Albert Einstein said that: “the mind that opens up to a new idea never returns to its original size”. However, opening the mind is a complicated exercise, much more than we’re willing to admit.
In fact, mental rigidity begins to be built from birth. Each learning not only opens new doors but also closes others. As we grow up and form our own picture of the world, we fill ourselves with stereotypes, beliefs and prejudices very difficult to be removed. However, mental rigidity does not refer only to ideas, but above all, to the way of thinking.
Mental rigidity turns us into prisoners, decrease our adaptability, creativity, spontaneity and positivity. We remain tied to old patterns that keep us from growing intellectually and emotionally.
In fact, people who are mentally rigid are those that:
- Think there is only one “right way” of doing things.
- Assume that their perspective is the only correct and that the rest is wrong.
- Are not open to change because are scared of it.
- Cling to the past and refuse to move on.
But if anything characterizes people with mental rigidity is the desire to be right at all costs. They do not realize this wish is extremely damaging, because the chance of being wrong and make mistakes is actually our main tool for learning and growing.
We can’t grow, we can’t assimilate new knowledge, either at intellectual or emotional level, if we don’t realize that what we knew or thought before was wrong, or at least insufficient. Being wrong becomes then a kind of liberation, while mental rigidity and the desire to be right only hide the fear of what would happen if we were freer, if we dare to admit our mistakes and go beyond.
In fact, one of the main characteristics of people who have certain mental flexibility, is precisely to be able to realize that wrong decisions are not “bad decisions”, because ultimately, any decision is good if followed by another decision we can take advantage of. Mental flexibility is precisely knowing that any decision we take always open up before us a world of possibilities. Therefore, mental flexibility means be willing to make mistakes, don’t be afraid of errors and be willing to embrace and try to understand new things or points of view different from ours.
Mental rigidity as unconscious resistance
The person who develops a very rigid way of thinking, is somehow protecting himself. In fact, mental rigidity can also be understood as psychological resistance. At a certain point, when an idea is against your way of thinking, you experience a strange and confusing feeling, that paralyzes you and makes you close up to different reasons.
Therefore many people simply reject the argument, without analyzing it. However, the good news is when that happens is because something inside is perceiving that there’s a problem, something that must be resolved, but the process is painful. In fact, in many cases, realizing that something you have blindly believed for years isn’t true, or at least not completely, can be extremely painful and give way to an existential crisis.
How to open up your mind?
The good news is mental flexibility is a skill that can be developed and learned.
1. Focus on your emotions. When you're tempted to outright reject an idea, have a look at how you feel. If you feel uncomfortable with what you’re hearing it is likely that tightness in your way of thinking hides an unconscious resistance. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. If you answer honestly, you’ll notice many interesting things. In fact, the more fear you feel, the more resistance is reinforced.
2. Feed the desire to grow. Curiosity remains one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to grow as people. Instead of simply accepting the ideas, ask yourself why. When you start to question everything you've always taken for granted, not only you’ll find new answers but also discover a new world, much larger than the one you knew before.
3. Develop empathy. In some cases, you probably do not agree with the ideas, ways of thinking and attitudes of others. However, instead of rejecting them outright, try to put yourself in place of the other person to understand where these ideas come from. If you reject what you don’t know or like, you'll remain the same person as before, but if you try to understand the others, you will be moved a step further, you'll be grown a bit.
4. Embrace mistakes. Have some mental flexibility means not to be afraid of mistakes, it means be willing to seize new opportunities, even if this means doing mistakes. It means understanding life as a continuous learning, where every mistake is not a step back but a step toward our evolution, because it allows us get rid of old patterns and archaic ways of doing things.
5. Don’t search for the absolute truth. The most important premise to get rid of mental rigidity consists in avoid seeking for absolute truth, simply because it doesn’t exist. Every time we assume an absolute truth we stop searching in that direction and, therefore, we begin to die a little every day in that area. So, it is important hold on not only to one way of seeing things and keep an open mind.
Mental rigidity: When your way of thinking keeps you from growing
4/ 5Oleh Jennifer Delgado