Incorporate some of these best practices into your life to keep an open mind and prevent the onset of “wis-dumb.”
Be Right More Often
Doesn’t it feel great to be right? When we’re right, the little ego in our brain’s control center sits back smugly on its chair and smugly pumps its fist while all your happiness hormones hive-five each other.
That celebratory feeling should be plenty enough incentive to keep an open mind and constantly seek the truth. Because the closer to the truth we are, the more we’ll be right.
But we don’t.
Why? Because feeling wrong sucks even more than feeling right rocks. And extracting untruths from our brains feels like a root canal, especially when they have time to fester.
Also, what’s “right” is constantly changing. Look no further than you’re not-so-secretly prejudiced grandfather or low-carb eating fat friend for evidence. They think they know what’s right, but they don’t—and they refuse to accept the painful truth.
Luckily, wis-dumb can be effectively treated by applying these best practices for keeping an open mind.
Your Mental Elevator
Imagine your mind as a giant elevator.
It starts off wide open when you’re a kid. Every possible belief, no matter how big or weirdly-shaped, can fit in and out of its doors. It’s a chaotic and colorful place.
But then the automatic door-closing mechanism kicks in. As the doors slowly slide shut, bigger beliefs can’t pass in or out anymore.
And the doors keep closing. By adulthood, only small beliefs can squeeze through the narrow remaining gap. And then you’re an old geezer, the door has shut, wis-dumb has taken hold, and you’re in the dark talking to yourself…
…Unless you stop your mind from closing by pushing the Open Door button. Regular presses stop the momentum. And active application can even slowly open it back up again.
How to Keep an Open Mind
1. Separate Yourself From Your Beliefs
“Your worldview isn’t a perfect house that was built to last forever. It’s a cheap condo and over time most of it will turn to shit.”The Oatmeal
Don’t tie who you are to what you believe. Because once you identify yourself as a believer in anything—a religion, aliens, Justin Bieber—it becomes a part of you. At that point, keeping an open mind about it is darn near impossible and you’re well on your way to wis-dumb.
The deceptively simple solution: Don’t use the verb “to be” when it comes to your beliefs.
Believe what you want, but leave who you be out of it.
For example, rather than saying, “I am a Belieber [a Justin Bieber fan]” say, “I enjoy a lot of Bieber’s music.” That way, if he releases a crappy song, you don’t have to either A) Denounce your Belieber-dom or B) Brainwash yourself and others that “Yummy” has redeeming features to protect your fragile identity. Your belief isn’t tied to your identity so you can simply accept the truth that his new song sucks and move on.
2. Admit Mistakes Early and Often
An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.Orlando A. Battista
Admitting mistakes is hard and making excuses is easy. No wonder the lazy egos in our brains default to the latter.
A small ego-protecting excuse is no big deal, anyway. The problems start when these little self-justifications pile on top of each other. In no time, we can find ourselves believing in crazy shit.
Here’s an example from the excellent anti-excuse book, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), to illustrate:
How to Believe in Aliens
Will Andrews is an otherwise sane guy who believes he was abducted by aliens and has two alien children. He believes it so strongly that he’d pass a lie detector test.
His delusion started with a dream. It was a scary “waking dream” where his eyes were open and body paralyzed as he hallucinated before waking up. About 5 percent of people experience something similar.
Will’s mistake was not admitting his dream could be a common brain malfunction. Instead, he sought out evidence to confirm his brain is flawless and his hallucinations were real. And evidence always turns up if you look hard enough, especially if you go looking on the internet.
Will stumbled on the stories of other “experiencers” who suffered from impotence. He did too. They blamed the aliens. So he did too.
Then he joined the community, becoming an “experiencer.” Once his abduction became part of his identity, there was no way to bring his zany beliefs back to earth.
How Not to Believe in Aliens
To avoid becoming a Silly Willy, stop making excuses to justify your mistakes. The earlier the better.
Easier said than done, I know. I might as well add, “Always be nice” to our relationship tips post, too. Until aliens come with a magic pill, there’s no easy solution. Try the following in the meanwhile:
- Understand: Read books like Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) to scare you straight. You’ll better understand how the brain self-justifies and how bad things can get if you let it do so.
- Practice: Kind of like acupuncture, the more you poke holes in your brain’s confidence, the more it relaxes.
3. Adjust Your Dials
“When we learn something new, we don’t go from ‘wrong’ to ‘right.’ Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.”Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
0 to 100
You can think whatever you want. Just be careful about knowing it. Rarely is anything black and white or right and wrong.
To help avoid falling into the right/wrong, black/white trap, picture each of your beliefs as being on a dial that goes from 0 to 100. Start the dial to wherever your strength of belief is at and, when evidence comes in favor or against a belief, move the dial a bit in that direction.
Be careful about pushing the dial close to 100 or 0. Anytime you approach those extremes, ask yourself, “What evidence would convince me I’m wrong?”
For example, I believe nobody has ever been abducted by aliens. My belief’s at about 97 out of 100. But that could fall to nearly zero if doctors discover an alien probe in Will Andrews’ butt, his half-alien-half-human children show up, or the U.S. government admits a cover-up.
Put one of your cherished beliefs on a dial and come up with evidence that would make you turn it down. If you can’t think of anything, you may be affected by wis-dumb. Find someone to help you, which brings us the next mind-opening practice…
4. Seek Challengers
“We need a few trusted naysayers in our lives, critics who are willing to puncture our protective bubble of self-justifications and yank us back to reality if we veer too far off.”Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)
Most of us are cowards when it comes to our beliefs. Rather than seek potentially painful challengers, we hide or only beat up on amateur chumps who don’t stand a chance. It may be good for your ego, but it’s no good for keeping an open mind.
Be like a champion boxer and seek increasingly skilled challengers in your weight class instead. De-motivational speakers, as I like to call them.
But don’t actually fight them. As Peter Boghossian writes in How to Have Impossible Conversations,
“People never change their beliefs by being punched in the head by someone who hates them.”
Don’t even argue. Seek conversation partners. A collaborative approach will help you and your partner keep an open mind.
I call this approach to changing each others’ minds “belief remodeling.” Check out the step-by-step guide, try it on others, and try it on yourself to keep an open mind.
5. Do Regular Mind-Opening Exercises
In our related post on how to open your mind a bit extra today we shared some quick and practical mind-opening exercises. Like brushing your teeth, doing them only once can freshen you up temporarily but won’t have any long-term benefit. You have to make it a routine for it to be effective.
So bookmark that page and go back to it regularly to repeat the exercises. It’s good for you. (And good for our pageview stats. Win-win!)
And speaking of exercises, try one of these eight challenges that’ll expand your comfort zone and open your mind:
6. Hit Pause
A lot of life feels like you’re a contestant in the Amazing Race trying to solve a cryptic riddle in the middle of a chaotic Indian street.
Your partner’s screaming, beggars are tugging, crowds are pointing and staring, all possible forms of wheeled vehicles are swerving and splashing, flies are pestering, smells of all types are simultaneously nauseating and alluring, and you’re feeling the pressure to move fast or fall behind. It’s overwhelming.
So hit pause.
You probably don’t have a magical remote like Adam Sandler in the movie Click, though. So meditate, whack some golf balls at the range, take a nap, do some yoga, go for a walk in nature, or do whatever works for you. It makes it a lot easier to keep your mind open enough to solve life’s riddles and figure out which way to go next.
7. Blow Your Mind Open with Psychedelics
“Freud said dreams were the real road to the unconscious. Psychedelics could turn out to be the superhighway”Robin Carhart-Harris quoted in How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan
Psychedelics can “shake your snow globe,” as Michael Pollan puts it in How to Change Your Mind, his wide-ranging book on the history, experience, and science of psychedelics. They disintegrate your sense of ego and open your mind to make connections as shown in the image above.
In terms of the elevator analogy, they temporarily blow the doors wide open like they were when you were a little kid. Your mind’s elevator empties and wild, gigantic ideas can fit back in.
Psychedelics’ effect can be startlingly quick and surprisingly durable. In one Johns Hopkins study, a single high dose of psilocybin caused nearly 60 percent of the participants to remain measurably more open-minded a year later. And these were “old” people whose personalities generally don’t change much otherwise. If anything, their open-mindedness decreases over time. (Exhibit A: Your grandma’s opinion of the music you like.)
Be Careful How You Trip
Given how powerful psychedelics are and especially given their illegality in most parts of the world, use them with care. Dropping acid at a Grateful Dead concert of doing shrooms at an EDM festival is unlikely to have your desired long-term mind-opening effects.
For optimal mind-opening benefits and to minimize the risk of bad trips and bad product, enlist an expert guide. They’ll help you prepare for your journey, move through it, and process your experiences afterward. At the very least, educate yourself beforehand—Pollan’s book’s a good start—and prepare yourself with the right mindset and setting.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.”Mark Twain
Traveling’s like cheating in the great examination room of life. Instead of only peeking at how the people sitting next to you are solving life’s problems, you sneak out from behind your desk to check out what the other students in Colombia, Rwanda, or Taiwan are up to.
Even if you decide against using their ways of solving the questions, it’ll help you keep an open mind by showing you there’s more than one approach.
And travel protects us against the danger of sticking to a single story, which author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of in her mind-opening TEDTalk:
9. Take on a New Hobby
Taking on a new hobby is a longer-term version of the act your way to a new way of thinking strategy we wrote about in our post on quick mind-opening exercises.
For Kim and me, hobbies have included wine tasting and beach volleyball in Cape Town, coffee and Spanish in Medellin, and mushroom foraging and photography in Canada. Kim would love my next hobby to be cooking, but I believe I dislike cooking at about 93 out of 100.
10. Consume Mind-Opening Material
Read, listen, and learn widely to increase the odds you come across mind-opening new ideas.
But be careful about where you focus your attention. Seek information rather than receive and react to it. For instance, you may want to consider quitting the news.
Here are some of our favorite resources directly related to the topic of keeping an open mind:
- 15 Sledgehammer Books That Changed My Thinking
- Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) – How self-justification happens and the wide-ranging havoc it causes in our lives.
- How to Have Impossible Conversations – A practical manual for how to converse productively no matter how touchy the topic.
- Mindset – What a growth mindset is and why it’s crucial for keeping an open mind. (Or start with my summary, How to Fix a False Growth Mindset.)
- Persuadable – Why persuadable leaders are the most effective, and how to be one.
- You Are Not So Smart – It’s true and this podcast will explain why.
- Intelligence Squared – Debates on contentious topics to help you adjust your dials.
- Science Vs. – Lighthearted looks at the facts behind (or in the way of) fads.
- Reddit Change My View – A forum where people ask Reddit users to convince them of the opposite of what they believe.
- Wait But Why – The best blog ever and what The Unconventional Route dreams of being like when it grows up.
- The Unconventional Route – This is our post, so we’re allowed to pimp our own site. Subscribe to Consider This for a complacency-challenging, curiosity-piquing, potentially-life-spicing new idea every week.
11. Don’t Be Too Open-Minded
“Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”Unknown
Let’s finish off at the elevator analogy where we started:
You won’t get much done in life your finger’s on the “open door” button to keep your mind open the whole time. You need that finger, and the arm attached to it, to do other things.
The trick is finding the right balance between improving the accuracy of your beliefs and being efficient and effective with the ones you already have. That’s up to you to manage.
Consider the following best practices to keep an open mind and prevent wis-dumb:
For the sake of your friends, yourself, and society, keep pushing the Open Door button on your mind’s elevator to prevent your mind from closing. And show others how to do the same.
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