How to Open A Tightly Closed Mind

Four and a half years ago when I first launched Happiness 1st Institute, I was a lone voice talking about the benefits of happiness to employers. (Well, not totally alone, but for many business people, I was the first person to ever present some of the benefits of positivity in the workplace to them.)

I had not thought about a man I encountered in LinkedIn groups back then for several years. Today, I saw him posting, still adamantly insisting that “An employer is not there to help anyone. they exist to make a profit.” I was struck by how little he had evolved despite how pervasive the message that happy employees are good for business has become. Happy employees are healthier, think with greater clarity, solve problems more easily, experience fewer negative life events (i.e. divorces and custody battles that spill over into the workplace), have fewer accidents (at work and away from work), have better work relationships (and better home relationships), receive better customer satisfaction ratings, and a whole host of other benefits.

In some cases, an individual who has firmly established beliefs about a topic becomes very close-minded to new information that conflicts with what he has believed for a long time. Unless and until that individual decides the way he is doing things is not working as well as he’d like and opens his mind to the possibility of learning something, no amount of conversation will be of benefit. In fact, such discourse tends to make the person dig his heels in more.

Many people put having been right in the past far above being right now.

We see evidence of this in every area of life that evolves, especially areas that evolve quickly during a lifetime. Some changes are so gradual that the short human lifespan does not really have to adjust to keep up. Other areas evolve faster and people either adjust or become dinosaurs. Fortunately, most people adjust fairly well during the course of their career.

If you find yourself defending your position on a topic more and more often, you may find that if you can ask yourself if the filters in your brain that are literally designed to prove your own beliefs to you by filtering out information that contradicts your beliefs might be causing the problem. I don’t ask that anyone change a belief based on someone else’s say-so. But you can test this yourself without actually changing the belief.

When your belief is absolutely adamant with no wiggle room, your mind will not show you evidence that you may really need to see that contradicts your belief. Instead of being so adamant, begin asking yourself, “Is there some information I am not aware of that would be of benefit to me in relation to this topic?” You can do this in the privacy of your own mind. No one else even needs to know you are doing it. You have nothing to lose. If there is nothing you need to know, nothing will change and you just spend some time asking yourself for clarity for several days or weeks. If there is information that would help you that your filters are marking as irrelevant when it is actually relevant, you’ll be better off knowing about it.

Think of the filters in your mind like a door. When your beliefs are adamant with no wiggle room, that door is padlocked closed. Nothing that contradicts those beliefs will make it through to your conscious mind. If you see something that contradicts such an adamant belief, your mind will create a backstory that explains the information in a way that keeps it consistent with your existing beliefs. These backstories can become very convoluted.

Those convoluted back stories can include things like it being the girls fault that a guy beats her when he drinks. Studying criminals and psychosis reveals the capacity of our minds to create fictions that enable us to maintain our beliefs. Most people do not develop such elaborate back stories, but we all have beliefs our back stories encourage us to continue believing and most people have at least a few beliefs that aren’t serving their highest good.

For example, I was reading an APA study that indicated 38% of the people in their survey experience stress when they think about money. Money is a pervasive part of our lives. We trade money for things we need like food, housing, clothing, and transportation. The beliefs they have developed about money are contributing to the stress they feel when the subject comes up. With a subject like money that is almost impossible to avoid, working to soothe the discomfort is a very productive and worthwhile endeavor.

You don’t have to open the door wide and let just any new belief in. You can simply unlock it and open it enough to let you see what is beyond the door. You can even leave a safety chain on because you can always go back to supporting your initial belief fully.

If you find yourself arguing with more and more people, defending a belief you’ve had for a long while, consider trying this. I’d love to hear your stories and promise not to share your name with anyone. I often see increasing family discord because of established beliefs that are not allowing the individual to keep up with the times. If you recognize this person as a member of your family, stop arguing with him or her. The more you argue, the more they will defend the position they believe.

You have two choices. One is to decide that your relationship with that person is more important than their opinion about the subject of your discord and just let it go. The second is to be very wily and help them open their door just enough for them to see what is beyond that locked door. This method takes time and you can’t do it directly. You have to find a back door. I’ve always been able to find one for my family and for my students, but the back door will vary by subject and the situation. It is easier to get in the back door if you first let go of any need to be right and any need to prove you are.

Life is considerably more difficult when we cling to old beliefs that have outlived their usefulness.

Jeanine Joy teaches, speaks and writes about human thriving. She is an expert in teaching people how to adjust their mindsets in any way they deem helpful in reaching their dreams and goals.  Her books are available here.

If this helped you, please share so that others may be helped. Thank you.
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