Are you the same person today you were five years ago? How about before the pandemic? Probably not, and that can be a good thing. Growth is positive, and it’s important to be open-minded and willing to change. Unfortunately, many of us attach a certain amount of pride to holding onto beliefs that may no longer be true or fit our lifestyle, and this approach can inhibit growth.
Clinging to certainty is an addiction that can cause anxiety, says John Delony, author of Own Your Past Change Your Future: A Not-So-Complicated Approach to Relationships, Mental Health & Wellness.
“The addiction temporarily helps tamp down anxiety,” he writes. “But the moment we become certain about something, our life energy gets channeled into maintaining certainty at all costs, even in the face of massive change. This magnifies and amplifies anxiety.”
On the other hand, people who are open-minded are intellectually curious, creative, and imaginative, says Frieda Birnbaum, a research psychologist and psychotherapist in Saddle River, New Jersey, and author of What Price Power: An In-Depth Study of the Professional Woman in a Relationship.
“Open-minded people process information in a different way and may see the world different than the average person,” she says. “They tend to see things others block out. Being open is being honest.”
Reframe Your Reaction to Change
A willingness to change your mind when confronted with something new should be viewed as a strength. Stephen McGarvey, author of Ignite a Shift: Engaging Minds, Guiding Emotions and Driving Behavior, says the ability to change requires evaluating your thinking, emotional state, and the change itself.
“How do you want to be thinking instead? What emotion do you want to experience instead? What behavior do you want to do instead?” he asks. “Then determine what needs to take place to engage and guide you in that direction.”
Persuading yourself to think in a new way includes self-talk. McGarvey cautions that our brains at an unconscious level process negation. “Most people’s self-talk is abysmal,” he says. “They focus on what they don’t want to happen, and then they get more of it. This is opposed to defining a well-formed outcome and running their brains more effectively to attract and get what they want to accomplish.”
But positive self-talk isn’t enough. “Part of it is the language and understanding,” says McGarvey. “The second piece is in using language to engage and guide the brain.”
For example, you may say to yourself, “I always jump to conclusions.” McGarvey says it can be powerful to ask yourself a question. For example, “What can I do when I start to assume something?” The power of questions engages and guides the brain to create a strategy for making a change.
You can also take a stance of emotional ambivalence, suggests Naomi Rothman, an associate professor at Lehigh University College of Business, who has been studying the topic for the past two decades. Listen to new information with empathy and respect and without judgment.
“We have theorized that the evolutionary function is that ambivalence makes people more cognitively flexible,” she says. “They are more open-minded, they have a broader scope of attention, and they are motivated to engage in a balanced consideration of multiple different perspectives.”
Ambivalence provides a variety of benefits for leader effectiveness, team performance, bias awareness, and accuracy in judgments, says Rothman. For example, someone who enters a situation ambivalent is more likely to engage in balanced reasoning. Ambivalence also increases people’s motivation to consider both positive and negative information about others before making decisions that impact them.
“People who were primed to experience emotional ambivalence in the present moment were motivated to seek both positive and negative feedback about a potential job candidate,” she says. “In comparison, happy participants were more motivated to seek positive than negative feedback.”
When you are willing to let go of certainty, talk to yourself in a way that engages your mind, and enter new situations emotionally ambivalent, you open yourself to new possibilities.
“It enables those to think critically and rationally,” says Birnbaum. It can make you more comfortable with ideas, adventure, and life.