Being open-minded can be really tough sometimes. Most of us are brought up with a set of beliefs and values and, throughout our lives, tend to surround ourselves with people who share the same values and beliefs. Therefore, it can be difficult when we're faced with ideas that challenge our own and, though we may wish to be open-minded, we may struggle with the act of it from time to time.
I'd like to say I'm a fairly open-minded person, but, like most people, I do have some pretty strong views about specific topics and find it hard to sway from those opinions -- no matter how others might try to persuade me. Of course, I fully believe that having strong beliefs can be a wonderful thing and I believe we should all stay true to what we believe in, but having strong beliefs doesn't have to mean having a closed mind.
Though it can be tough to do sometimes, I've always found that when I open my mind, I've reaped a lot of rewarding benefits. There is much to be gained from opening the door to your mind and letting new ideas and beliefs come in. Here are just a few of the benefits I've uncovered when I've taken the time to view the world around me with an open mind...
The 7 Benefits of Being Open-Minded
Letting go of control. When you open your mind, you free yourself from having to be in complete control of your thoughts. You allow yourself to experience new ideas and thoughts and you challenge the beliefs you currently have. It can be very liberating to look at the world through an open mind.
Experiencing changes. Opening up your mind to new ideas allows you to the opportunity to change what you think and how you view the world. Now, this doesn't mean you necessarily will change your beliefs, but you have the option to when you think with an open mind.
Making yourself vulnerable. One of the scariest (and greatest) things about seeing the world through an open mind is making yourself vulnerable. In agreeing to have an open-minded view of the world, you're admitting you don't know everything and that there are possibilities you may not have considered. This vulnerability can be both terrifying and exhilarating.
Making mistakes. Making mistakes doesn't seem like it would be much of a benefit, but it truly is. When you open your mind and allow yourself to see things from others' perspectives, you allow yourself not only to recognize potential mistakes you've made, but also to make new mistakes. Doesn't sound like much fun, but it's a great thing to fall and get back up again.
Strengthening yourself. Open-mindedness provides a platform on which you can build, piling one idea on top of another. With an open mind you can learn about new things and you can use the new ideas to build on the old ideas. Everything you experience can add up, strengthening who you are and what you believe in. It's very hard to build on experiences without an open mind.
Gaining confidence. When you live with an open mind, you have a strong sense of self. You are not confined by your own beliefs, nor are you confined by the beliefs of others. For that reason, you are able to have and gain confidence as you learn more and more about the world around you. Open-mindedness helps you to learn and grow, strengthening your belief in yourself.
Being honest. There is an honesty that comes with an open mind because being open-minded means admitting that you aren't all-knowing. It means believing that whatever truth you find might always have more to it than you realize. This understanding creates an underlying sense of honesty that permeates the character of anyone who lives with an open mind.
For some, being open-minded is easy; it comes as effortlessly as breathing. For others, having an open mind can be more of a challenge, something that they have to work on and make an effort to obtain. Whether or not you consider yourself to be open-minded, you can certainly see from the list above that there are great benefits to viewing life with an open mind. It's not always an easy thing to do (believe me, most people struggle with this), but the effort to think openly and embrace new ideas will be worth it when you're able to take part in the benefits that come from opening your mind.
Do you strive to be open-minded?
What additional benefits have you found from
opening your mind to new ideas?
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People are very open-minded about new things…as long as they're exactly like the old ones! - Charles Kettering
This week’s featured strength is Open-Mindedness.
Open-mindedness is the willingness to search actively for evidence against one’s favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly when it is available.
Being open-minded does not imply that one is indecisive, wishy-washy, or incapable of thinking for one’s self. After considering various alternatives, an open-minded person can take a firm stand on a position and act accordingly.
The opposite of open-mindedness is what is called the myside bias which refers to the pervasive tendency to search for evidence and evaluate evidence in a way that favors your initial beliefs. Most people show myside bias, but some are more biased than others.
Benefits of Open-Mindedness
Research suggests the following benefits of open-mindedness:
- Open-minded, cognitively complex individuals are less swayed by singular events and are more resistant to suggestion and manipulation.
- Open-minded individuals are better able to predict how others will behave and are less prone to projection.
- Open-minded individuals tend to score better on tests of general cognitive ability like the SAT or an IQ test. (Of course we don’t know whether being open-minded makes one smarter or vice versa.)
Open-Mindedness as a “Corrective Virtue”
Social and cognitive psychologists have noted widespread errors in judgment/thinking to which we are all vulnerable. In order to be open-minded, we have to work against these basic tendencies, leading virtue ethicists to call open-mindedness a corrective virtue.
In addition to the myside bias described above, here are three other cognitive tendencies that work against open-minded thinking:
1) Selective Exposure
We maintain our beliefs by selectively exposing ourselves to information that we already know is likely to support those beliefs. Liberals tend to read liberal newspapers, and Conservatives tend to read conservative newspapers.
2) Primacy Effects
The evidence that comes first matters more than evidence presented later. Trial lawyers are very aware of this phenomenon. Once jurors form a belief, that belief becomes resistant to counterevidence.
We tend to be less critical of evidence that supports our beliefs than evidence that runs counter to our beliefs. In an interesting experiment that demonstrates this phenomenon Anchor, researchers presented individuals with mixed evidence on the effectiveness of capital punishment on reducing crime. Even though the evidence on both sides of the issue was perfectly balanced, individuals became stronger in their initial position for or against capital punishment. They rated evidence that supported their initial belief as more convincing, and they found flaws more easily in the evidence that countered their initial beliefs.
What Encourages Open-Mindedness?
Research suggests that people are more likely to be open-minded when they are not under time pressure. (Our gut reactions aren’t always the most accurate.)
Individuals are more likely to be open-minded when they believe they are making an important decision. (This is when we start making lists of pros and cons, seeking the perspectives of others, etc.)
Some research suggests that the way in which an idea is presented can affect how open-minded someone is when considering it. For example, a typical method of assessing open-mindedness in the laboratory is to ask a participant to list arguments on both sides of a complicated issue (e.g., the death penalty, abortion, animal testing). What typically happens is that individuals are able to list far more arguments on their favored side. However, if the researcher then encourages the participant to come up with more arguments on the opposing side, most people are able to do so without too much difficulty. It seems that individuals have these counter-arguments stored in memory but they don’t draw on them when first asked.
Exercises to Build Open-Mindedness
In my readings, I did not uncover any open-mindedness interventions. But in the spirit of creativity/originality (the featured strength 2 newsletters ago), I consulted Catherine Freemire, LCSW [Catherine Freemire, LCSW, Balanced Life Coaching, email@example.com], a clinical therapist and professional coach renowned for her creative thinking. She came up with three exercises for building open-mindedness which I think are definitely worth trying:
- Select an emotionally charged, debatable topic (e.g., abortion, prayer in school, healthcare reform, the current war in Iraq) and take the opposite side from your own. Write five valid reasons to support this view. (While typing Catherine’s idea, I had a related one of my own: If you are conservative in your political beliefs, listen to Al Frankin’s radio show; if you are liberal, listen to Rush Limbaugh! While you are listening, try to avoid the cognitive error of polarization described above.)
- Remember a time when you were wronged by someone in the past. Generate three plausible reasons why this person inadvertently or intentionally wronged you.
- This one is for parents: Think of a topic that you consistently argue about with your teen or grown child. Now, take their position and think of 3 substantial reasons why their point of view is valid. (This could also be done with spouses or any family members for that matter!)
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! See you in two weeks when we discuss the character strength, Love of Learning.
Baron, J. (2000). Thinking and deciding (3rd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kuhn, D. (1991). The skills of argument. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson, C. and Seligman, M. E. P. (Eds.). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stanovich, K. E. (1999). Who is rational? Studies of individual differences in reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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