December 8, 2020

Keep an Open Mind: 5 Tips to Stay Receptive to New Possibilities in a Tumultuous World

brainstorming session

Article by Cecilia Meis 

In the wake of an economic recession, our natural response is to tighten the belt and wait for the worst to pass. However, open-mindedness — our ability to remain receptive to new ideas, perspectives, and solutions — is truly crucial at a time like this. The world is never riper for innovation than in times of uncertainty.

Plus, those who see an abundance of opportunities in the world often experience benefits beyond the economic. In a 2017 study, researchers found that people who are open-minded report increased and prolonged levels of happiness. They also found that those people are more “flexible, curious, creative, and open to exploring the world.”

The best part? Openness is not an inherent trait, but a learned one. Just as you learned to ride a bike or balance a budget, you can learn to let go of preconceived notions and approach the world with a childlike openness. Start with these tips.

1. Embrace Variety

Sure, switching up your Friday night dinner spot would count, but think bigger. If you take a trip to the beach for every vacation, try heading to the mountains and — with a guide — challenging your physical and mental capacity. If you haven’t met new people outside of the office in the past six months, sign up for a local cooking class or volunteer to teach art at a nursing home. This openness to new experiences can increase your integrative complexity, which is how the brain makes new connections and patterns between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

2. Quiet Your Mind

The act of meditating can be a mind-opener for many. If it’s your first time attempting meditation, you may feel pretty uncomfortable, maybe even silly. Lean into that feeling and accept that anything new comes with a tint of fear and uncertainty. Research has found that mindful meditation — focusing on the breath — changes the activity in our brains. Breathwork calms our bodies and quiets our minds, allowing us to take in other perspectives without judgment, fear, or preconceived notions (the enemies of open-mindedness).

3. Promote Thoughtful Disagreement

No, keyboard warriors, this isn’t permission to troll your newsfeeds for political soapboxes to knock over. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes that “you seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Imagine if you walked into every new conversation with the priority of understanding the perspective of the person speaking before inserting your opinion. It’s harder than it sounds.

4. Remove Your Blinders

Routine is good. It can help us stay productive and fight decision fatigue. But routine for the sake of routine can make it as if we’re wearing blinders. We go into autopilot while the world fades from view. What important details are we missing?

If you work in a solo environment, spend one day per week working from a coffee shop. Schedule a weekly brainstorm session that promotes outside-the-box thinking. Meet with peers, mentors, or industry colleagues on a regular basis to learn about different methods and perspectives that could be critical to your growth.

5. Daydream

A challenge for the go-getter types we write about in this magazine, daydreaming is anything but idleness. Research on daydreaming is a burgeoning field, but those who study it have found possible evidence that daydreaming increases creative thinking, compassion and self-awareness — in other words, the tenets of great leadership.

Schedule time to let your mind wander. Keep that time as sacred as a board meeting or client presentation. Keep a journal of the thoughts that arise during these times and let your unconscious mind work through problems and come up with creative solutions.

Insights From the Experts

We spoke to three entrepreneurs who have learned through the good and the bad how powerful an open mind can be. Here’s what they had to say.

julio1. Julio Daniel Hernandez, CEO of EnLight.Energy

In 2015, we partnered with one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world. Things were booming. Then, that company declared bankruptcy, and our team was stuck between an exclusive agreement and the bad reputation indirectly affecting us. In a Tony Robbins business mastery class, I was exposed to the idea of not falling in love with a product but instead falling in love with the value you bring to your customer. Through that experience, we learned to pivot and get creative.

To stay open to new ideas, I put any feedback through a simple filter:

  1. Did I catch myself disagreeing instinctively and in a reactionary way? Did the feedback make me uncomfortable? Did it question what I believe to be true? If so, my ego might be blinding me.
  2. Does the person providing feedback have the expertise or proximity necessary to bring valuable insight? The answer to every problem is a few feet away from it.
  3. Can I take action on the insight in a measured yet unbiased way? Action cures fear.

Necessity is the mother of invention. When things drastically change — as they recently did — you can either settle into mediocrity or rally the team to help think of ways to continue to bring value. If you are lucky enough to have a supporting cast, hear them out. Ninety percent of your business solutions are in the brains of your clients and team members. Listen to them. If you are a solopreneur, reach out to people who are good at what they do and give them permission to let you know what you are not seeing.

jennifer2. Jennifer Kushell, Founder and CEO of EYP Ventures, Inc.

I started my first business at 13. I started my fifth at 19. I often ask myself, Why are young people not being told they can be entrepreneurs?

Once, I was offered to spend a semester at sea. I declined, thinking I was too busy with my projects to take that kind of time away. Turns out, Desmond Tutu made an appearance on that ship. There is so much opportunity in the world, and I’m blown away by the closed-mindedness that pervades our society. I’ve spent the better part of my life teaching young people that entrepreneurship is not only real, but also accessible to them.

Open-mindedness is about letting go of transactional thinking. It’s not just about the bottom line; it’s about experience. I see students with study-abroad offers who choose to stay home with their friends. This choice dramatically limits not only their opportunities in the world, but also the richness of their lives. When we are closed-minded, that spreads throughout our communities; it affects our global competitiveness and economic power. We’re stunting our own growth.

Open your life to variety. You don’t eat canned soup every day even though it could sustain you. You get vitamins and nutrients and energy and enjoyment from all different types of food. How you feed your mind is parallel to how you nurture your body.

brittany3. Brittany Merrill Yeng, Cofounder and Managing Member of Skrewball Spirits

When my husband and I started Skrewball, the experts said we were doing it wrong. Our branding had nothing to do with our product; we were priced too high; we did not have the typical industry background. In retrospect, people have pointed to these differences as the things that made us successful.

Contrary to the popular saying, there are bad ideas. To make sure we’re not quashing creativity while still making sure we’re having productive conversations, I set ground rules. I ask that all the ideas pass a test before we explore them. Our people must ask themselves:

  1. What is the goal?
  2. Does my idea further that goal?
  3. Does my idea make business sense?

Brainstorming without direction becomes a waste of time for everyone. The worst part is that morale is lost when you don’t take up anyone’s ideas. What I have found helpful is asking everyone to constantly ask themselves: What would I do if I owned the company? It is incredible to see people take this to heart and further the entrepreneurial spirit of the company, while keeping our common goals in focus. When someone comes to me with a great idea, I allow them to own that project. I love seeing them grow (and stumble) through the challenges, learning how hard it is to make the calls sometimes.

Versions of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com and in the November/December 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Cecilia Meis is the integrated content editor for SUCCESS magazine and SUCCESS.com. She recently earned a bachelor’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. A Kansas City native, Cecilia enjoys sand volleyball, new stationery, and a heaping plate of burnt ends.

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