There is lots out there to warrant being cynical, for sure — but life is too short to be stuck in a world of negative information and stories of doom and gloom. So how can we rise above the negativity and cynicism? Try an open mind and an open mouth! According to Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology, open-mindedness is the willingness to search actively for evidence – even if it turns out to be against our traditional beliefs, plans, and goals. It also involves weighing available evidence fairly when it presents itself. (Seligman, M., Authentic Happiness, Simon and Schuster, 2002).
He is quick to remind us that being open-minded does not imply that we are indecisive, wishy-washy, or incapable of thinking for ourselves. After considering various alternatives, open-minded people usually take a reasonable stand on a particular issue and act accordingly.
The opposite of open-mindedness is what positive psychologists call myside bias. Mysided bias is the pervasive tendency to search for evidence and then evaluate that evidence in a way that favors our established beliefs and biases. Most people are myside biased, but some are no doubt more biased than others. You’d probably have no difficulty naming a few.
Research in positive psychology, social psychology, and sociology suggests the following benefits of open-mindedness:
- Open-minded people are generally less swayed by singular events and are more resistant to suggestion and manipulation.
- Open-minded people are better able to predict how others will behave and are less prone to projection. (Projection was originally coined by Sigmund Freud in the 1890’s as a defense mechanism in which people unconsciously reject their own unacceptable attributes by ascribing (projecting) them to objects or persons other than themselves).
- Open-minded people tend to welcome change and the possibilities and opportunities it brings.
From our experience open-minded people tend to be more spiritual than religious, and are more open to interpreting scripture metaphysically and metaphorically. (For example, whenever you find the words ‘house’ or ‘city’ used in scripture, they represent ‘consciousness’ from a metaphysical perspective. People who are not open-minded usually have difficulty accepting an interpretation like that because they see scripture through dogmatic filters).
Of course, there are many kinds of open-mindedness: open-minded food preferences; open-minded political discussions; open-mindedness when it comes to treating people with respect regardless of their sexual orientation or philosophy of life; open-minded attitudes for inventing new ways for playing familiar board games or video games; etc.
The open-mindedness that got us started on our career as Unity ministers was an open-minded approach for interpreting Biblical scripture. At a soul level we felt there was more to the Bible than its literal interpretation. Those of you who know us know we have opted for a more metaphysical approach for interpreting sacred scripture and find it richer, more spiritual, and relevant for those who seek more depth and universality in the search for ultimate truths.
Open-mindedness is usually coupled with an open mouth – a positively life-affirming open mouth, that is! By that we mean almost every word, if not every word, that comes out of your mouth is positive. People who are positively inclined frame their sentences in positive ways. They are practical but optimistic, anticipatory yet cheerful, enthusiastic but grounded.
- positive self-talk,
- affirmations that are confidently languaged,
- affirmative prayers, and
- a speaking voice that is optimistic and self-assured.
The importance of this kind of positivity which is evidenced through an open mind and an open positive mouth is backed up by the neurosciences. Both of these positive expressions contribute to our well-being. For example:
When we call up positive emotions and perspectives, these wholesome influences will slowly be woven into the fabric of those memories. Every time we do this, every time we sift positive feelings and views into painful, limiting states of mind – we build new neural structures. Over time, the accumulating impact of this positive material will, synapse by synapse, change our brain (R. Hanson, Buddha’s Brain, Oakland CA.: Harbinger Publications, 2009, pg. 71).
Neuroscience also points out that just seeing a list of positive words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel better, and people who use more positive words tend to have greater control over emotional regulation (Fossati, P., Hevenor, S.J., Graham, S.J., Grady, C., Keightley, M.L., Craik, F., Mayberg, H., “In search of the emotional self; An fMRI study using positive and negative emptional words.” Americal Journal of Psychiatry, 2003 Nov.; 160 (11): 1938-45).
Certain positive words – like ‘peace’ and ‘love’ – may have the power to alter the expression of genes throughout the brain and body, turning them on and off in ways that lower physical and emotional stress (Dusek, J.A., Out, H.H., Wohlhueter, A.L., Bhasin, M., Zerbini, L.F., Joseph, M.G., Benson, H., Libermann, T.A., “Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response,” PLoS One; 2008 July 2; 3 (7): e2576).
A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image and invalidating will incline you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and the thalamic changes will affect the way you perceive reality (Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, Words Can Change Your Brain, Hudson Street Press, New York, 2012, pg. 35).
Neuroscience has proven beyond a doubt that even fleeting thoughts and feelings can leave lasting impressions on our brain. When you add the amperage of the spoken word as a vocal expression of those thoughts and feelings you literally change the neural structure of the brain.
We strengthen our neural circuits every time we think and speak positive, life-affirming thoughts and words. Shooting positive words and affirmations from the lip short-circuits our primordial negativity bias and diffuses the power of negative experiences.
The combination of open-mindedness and a positive open mouth literally re-wire us for enlightenment. We make it a regular practice to repeat positive affirmations regularly during the course of a day. We say them and sing them. We visualize the neurons in our brains firing together and wiring together to strengthen our connection with our spiritual nature.
We encourage you to keep an open mind. And when you “shoot from the lip,” let the words you fire be optimistic, positive, and life-affirming.