“A mind is like a parachute, it doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” ~ Frank Zappa

If there is one thing I noticed on my path to consciousness, it’s that the more I open my mind to new experiences and ideas, the more I get to learn.

I grew up in a conservative environment, where everything foreign, no matter how good it might be, is something to reject.

People truly believed that we can adopt an image and follow fashion trends that show how ‘open-minded’ we are, without truly opening our minds to learn and evolve as human beings. However, we cannot make our minds work efficiently unless we open them to new ideas.

Following are some simple steps which you will find freeing, but also beneficial.

We should read things we disagree with

We likely read things we find interesting and fun. We might read, for instance, articles that don’t challenge us, books that are recommended and popular. So, we are basically reading about things that we already know or things that we need to remember.

How often, though, do we click on a link that has a controversial or “shocking” title? Recently my sister gave me a book entitled, Buddhism is Not What you Think and my first reaction—since I am not a Buddhist—would have been to reject reading it. However, I am glad I didn’t. Despite not agreeing with everything the author said, I found many ideas that broadened not only my knowledge, but also my horizons, and consequently, changed my entire perspective.

Be exposed to different mentalities

We envy butterflies for being so free and beautiful, but when it is time to leave our cocoon, we keep creating excuses and building walls to avoid that dreadful moment. After all, leaving our cocoon means we have to meet new people and be exposed to new cultures and mentalities. There is nothing more freeing than opening the door to people from a totally different background who will give you a sneak peek into the way their world functions and how they see it. We can in return show them how we see the world and by exchanging ideas, we both benefit and grow.

Learn one new thing from someone every day

There is always something new to learn. We’d be surprised to know that every single person has something to teach us, regardless of age, sex, and educational background. Last summer my mother invited me to spend a weekend with her friends. I really didn’t want to go with a group of older women when I could spend my time with my friends on the beach. However, wanting to please my her, I ended up going. Sitting there, I thought to myself: I am wasting my time! What can I learn from these ladies? That weekend was educational as much as it was fun. Just by listening to their stories, I learnt at least 10 new things I didn’t know.

Listen more than you speak

The famous expression about having one mouth and two ears comes to my mind every time I try to be the centre of conversation. It is said that women speak more than men, and in my case, I spoke more than women and men combined. I loved telling stories, entertaining, and expressing myself; I took after my mother and it was the hardest thing to change.

It is extremely beneficial to train oneself to become a good listener. It is not easy to carefully listen without preparing the answer and avoiding all kind of interruptions, but it is doable. It just requires training and mental reminders until it becomes a habit and then you become a natural listener.

Never be scared of what you don’t know

The walls we built to avoid learning something that scares us are so high that we end up living in a fortified city, scared of everything on the outside no matter how beautiful or better it is. Listening to something we’ve been warned about becomes a taboo, a hindrance between us and the unknown, no matter how life-enhancing and empowering this unknown might be. The outcome of breaking the bonds of fear is rewarding in a way that only one who dared to break it understands.

Whenever someone—or the media—tells you, “Do not listen to this,” make sure to listen twice.

Explore new territories

We all want to be as free as a bird, but nobody wants to leave the nest. Leaving one’s comfort zone has to be one of the hardest things to do. The first time I travelled to live in another country, I cried my eyes out. I was so terrified that looking back at the whole experience gives me the chills. I am glad that I did it despite the fear because I haven’t stopped traveling ever since. We always yearn for new territories and the explorer in us needs to be awakened. It is said that travel broadens the mind, and it is so true.

Avoid unfruitful arguments

The amount of time and energy wasted on unfruitful arguments these days is scary. Looking at social media posts, we can see plenty of unfruitful arguments. We need to learn to dodge these bullets and instead have civilized conversations where no one is looking to force their opinions on others. I used to argue and try to make a point in order for others to adopt my beliefs until I understood that it is not the best way to make others see our perspective. Promoting our ideas instead of trying to bash our ideas onto other people is an excellent way to make a case.

Avoid being judgemental at all costs

Last, but not least, nothing destroys one’s progress spiritually and mentally as much as judging others.

Being judgemental is a prominent quality of a narrow mind. I truly believe that hate is not the opposite of love, judging is. We do this intentionally and unintentionally all the time, and it ends up blocking our evolution.

We see all kind of faults in other people without being able to see our own. We even sometimes end up projecting our own errors on others so that we can avoid looking in the mirror. Only when we stop labelling people and judging them, can we truly get to know them, accept them, and love them.

How will we truly know that what we believe in is truly what we believe in unless we see what else is out there? Only by opening our minds, by being exposed to all kind of things, can we know who we are and what we truly believe in.