Why is it so important to be open minded?

I have observed that people who change themselves with time and place remain happier, more successful, and maintain peace of mind.

Take my 80 year old Yoga teacher, or my 83 year old grandmother, or my 30 year old brother, or a 6 year old niece – all of them are happy and successful (according to my definition of success for their age). They enjoy their lives, think independently, and help others.

One characteristic they all have in common is that they are open minded.

What does that even mean?
How do you know if you are open minded?
Is there something we can do to be more open minded?

These are the questions we will find the answers to in today’s blog post. I am going to share with you how their open mindedness exhibits through their behavior, and how, I think, it affects their happiness. I hope that this guides you as it has guided me in building a more successful and joyful life.

Characteristics of an Open Minded Person:

1. Non-judgmental attitude

This is probably the first characteristic I think about when I imagine an “open minded” person. Such people are so open to any new concept or experience, that they don’t waste their time in judging if it is right or wrong, good or bad, useful or wasteful. They just live it!

Last Saturday, I was at a Yoga retreat led by my teacher, Valerie. She is about 80 years old, and has over 50 years of experience in Yoga. Her approach to Yoga is very different than the popularized concept of Yoga in the Western world. She believes that Yoga is more about breathing and relaxing your body, mind, and spirit than just exercising your body through various poses. I totally follow her philosophy because that’s exactly what I believe Yoga is.

But such Yoga can be totally different than what a person walking into a modern gym might expect. First of all, Valerie does believe that a pose can take different forms for different people. Whichever modifications your body feels like doing, you should. That is openness right there.

Here’s how she took it even further in this one instant at the retreat. As Valerie was guiding us through an activity, one of the students at the retreat showed her a different way of doing it, and asked if it is right. Rather than going with her 50 years of experience, Valerie’s instant reaction was, “Oh, that’s so different. Let’s see if it works better. And even if it doesn’t for me, as long as it works for you, do it”. Then she proceeded to try out the new way.

Not even for a moment did she hesitated trying it. She did not think, “Oh, I have done this for 50 years now. I know a thing or two about how to do this right!” She was so eager to learning what that different way feels like, that she did not waste time in wondering how it can be right. She simply tried it, to test it.

Can you see the benefit in that? Judging every new concept or experience that comes your way can be exhausting. There is no way we know everything. Being judgmental only keeps us from becoming our better selves. We can lose out on new, better ways only because we didn’t even give them a chance to prove their worth.

Let’s not miss out on new and exciting experiences just because we cannot keep our judgements aside.

2. Curiosity

This is the second characteristic of open minded people that stands out to me. When we were children, we were so curious about the world around us. Then what happens as we grow up?

Well, open minded people understand the value of being curious. They know that all learning starts with asking the right questions. And the only way to make sure you are asking a lot of right questions is to keep asking any questions.

This doesn’t mean that you annoy others by bombarding them with your constant questions. This just means that you ask yourself the questions and then go about finding the answers yourself.

For example, religion. We often get so wrapped up by what we are used to practicing that we forget to ask, “What is the real meaning behind all this?”

In case of rituals and traditions, we follow them just because everybody else does it. Are we pausing to ask, “Is it meaningful to continue doing it?”

In case of our careers, we take the work that comes our way, but do we take time to wonder, “What is it that I am great at doing? What do I love doing?”

Take an example of this 6 year old in the video below. She is my beloved friend’s daughter. This little girl is not just curious but also determined to find answers to her questions.

One day, her mother was listening to a scope (a live video on Periscope) I was doing. I was talking about “Problem people and Solution people”. The girl was right there but my friend didn’t think she was listening to my video.

A few days later, she started discussing with her parents how she can become a “solution person”. Whenever she is cranky, feels like crying, she asks herself, “What can I do to become a solution person?

Can you believe that?! A 6 year old!

All this started with her curiosity about what I was saying in that scope, then discussing with her parents what it really meant, and then trying to find ways of applying it to her little world.

Here’s a 1 minute video that her mother sent me as a gift where she describes being a solution person in her school. By the way, she is my little helper in spreading the word about being a solution person. As you will hear in the video, she also taught this concept to her best friend in school, and together they solved a problem. 🙂

You may not understand what exactly her problem was from the video (I certainly had to take help of her mother with it 😉 ). However, you cannot possibly miss her dedication to being a solution person.

She is clearly a role model for many adults who have forgotten to be curious. Let’s learn from her about asking the right questions, and having persistence to find the answers.

3. Continuous learning

This goes hand in hand with curiosity because it is the next logical step to asking questions. Open minded people are willing to listen to what others have to say. They read books to learn new ideas and concepts. They take on new experiences, and meet people who are different than them. They travel as much as they can because it exposes them to new places, food, and cultures.

By intentionally exposing themselves to unfamiliar experiences and concepts, they learn – absorb like a sponge!

They are not too stuck into “their way”. They are always open to the fact that there must be more, even better way out there. They constantly look at life as a lab. Learn from your own experiments, as well as from others’ mistakes.

The best of all, proactive learning keeps you current. You do not become a thing from the past. If you change with time you become a wise person others value.

I remember a chat I had with my grandmother. She was asking me what exactly I do as a career? I doubted she knew the English word and the concept of a “freelance consultant” so I was trying to explain the nature of that work.

After I was done, she said, “So in short, you are a consultant”. I was floored! Mind you, my grandma is an 83 year old woman living in India, who does not speak English. Let’s just say it is very rare that somebody like her would know this.

I asked her how she knew this word, and this profession. She told me she learned it from another young person. When he mentioned he was a “consultant” she followed up trying to understand what exactly that meant. Now she knows!

But wait. She did not just stop there. She advised me, “If you are a consultant, you need to make sure you proactively build your network so that you get referrals.”

Are you kidding me?! Who doesn’t like a savvy, business minded grandma? I totally appreciate her advice on life and honestly, on business because she keeps dazzling me with nuggets of wisdom which are relevant to my time and what I do. I swear, she would be one of those A-list women entrepreneurs if she were born 50 years later.

How many elderly people do you see who feel that nobody cares for their advice? Well, if you do not want to land in that boat exercise your learning muscle all though your life. When you change with time, you never go out of demand. Remember that.

4. Embracing differences

When you are curious, and intentionally expose yourself to new experiences, you are bound to meet people that are different than you. You are certain to come across opinions that you disagree with. You will face different ways of living that are unfamiliar to you.

Open minded people take this fact for granted. But they do not equate unfamiliarity as something bad. They embrace differences and diversity as a gateway to more understanding and more learning.

It is so easy to be stuck in our own ways and view everything different as a “threat” to what we know to be true. But open minded people are, well, open to analyzing the differences. Even when they are certain of something, they always allow for that small possibility of finding something even better.

It is this attitude that helps them deal with differences and diversity successfully. Heck, they even use it to their advantage.

My brother who is 30 years old, travels all the time. And I mean it when I say, “all the time”! As we speak, he is taking a roadtrip on his motorcycle traversing both the coasts of India. When he comes across new cultures and new food, he tries it all. Rather than saying this is not to my taste, he embraces that experience wholeheartedly.

That has helped him discover so many cool things which he otherwise would not have found – from something as simple as mason jars and cast iron pans from his trip to the USA to a minimalist parenting style that he observed while staying with a tribal community in Arunachal Pradesh in India. He is embracing what he didn’t know just a few years ago, but is a big part of his lifestyle today.

When it comes to new experiences, don’t always compare them to what you are used to; Just try it out. When a friend disagrees with your opinion, don’t just avoid chatting with them; try to understand what makes them think so. When a colleague comes up with a new approach, don’t just ditch it; give it a shot and see if it works better.

You never know when you are going to discover something better than what you are used to so embrace the differences for what they really are – an opportunity to enrich your life.

 

These are the 4 characteristics I have observed in the open minded people in my life. Now you know!

Question:
Have you noticed these traits in yourself or in your family, friends, and colleagues? What incident was it which made you notice it?

What other characteristics would you add to this list?

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Photo courtesy: beata_kom