Our brains generally crave certainty and routine. Certainty rewards the brain with a feeling of “everything is in order and, therefore, OK.” By contrast, the more ambiguity or uncertainty, the more the brain’s amygdala — the neural system for processing fearful and threatening stimuli — lights up. Although that may sound like something to avoid, being open to it is an opportunity.
Personal growth happens in the space of curiosity and openness. Compassion for yourself and others ignites, and judgment, hatred, and ignorance extinguish. As you begin to discover more about yourself and the world around you, life becomes less restrictive, more enjoyable, and filled with adventure.
The following pathways can help you begin your journey to becoming more receptive.
Researchers have found that humans spend around 47 percent of their waking hours not fully paying attention to what’s happening right in front of them. Oftentimes, the reason you lose focus is because you’re looking to escape some kind of discomfort, such as anxiety or boredom. But sometimes the very thing you want to escape is the uncomfortable thing you need to embrace in order to grow.
Remove whatever is distracting you so you can fully focus on whatever you’re working on in your personal growth journey. For example, if you’re reading this article on your laptop, close all other tabs and put your phone on silent for the next few minutes.
Train in Uncertainty
Zen master and author, Leo Babauta, describes training in uncertainty as “pushing into discomfort when you want to run to comfort.” It can be larger, such as visiting a country that feels unfamiliar and experiencing new customs. Or it can be something smaller, like introducing yourself to someone new at a party even if you’re feeling shy. The practice is to observe the urge to avoid something and then choose to do it anyway.
When it comes to walking into unfamiliar territories, what often holds you back is the fear of failure or something bad happening. But what if it turns out great? Trying new things helps you vanquish fears and allows you to expand your mind, creativity, and experiences.
Seek Out Credible Opposing Views
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and remember information in a way that confirms or supports your beliefs or values. Swiss author Rolf Dobelli, who wrote “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” describes confirmation bias as the mother of all misconceptions because it can make you less likely to engage with information that challenges your views. An example of this is a study of 376 million Facebook users that found that many of the subjects preferred to get their news from a small number of sources they already agreed with. This is problematic because it can lead to people forming inaccurate and biased impressions of others, which could then lead to miscommunication and/or conflict.
One way to combat confirmation bias is to actively seek out credible opposing views. This could mean regularly reading a credible news source you don’t usually read or attending a webinar led by a speaker who shares different views than you. Exploring different points of view may not change your views, but the exposure to differing views could at minimum help you learn more about why those opposing views exist.
Meditate in Open Awareness
There are two main categories of meditation: focused attention and open awareness. Focused attention meditation, or concentrative meditation, is when you focus your attention on a single mantra — a repeating word or phrase — or an object.
In open awareness meditation, instead of concentrating on something, your attention is open and remains aware of everything that is happening without judgment toward yourself. Some things that you may focus on during this type of meditation are thoughts, feelings, memories, sounds, smells, and bodily sensations.
Open awareness meditation can be especially beneficial for creating pathways to receptivity, as it slowly excavates limiting beliefs and makes space for those that help you move forward and experience new things.
Practice Other Grounding Techniques
Meditation is among the well-known grounding techniques, which are methods to calm the mind and come back to the present moment. A calm mind is an open mind.
If you’re in an environment — a crowded corporate office or a busy grocery store — where meditation feels less accessible, there are a handful of other grounding techniques you can try such as breath counting or counting objects in the room. For the latter, choose a category of objects and count every object in one category before moving on to the next. For example, start with windows, then move on to doors, then pieces of furniture, then pictures, and so on.
Other alternative grounding techniques include spelling the weather and savoring a scent, which you can read more about in this article here.
Be in Nature
Research suggests that being in nature comes with many physical and mental benefits. A series of experiments studied the potential impact of nature on people’s willingness to be open, generous, and trusting toward others. After being exposed to more beautiful nature scenes, researchers found that the effects of nature corresponded to increases in positive emotion. In another experiment, participants were assigned to walk in a forest or urban city center. Results showed that those who walked in forests had significantly lower heart rates and less anxiety than those who walked in urban settings.
It’s much easier to be receptive, learn, and grow when you feel healthy and calm. There are many pathways to get there, be it through nature, meditation, or any of the other aforementioned avenues. Whichever you choose, enjoy the journey.
Develop deep awareness by exploring the five layers of being in Understanding You, a five-part program with Jasmine Hemsley, available now in the Chopra App.