Thoughts on Having an Open Mind

“Oh, I don’t need to learn this. It doesn’t fit into my game plan.” or “I already know this, I don’t need to practice it.” are examples of what got me thinking about this next topic: Being Open-Minded. 

I think I’ve been very fortunate to have had teachers, friends and peers who have modeled open minded behavior throughout my learning. I think it is also because I have been surrounded by this positive behavior that it comes as a shock to me when I see people uttering statements such as the above.

It takes humility for a person to admit they don’t know something; many of us don’t want to risk looking stupid in the face of our colleagues, partners or friends whose opinions we value. Above humility, it also takes a lot of effort for us to be open-minded. In the gym, the work place or even in the company of friends, being open minded is an invaluable attribute.

It takes effort to be open-minded because we don’t like being bad at something and having an open mind often leads us towards having to try new things. I’ve heard so many students say “Oh, I hate reading.” or “Nah, that’s too hard.” before they’ve even given it a go! We can be petrified by the fear of failure, the fear of looking bad or even just be apprehensive about putting in the effort for a perceived low pay out. Having an open mind is the signature of successful people. Successful people have been able to check their ego at the door and shrug off the stasis of a fixed mindset to open their minds and become receptive to new skills, people and ideas that can create a positive, constructive effect in their lives.

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Of course, there have been times in my learning where I have been closed-minded. Fortunately for me, I’m not smart enough to be able to get away with not knowing anything so I couldn’t “fake it until you make it”. I would arrogantly assume I knew something, then crash down to earth very quickly when confronted with an issue that actually demanded nuanced problem solving.

At university, as a young adult, this happened a lot, far more times than it takes someone smart to learn from. Towards the end of university, I realized that I had to make a change; I had to be more open-minded if I was a) going to be confident in what I knew and didn’t know and b) going to have some respect for myself. Up until then, I was pretty self destructive in my learning habits (and behaviorally) as I could not reconcile my ego with the fact that I was also pretty useless at everything because I never put the effort in. It was also in my final year at university (2012) that I tried Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for the first time, I firmly believe that I can credit the change in my mindset to this in a big way.

So what have I learned? It’s really hard work always pretending like we always know better. It’s a daily battle with our own conscience when we have to insist that, out of all the information that exists in the world, the little that we already know is all that we need to get through life. It sounds weird when we say it that way, doesn’t it? We, as individuals, know and have access to such a small fraction of total knowledge. Yes, it’s impossible for us to know everything, but it’s important that we admit that and understand it on a fundamental level. If we can be open-minded, it’s just easier. We can assimilate information more readily, we’re easier to talk to, more likely to find joy in new experiences and are far more accepting of outcomes that are different to what we anticipated.

How do we become more open minded? Start with self reflection; have there been times where you doggedly stuck to an opinion, even when you knew it was wrong? Have you ever garnered that collective, sideways look, from a group of people after you said or did something? Chances are we are all closed-minded from time to time. Think of it as being information insensitive. Try to make the goal to accrue more information, be sensitive to information that can be gained from those around you or in new situations you may find yourself in. Listen to others; hearing what others have to say is often a really valuable way of gathering new information about something, listening and genuinely absorbing what a person says is an important skill that will help you to be more open-minded.

I’d definitely categorize being open-minded as a trait or attribute rather than a skill. It’s a quality a person displays through their actions or words. Being open-minded is a very positive state to dwell in, not just for yourself but also for those around you. I guess there’s no strong finish to this other than be conscious of your mindset and the way you look at learning. It’s the underlying theme that connects a lot of these thoughts together. Maybe I’m just a burnt out teacher and all the learning theory has seeped in by osmosis, or maybe it can legitimately make an impact in your life if you open your mind.

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