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4 Ways To Train Your Brain To Be More Open-Minded

Source | FastCompany : BY STEPHANIE VOZZA

The idea that opposites attract isn’t entirely true. People prefer to hang out with people who are like-minded, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While this makes for easy-going relationships and conversations, it doesn’t help to broaden your perspective or open your mind. To do those things, you have to purposefully take other actions.

“Becoming more open-minded is actually a counterintuitive mental task,” says John Brown, psychologist and organizational development consultant for EPIC Insurance Brokers & Consultants. “Our brains think in whole ideas, the famous cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget taught us. These whole ideas are called ‘schema.’”

Schema includes our life experiences, beliefs, social reinforcements, and physiological reactions. “To visualize schema, think of Venn diagrams,” he explains. “When new information comes into our consciousness, we have to either fit it to our existing schema, or adjust our existing schema to fit the new information.”

Related: 5 Ways To Debate With An Open Mind

When something fits, it’s called “assimilation,” says Brown. “Assimilation is easy, because the new information fits all of our other existing experiences and preconceived ideas; it doesn’t challenge any existing ideas,” he says. “But when new information doesn’t fit into our existing ideas about things, the new information might challenge your feelings, your beliefs, and your own past experiences.”

Piaget called this phenomenon “accommodation.” “Accommodation requires the mental, or cognitive, ability to suspend judgment temporarily, to weigh information, and a willingness to recognize parts of your own existing beliefs as incorrect or in need of new frames of reference,” says Brown. “People become very defensive when their existing ideas are challenged. When we can’t wrap our heads around a new idea, that’s an example of how hard it is to accommodate.”

While Piaget noted that accommodation is a difficult mental task, he declared that it’s possible with purposeful effort. Here are four methods you can take to be more open-minded:


Sometimes being open to something new just requires talking through the situation with someone else. Brown suggests an approach used in counseling called Motivational Interviewing, in which you talk about your concerns or struggles with a new idea to someone who simply listens and repeats back what they hear. The process helps you hear your own reasons for resistance, gaining some objectivity about the situation.

“It has been demonstrated to be effective in helping people make difficult decisions and resolve ambivalence, using simple listening skills that can be easily taught and practiced,” he says.

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