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  • Writer's picturePeter Stadalsky

7 Hacks to Be More Open-Minded - Even If You Think You Are

I used to think I was an extremely open minded person because I was interested in philosophy and didn't care what gender people got dirty with. Then it dawned on me that I was only open-minded to the stuff I was open-minded about. I wasn’t too open-minded about things that I wasn’t open-minded about. Sounds funny, right? Here’s what I mean:

If someone wanted to tell me how aliens built the Egyptian pyramids, I’d give them an ear as long as they promised not to get me abducted. But when someone wanted me to take a puff of the Jesus joint, I started praying to get abducted. I would shut down when people would bring up topics that I disagreed with, rather than challenging myself to ask why I can’t at least listen with an open mind.

I still don’t drink the Christian Kool-Aid, but I’ve learned to honestly enjoy hearing about other people’s faiths. As a result of opening up to ideas that are not mine, I’ve been able to deepen relationships with people, make more friends, and take all the positives out of what is said rather than disregarding the entire lot.

What caused me to become more open-minded was becoming a yoga teacher. And not because yoga made me any more spiritual - it didn't. Actually, it was because so many yoga teachers were completely closed minded. I noticed that when talking about spiritual matters, they were very lofty. There was a “everything is Divine” attitude in the community, until someone disagreed or someone wasn’t spiritual. All the sudden they would turn on this person with an opinion like a pack of wolves. They’d pounce upon him/her and rip their ideas to shreds.

There’s an old saying, “you spot it you got it.” In the midst of thinking yoga teachers are a bunch of shit heads, I realized that I’m a yoga teacher! It was hard to admit to myself that I was essentially judging these folks the same way they judged others. Once I became open to accept this fault of mine, I started to be more open-minded.

The same principles applies to rivalries between pro-life and pro-choice, people who think Chevy is better than Ford (they both suck actually), or people who voted for Donald the Duck Trump or Hillary the Wrinkler Clinton. Family feuds and and friendship fights have broken out because people have ideas. Limited ones too. Here are 7 hacks to being less of a old school extremist and a little more open minded:

1.Being open minded is uncomfortable

You would think that open-minded people are relaxed about everything. Contrarily, being open-minded takes work. It involves constantly challenging our own ideas and being willing to set them aside for new ones. What this feels like is an immediate threat or offense. The hardest thing for anyone to give up is their beliefs; it’s what we build our identity from. It can be scary to set aside beliefs about religion, race, parenthood, employment, finances, and other hot topics because we think we know what’s best.

There is always something new we can learn. There are always ways we can improve what we already know and believe. So by challenging our beliefs we have the chance to grow as individuals and as a society. Closing the door without consideration on things that go against our beliefs is a blatant demonstration of being unwilling to grow and change. Fear is the beast that prevents us from being able to improve ourselves and give foreign ideas a chance.

2. Ask genuine questions

This has been a way for me to grow beyond my furthest imagination. By practicing asking questions about things I don’t know I am able to push my boundaries of knowledge. I can be genuinely interested in someone’s opinion without having to change mine. And if I’m open when I’m listening, I may find some holes in my own opinions. What a better way to grow than hearing things from another perspective.

When asking questions, it is also important to actually listen, rather than planning a response or counter argument. By deeply listening, often it turns out that we believe in the same things, we just use different terminology. Much of our problems in life are due to a lack of understanding of one another. By asking genuine questions and listening intensively, we can sift through the language and get to the principles that lay underneath. You’ll find we all want the same things: happiness, health, love, and freedom.

3. Take the opposing side

This classic psychology book doozie is a good practice for breaking free from single-mindedness. It’s possible for us to step away from our closely guarded beliefs and consider the opposing view. This calls for a grade of humility that is hard to find. The hasty response is to safeguard our dear minds and build a good case. Rather, we can hop on the other side of an opinion without being taken over by it.

Being open to the other side of things won't hurt us. It helps create pliability in our ideas. It is rigidity that pushes people away from us and makes the bubble we live in small. More often than I’d like to believe, it turns out I’m wrong about stuff. To stand by false ideas is the highest form of ignorance. At this point we are incapable of learning. Resistances to learning are the blockades to growth. Being open to the opposing side can open our mind to more developed thinking or help strengthen a healthy idea we already have.

4. Know that you’re being close minded

The first step to resolving a problem is to know you have one. Refusing to admit that we have a capacity to be close-minded makes it impossible to become more open-minded. Self-discovery can initially suck when we pull the veil off a hidden shortcoming we have. In facing the discomfort of taking a look at our close mindedness we have made the beginning of growing beyond it.

Everyone has different affairs in life that they hold dearly to. Be it religion, morals, race, sexuality, gender, politics, financial hierarchy, social status, or any other - whichever category we feel incapable of being flexible with may be a great place to look into. Close-mindedness can launch at rocket speeds without us even realizing we are shutting ourselves off. One glaring symptom is when we know something won’t work for us before we even try it. Just the sound of something different than what we are used to can prompt our minds to think that couldn’t possibly be the right thing to do. We can’t honestly know if something is right for us until we try it.*

*Common sense exceptions apply to this rule like: printing counterfeit money, having 16 secret love partners, trying to control your drinking if you’re an alcoholic, or asking a thief to babysit your wallet.

5. Use discernment

As just mentioned above it would be ridiculous to take every suggestion, opinion, and lifestyle to heart. There is a healthy level of judgement necessary to keep ourselves balanced. It is helpful to befriend others who have a similar open-minded mentality to bounce ideas off. We should constantly question other’s ideas and our own. Every new piece of information needs to withstand healthy interrogation. Usually ideas that are rooted in truth will hold their strength through this process. But we also need alibis who can help steer us on a healthy path. It’s too easy to get lost in our own cloud of thoughts or make false judgements.

In the final analysis it comes down to, “does this new idea align with my values?” At this part of the growing process, it’s vital that we know what our values are. Many times, perspectives that are new don’t appear to be in line with our values, but upon fermentation actually are. Open-mindedness must continue through this part of the process of discernment. There are other times new beliefs appear healthy, and turn out to be an idea equivalent to eating a cactus. (Some people actually eat cacti. Good for them).

6. Challenging fear

We are most frightened of things we do not understand. My neighbor told me her doctor recommended yoga for her chronic back pain but she had to decline his suggestion because she believed yoga is a practice that summons demons and worships false gods. She told me “I would rather suffer the rest of my life in honor of my God.” The sad thing is, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yoga encourages people to deepen their faith in whatever they believe. And frankly, yoga in America is basically stretching with a little meditation chucked in - it’s not too spiritual.

It is our basic human instinct to protect ourselves when we are in fear. When we believe that our beliefs are under attack, our go-to response is to protect them. This is what keeps our mind closed of to wonderful new ideas. Leaning to challenge this fear is what starts the process of opening our minds. Opposing beliefs are not attacks on our own, they are just beliefs! When that defensiveness aries, know that it’s the fear cropping up, ready to cut out anything that could be of value to us. Those who wish to grow into better versions of themselves must constantly question their own values and beliefs.

7. Things are subject to change - so are you

If I harnessed the same ideas I had in high school I would likely be in jail. We are constantly evolving as individuals and it’s crucial for our minds to expand beyond itself. Morality changes, what is acceptable in society shifts, and values deepen. It’s our choice to grow with this or harden up and turn into one of those old guys with a face that looks like a hemorrhoid. There is no final ripened state for our minds to rest. My mentors, significantly older than I, are still practicing stretching their minds. Life is constantly changing around us, moving forward not giving a crap about the past. It’s us who scramble for stability by trying to remain the same.

The wisdom is within the insecurity of life’s relentless instability. We learn to shift, morph, and lean into life’s constant changing. The tools of being open-minded are what help us transform our minds with the evolution of the world. The hardness is what leaves us miserable in the past saying junk like, “things just ain’t the what the used to be.” That person is right, things are not not the same, but what the hell are you going to do about it? Opening our mind opens doors to better friendships, closer families, greater spans of diversity, growing communities, and accepting ourselves at a finer level. Things are always subject to change, so are you, and your mind.

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