conjure creativity.
“When we’re engaged in solitary reflection, the brain is able to process information, crystallize memories, make connections, reestablish a sense of identity and construct a sense of self, make meaning from our experiences, and even guide moral judgment,” Barry writes.
Time alone gives us the opportunity to tune out, which brings the brain’s imagination to life. Whether daydreaming, or simply relaxing alone, we can allow the brain to tap into this space of creativity.
Taking time to reflect might seem like a luxury with the many demands on your time. Thankfully, you don’t have to go on a month-long meditation retreat to take time to reflect. Why not start with simply 10 minutes of silent reflection in the morning? Whether it’s a meditation practice or journaling, taking those moments to yourself can help you zoom out and see things more clearly.
Why Should You Work on Opening Your Mind?
Not only can an open mind enhance your own life, but it can greatly affect the world. In many societies across the globe, headlines indicate clear political divides. It’s left versus right and pro-this versus anti-that. You don’t have to read about it to notice it; it may be affecting your everyday life. Perhaps your neighbors, or even your family members, have different political viewpoints than you do. These differing viewpoints may cause strains or conflict in your relationships. By cultivating open-mindedness, your actions can help to bridge those divides.