BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS
It is a fact that most of us are overly critical of ourselves and of others. We tend to focus on the negative, see the little irritable things and punish ourselves and others for (sometimes minor) shortcomings. Sometimes when the dark clouds of anxiety and depression rolls in heavier than before, it is hard to see the good in ourselves and others and the little critical monster then comes out to play. Does it ring true when I say that we sometimes try to justify our negative thoughts and emotions even though we know for sure that those negative thoughts are false?
Because of our current circumstances of being in lockdown, we have more time to spend inside our own minds. The everyday distractions are not there, and we are confronted by what we think, how we feel and how we act, and everything seems to be amplified. The quietness tends to become overpowering, the continuous distractions of work or social interactions are not there to keep us “balanced” or “sane”. The slightest little thing can become a catastrophe to our thoughts and emotions and the tempers and patience becomes shorter than ever before. We know that this is not who we are or how we want to react, but how do we help ourselves and prevent our upheaval of emotions from pouring and destroying ourselves and those around us?
Nobody is the same and we do not need to study volumes of books to know that. Yes, certain groups and communities have the same traits, traditions, behaviours, and mannerisms, but that does not mean that their backgrounds, way of thinking, core beliefs, values or abilities or even disabilities are the same. Here in South Africa, we really have a beautiful variety of people. Not only do we have a wide variety of cultures, but the traditions of those different cultures are beautiful and interesting to explore and discover. No wonder we are called the Rainbow Nation, I could not have thought of a better description. Unfortunately, there are also different economic classes that plays a big difference in how people are raised and what they are or were exposed to while growing up. All these differences can cause tension between individuals and groups, but also tends to lay groundwork of why we are so overly critical of ourselves. But becoming open minded can make a huge impact on you as well as on others and this is what this blog is all about.
To have an open mindset has so many benefits and although so many of us would like to label ourselves as open-minded straight away, we must be willing to take an honest good look at ourselves. For example, can you truly be honest with yourself, are you willing let go of control, are you willing to make mistakes, make yourself vulnerable and how easy do you handle changes? A few more questions that you can ask yourself are, how quickly do you judge others, are you inquisitive about life, are you observant, are you easily offended and are you sympathetic? These are just a few questions that you can ask yourself and if you are willing to answer honestly, then you have taken the first step of becoming more open-minded.
It is true that open-mindedness can sometimes lead to confusion and cognitive dissonance when we learn new things that contradict our beliefs and values. It does have its limits as you should not sympathize with every ideology that you come across throughout your life. In fact, it is the ability and willingness to revise and change our outdated and incorrect beliefs that is important for personal growth.
As mentioned before, there are so many benefits that open-minded people possess and here are just a few:
- Being honest. They are honest with themselves and can admit to themselves that they are not all-knowing. Whatever truth they find out there, they realise and understand that there is more to it than what is at face-value.
- Letting go of control. They can let control of their mind go, in other words, they are able to allow themself the opportunity to change their thoughts and viewpoints without necessarily changing their beliefs.
- Have confidence and are mentally strong. They have a strong sense of themself and are not confined to their beliefs or their beliefs of others. They are open to new ideas which makes them stronger and more vibrant people.
- Not quick to judge and are sympathetic. They are able and willing to listen to all sides of the story to gain full understanding. Because open-minded people have not walled themselves off from having contradictory feelings, they can therefore be sympathetic towards other people and can feel the connections through empathy much more honestly, even though they have not experienced certain events directly.
- Are inquisitive about life and are observant. They can actively seek out new interests and partake in innovations out of pure curiosity. They also notice changes to their environment in a clearer manner, for example noticing different patterns and colours in finer details. They allow their experiences and knowledge to continuously build onto one another.
- Willingness to make mistakes. They are willing to make mistakes and learn new perspectives from others. They are able to recognise potential mistakes, but also to make new mistakes with the willingness to learn from those mistakes. They are making themself vulnerable and at the same time gain confidence through their experiences.
- Not stingy with their time. Because open-minded people do not think that the world revolves around them, they will make time to help others in need, especially at short notice. They would not mind sitting with you, even in silence.
- Great with problem solving. An open-minded person can listen, weigh, consider and point a way towards a solution. This is one of the wonderful benefits of being open-minded, they do not see the wall, but find alternatives to either go over the wall, through it or around it. This is also where their creative spirit comes to play in an extraordinarily strong sense.
- Not easily offended. They understand that they are not a template and that their sensibilities are not set to a default. They understand and accept that not everybody is open-minded, but they will not hesitate to let somebody know when they have crossed the line. They are curious to know what lies behind the attacks or outrage of other people instead of taking it personally. They see the disagreement as a way to expand their knowledge, because maybe somebody else knows something that they don’t.
To practice and succeed in becoming open-minded can be a challenge at times, but with persistence and drive, you can open your mind up to so many new experiences, relationships, and knowledge. To expect to stay open-minded is also not realistic and does not happen by accident, it takes reflecting on a deeper level, practice, and patience with yourself.
The following few points will help you on your journey:
- Use others as an example and try it yourself. Think of somebody who exhibit traits of being neutral, who use their listening skills to gain objectivity about situations and who does not jump to the most convenient conclusions. Give thought to your own reasons for resisting information and how to grow your own new, more informed frames of reference. You might even want to ask these people for their unbiased opinions, who knows, they might be able to give you clarity about something that you might not be seeing or understanding.
- Step out of your comfort zone and learn new things. Add new experiences to your life, for example, safely engage with people who you are curios about but have not interacted with before (somebody who is culturally, racially or even politically diverse from yourself), treat yourself to a new type of food or try a new recipe, read something that will expand your knowledge or watch a new kind of movie. It might feel uncomfortable or difficult sometimes because it is not familiar, but what if you start feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable? Do not dismiss an opportunity to explore and remember to challenge what you always believed to be true. These new avenues of exploration will expand your knowledge, experience, and viewpoints if you allow the new perspectives to better you to a new level of insight.
- Reframe your negative thoughts and monitor your non-verbal (body language) cues. It basically means that you should put a guard on your thoughts. It is easy to jump to negative conclusions when confronted with new ideas and these negative thoughts will prevent you from making positive decisions. Try to rewrite your negative reactions into a more balanced and positive statement. Allow yourself to question yourself. Take a moment and ask yourself Why?. Also keep an eye on your body language. Do you fold your arms, cross your legs, or lean away when others talk to you? By opening your body language and by smiling openly makes you appear much more receptive to new ideas and information.
- Advance your listening skills and ask real questions. Listen carefully when others talk to you and prevent yourself of thinking about the next thing that you are going to say. Stay present and in the moment. Give your full attention to conversations that you are part of as this will allow you the privilege to connect with others on a deeper and more meaningful level. At the same time, you will be able to ask real and informed questions because you have been giving attention to the core of the conversation. Ask questions with the intention to learn and not to attack. Do not be surprised if your questions lead you to reconsider your own standpoint. While we are on the subject about communicating, try to communicate as specific as you can with others, avoiding being ambiguous. Become willing to share stories, examples and give details as clearly as you can. That way people will feel more connected to you and feel the freedom to share their own stories.
- Ignore your fear. You might experience fear of opening your mind and life to new opportunities and to other people. What if the other people do not like you and might make you feel judged? All I can suggest here is that you should persevere, push your fear aside and just be you.
- Avoid being judgemental and assume things that are not true. Personally, I think that we are all guilty of this at certain stages in our lives. I mentioned in the introduction that in South Africa we have so many cultures, religions, beliefs and many other differences between people and their backgrounds. This flows quite strongly with educating yourself on the differences between people and their way of thinking. Find the insight into why others are acting the way that they are. Do not assume that you know anything and everything about others and that they will never understand your situation or emotions. Just as we do not want others to label us and put us in a certain category, so do others also have the same fear of being labelled and judged. Expand your knowledge and with that, insight will follow which is an opportune way in embracing openness and information. Admit that you do not know everything. We never stop learning.
- Avoid shutting down. Sometimes when we are confronted by a statement that we strongly disagree with, we tend to shut down just like the way we did when we were kids. We discredit the person, the subject and easily the whole situation. Be willing to open your mind to this information. It does not necessarily have to change your mind, but you will be able to stay calm and composed. Give yourself time to process the information so that you can ask questions to better understand their point of view and to edit your response in a healthier and mutually beneficial manner. The aim here is not to be always right but to search for the truth from opposing viewpoints.
- Looking at the same object from different angles. It is mostly true that every story has 3 sides – your side, my side, and the truth. When we are confronted by something that we strongly disagree with, it is difficult to see the point of view from the other person’s perspective. It is important to remember that the other person might have had a past experience that influenced their point of view, therefore they are looking at the subject matter from a completely different angle. That means that you cannot dismiss their point of view or their personal experience just because you do not see it their way. Once again, listen, ask questions, expand your knowledge, and try to understand why they feel and act the way that they do. Another good exercise here is to examine your own hot-spot-issues from different perspectives. Do some reading and research. Play judge in finding the difference between the truth and the untruths in your beliefs. Gain understanding.
- Relax and learn to go with the flow. This basically means that you can give yourself the opportunity to relax your own rules, beliefs, and principles long enough to listen to the viewpoint of somebody else. Who knows, you might even enjoy not following your own rules every now and then. Sometimes our own rules stress us out and can be a real pain. Remember that life is not always black and white and sometimes we just need to let things run their course and go the way they were meant to go. Sometimes life just needs to happen.
As with most mental health techniques, this is not a once off trick that will fix everything in a blink of an eye. We must be conscious of our own thoughts, our own emotions, our own actions, and the influence that our behaviour might have on others. It happens quite often that people act in a closed-minded manner and without knowing it, affect the mental state of somebody else who might be vulnerable to these attacks or inconsiderate words. All I can ask is for all to be mindful, kind, considerate and willing to expand their own knowledge into the world of others. Gain understanding, it can make a tremendous impact to the life of the mentally fragile.
If you do find that you are not coping or that you are shutting down even though you are trying hard to become more open-minded, reach out to me or a therapist close to you to help you through this and any other challenges that you might have to face in the future. Remember, you are not alone and there is a hand of support reaching out to you.
As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following really enforces what I am trying to say in this blog. The first one if from Danny Wallace saying “The closed mind is a disease. You need to have an open mind; otherwise life will pass you by.” and this one from Gail Rubin Bereny who said “Above all, remember that the most important thing that you can take anywhere is not a Gucci bag or French-cut jeans; it’s an open mind.”. As a little bonus, here is an extra quote from Kaoru Shinmon who said, “An open-minded person sees life without boundaries, whereas a close-minded person can only see what’s beyond their eyes.”.
As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video Calls, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible. I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time. Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health as we face these challenging times.
Thank you very much for reading my blog. I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere. Please send any feedback or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and remember to have a look out for a new blog every week.