The problem with sticking to what we think we know is that fixed ideas can close the mind to new ideas, information, and ideas that may not have been previously considered. Knowledge can be a killer of curiosity and prevents exploration and finding new, perhaps more pleasing and satisfying ways. Had we traveled our usual route, we would not have searched out new places and discovered anything. It would have been just another ride. Another way of saying this is if you always act on what you think you know you will be limited by your knowledge.
In my work I find that when I feel pressured to know answers my mind shuts down and reaches for bits of ideas that I may have stored away. When asked for answers we often stop paying attention, and as we reach for answers the learning curve tapers off. When you allow yourself not to have all the answers you are likely to notice more. It becomes easier to listen to other people. By practicing really listening to others, instead of preparing a response, you will be amazed at how many ideas can occur that might have been cut off by a quick reply. I like to remind myself that new continents were discovered accidentally when explorers were willing to challenge their preconceived notions. In my own life, most of the important discoveries I’ve made have occurred while I was looking for something else.
Generally there are three periods in a person’s life when they are most open to gaining new knowledge and ideas. The first is when newborns and young children first discover their world. Second, is when teenagers are going through intense physiological and psychological change, and then third, in time of crisis when their world is turned upside down. A fourth that would qualify is when someone falls in love, which is very similar to a crisis. At these times, humans are most open to newness and change mostly brought on by necessity. Young children have to learn to survive and adapt to the world; teens have to face their hormonal, social, and physical changes; and a crisis compels one to respond in new ways. As for love, the opening of the heart may yield an opening of the mind. Gilda Radner once said, “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”
The problem with thinking we know (the answer) is that fixed ideas can close the mind to new ways of thinking and may stifle new information and considerations that may not have been previously considered. Knowledge can be a killer of curiosity, which can prevent us from exploration and new discoveries. For example, if a parent concludes that they know the reason why their child is doing poorly in a class is because of X, they will be less likely to engage in a two-way conversation that includes their child’s ideas. Likewise, anyone who has encountered someone who thinks they have all the answers knows firsthand how frustrating it can be to introduce something new or different. A person with a negative, moralizing disposition, who acts like the sole source of wisdom, is not usually available for an open exchange and can be very difficult to deal with. A Zen master once said, “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
If you are interested in opening your mind to new ways of thinking or having experiences that can help you be more creative, more energetic, and more open to new experiences and ways of thinking, there are some steps you can take. Here are some methods and activities that can lead you to a new road.
The key ingredients are to be open to new experiences and to be willing to make changes. There is no way we would have discovered our travel adventure if we had not been open to the idea of taking a new road and then been willing to actually give it a try. These two steps are critical. One, being open to a new idea, and then, two, being willing to act on it.
Check your gut. Are there aspects of your daily life that you dread and wish you could change? Conversely, what do you thoroughly enjoy and provides you with a sense of satisfaction and well-being? Who are the people that you most enjoy being around?
Check your ego, which is your conscious mind that controls your behavior (and sometimes others’). Are you often overly concerned with having things done your way? Do you get uncomfortable when someone suggests doing something in a new or different way?
Consider if your ego is working for you or if it may be getting in the way by over-controlling what you do and perhaps alienating you from others.
Create quiet time. It sounds unbelievable, but most of us have a very hard time being quiet. We are too often so busy talking, listening, and interacting with gadgets that we forget about ourselves. This causes undue stress, anxiety, and diseases in the process. Understanding that we have the power to soothe and relax our mind, body, and spirit with no outside help is essential to opening oneself to possibilities.
Learn something new. Take a class for fun, try drawing or painting, pick up an instrument, explore a new area.
“The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.” ~ E.B. White
Editor’s Note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.