11 Practical Ways to Keep an Open Mind

Incorporate some of these best practices into your life to keep an open mind and prevent the onset of "wis-dumb."


Be Right More Often

Doesn’t it feel great to be right?

When you’re right, the little ego in your brain’s control center sits back smugly into its La-Z-Boy comfort zone and smugly pumps its fist while all your happiness hormones hive-five each other.

That celebratory feeling should be plenty enough incentive to keep an open mind and constantly chase the truth. Because the closer to the truth we get, the more we’ll be right.

But we don’t.

Why? Because feeling wrong sucks even more than feeling right rocks. And extracting untruths from our brains feels like a root canal, especially when they have time to fester.

What’s “right” is constantly changing, too. Look no further than you’re not-so-secretly prejudiced grandfather or low-carb eating fat friend for evidence. They think they know what’s right and refuse to accept the painful truth.

It’s wis-dumb.

Luckily, wis-dumb can be effectively treated by applying these best practices for keeping an open mind.

How to Keep an Open Mind

Be careful how you identify yourself. (Photo source: Rob Maguire)

1. Believe What You Want, But Leave Be Out of It

“Your worldview isn’t a perfect house that was built to last forever. It’s a cheap condo and over time most of it will turn to shit.”

The Oatmeal

Once you identify yourself as a believer in anything—a religion, aliens, Justin Bieber—it becomes a part of you. At that point, keeping an open mind about it is darn near impossible and you’re well on your way to wis-dumb.

The deceptively simple solution: Don’t use the verb “to be” when it comes to your beliefs.

For example, rather than saying, “I am a Belieber [a Justin Bieber fan]” say, “I enjoy a lot of Bieber’s music.” That way, if he releases a crappy song, you don’t have to either A) Denounce your Belieber-dom or B) Brainwash yourself and others that “Yummy” has redeeming features to protect your fragile identity. Your belief isn’t tied to your identity so you can simply accept the truth that his new song sucks and move on.

2. Admit Mistakes Early and Often

An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.

Orlando A. Battista

Admitting mistakes is hard and making excuses is easy. No wonder the lazy egos in our brains default to the latter.

A small act of ego-protecting confirmation bias is no big deal, anyway. The problems start when these little self-justifications pile on top of each other. In no time, we can find ourselves believing in crazy shit.

Here’s an example from the excellent anti-excuse book, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), to illustrate:

How to Believe in Aliens

Will Andrews is an otherwise sane guy who believes he was abducted by aliens and has two alien children. He believes it so strongly that he’d pass a lie detector test.

His delusion started with a dream. It was a scary “waking dream” where his eyes were open and body paralyzed as he hallucinated before waking up. About 5 percent of people experience something similar.

Will’s mistake was not admitting his dream could be a common brain malfunction. Instead, he sought out evidence to confirm his brain is flawless and his hallucinations were real. And evidence always turns up if you look hard enough, especially if you go looking on the internet.

Will stumbled on the stories of other “experiencers” who suffered from impotence. He did too. They blamed the aliens. So he did too.

Then he joined the community, becoming an “experiencer.” Once his abduction became part of his identity, there was no way to bring his zany beliefs back to earth.

How Not to Believe in Aliens

To avoid becoming a Silly Willy, stop making excuses to justify your mistakes. The earlier the better.

Easier said than done, I know. I might as well add, “Always be nice” to our relationship tips post, too. Until aliens come with a magic pill, there’s no easy solution. Try the following in the meanwhile:

  • Understand: Read books like Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) to scare you straight. You’ll better understand how the brain self-justifies and how bad things can get if you let it do so.
  • Practice: Kind of like acupuncture, the more you poke holes in your brain’s confidence, the more it relaxes.

Got Netflix? Watch The Push, a 1-hour special that tests how far real people will go—even murder—to avoid admitting mistakes. It’s like a real-life breaking bad.

Gauge measuring belief in aliens.
Never jump straight from 0 to 100.

3. Quit Flipping and Adjust Your Dials

“When we learn something new, we don’t go from ‘wrong’ to ‘right.’ Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.”

Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

0 to 100

You can think whatever you want. Just be careful about knowing it. Rarely is anything black and white or right and wrong.

To avoid falling into the right/wrong, black/white trap, picture each of your beliefs as being on a dial that goes from 0 to 100. Start the dial to wherever your strength of belief is at and, when evidence comes in favor or against a belief, move the dial a bit in that direction.

Avoid Extremes

Be careful about pushing the dial close to 100 or 0. Anytime you approach those extremes, ask yourself, “What evidence would convince me I’m wrong?”

For example, I believe nobody has ever been abducted by aliens. My belief’s at about 97 out of 100. But that could fall to nearly zero if doctors discover an alien probe in Will Andrews’ butt, his half-alien-half-human children show up, or the U.S. government admits a cover-up.

Try it.

Put one of your cherished beliefs on a dial and come up with evidence that would make you turn it down. If you can’t think of anything, you may be affected by wis-dumb. Find someone to help you, which brings us the next mind-opening practice…

People practicing sending de-motivational messages
Seek de-motivational speakers who won’t hesitate to call you out on your wis-dumb.

4. Seek Challengers

“We need a few trusted naysayers in our lives, critics who are willing to puncture our protective bubble of self-justifications and yank us back to reality if we veer too far off.”

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Most of us are cowards when it comes to our beliefs. Rather than seek potentially painful back-and-forths with challengers, we hide. Or we beat up on amateur chumps who don’t stand a chance. Or we act tough on Reddit.

It may be good for your ego, but it’s no good for keeping an open mind.

Be like a champion boxer and seek increasingly skilled challengers in your weight class instead. De-motivational speakers, as I like to call them.

But don’t actually fight them. As Peter Boghossian writes in How to Have Impossible Conversations,

“People never change their beliefs by being punched in the head by someone who hates them.”

Don’t even argue. Seek conversation partners. A collaborative approach will help you and your partner keep an open mind.

Can’t find anyone to challenge you?

Enlist artificial intelligence instead!

One practical benefit of ChatGPT that I’ve been putting to use is that it can serve as an knowledgable, unbiased, uncompetitive, face-protecting tool for getting feedback and softening and shifting my stubbornly-held beliefs.

Challenge yourself.

Could you use a mind-opening self-therapy session? Watch me give one to myself and consider doing the same:

YouTube video
How to be more open-minded cover image of Kim pretending to be open-minded

5. Do Regular Mind-Opening Exercises

In my related post on how to open your mind a bit extra today I shared some quick and practical mind-opening exercises:

  1. Warm your mind up for opening.
  2. Plant seeds of doubt in your brain.
  3. Do some blind-spotting.
  4. Change something other than your mind.
  5. Do a blind taste test.
  6. Go but-less.
  7. Improve your perspective.
  8. Ask yourself better questions.

Like brushing your teeth, doing them only once may freshen you up temporarily but won’t have any long-term benefit. You have to make mind-opening exercises like these a habit.

Walking to Sidi Kouki one of top recommendations in our Essaouira travel blog
Get away from it all, like Kim here outside Essaouira, Morocco.

6. Hit Pause

A lot of life feels like you’re a contestant in the Amazing Race.

As you’re trying to solve a cryptic riddle in the middle of a chaotic Indian street, your partner’s screaming, beggars are tugging, crowds are pointing and staring, all possible forms of wheeled vehicles are swerving and splashing, flies are pestering, smells of all types are simultaneously nauseating and alluring, and you’re feeling the pressure to move fast or fall behind. It’s overwhelming.

So hit pause.

You probably don’t have a magical remote like Adam Sandler in the movie Click, though. So meditate, whack some golf balls at the range, take a nap, do some yoga, go for a walk in nature (or longer to experience the “three-day effect”), or do whatever works for you.

Deliberate pauses make it a lot easier to keep your mind open enough to welcome insights that help solve life’s riddles and figure out which way to go next.

(a) This is your brain. (b) This is your brain on drugs—psilocybin, specifically. (Source: Journal of the Royal Society Interface)

7. Blow Your Mind Open with Psychedelics

“Freud said dreams were the real road to the unconscious. Psychedelics could turn out to be the superhighway”

Robin Carhart-Harris quoted in How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan

Psychedelics can “shake your snow globe,” as Michael Pollan puts it in How to Change Your Mind, his wide-ranging book on the history, experience, and science of psychedelics. They disintegrate your sense of ego and open your mind to make connections, as shown in the image above.

Psychedelics’ effect can be startlingly quick and surprisingly durable. In one Johns Hopkins study, a single high dose of psilocybin caused nearly 60 percent of the participants to remain measurably more open-minded a year later. And these were “old” people whose personalities generally don’t change much otherwise. If anything, their open-mindedness decreases over time. (Exhibit A: Your grandma’s opinion of the music you like.)

Be Careful How You Trip

Dropping acid at a Grateful Dead concert of doing shrooms at an EDM festival is unlikely to have your desired long-term mind-opening effects.

For optimal mind-opening benefits and to minimize the risk of bad trips and bad product, enlist an expert guide. They’ll help you prepare for your journey, move through it, and process your experiences afterward.

At the very least, educate yourself beforehand—Pollan’s book’s a good start—and prepare yourself with the right mindset and setting.

Got Netflix? Watch The Mind Explained‘s 21-minute-long episode on psychedelics for a quick primer on the power of psychedelics.

Rwandan man with his pineapple stack and bike
It looks like bikes can haul a lot more than we thought…

8. Travel

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

The new experiences and different perspectives you get from travel is like cheating in the great examination room of life. Instead of only peeking at how the people sitting next to you are solving life’s problems, you sneak out from behind your desk to check out what the other students in Colombia, Rwanda, or Taiwan are up to.

Even if you decide against using their ways of solving the questions, it’ll help you keep an open mind by showing you there’s more than one approach.

Travel also protects us against the danger of sticking to a single story, which author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of in her mind-opening TEDTalk:

YouTube video

Extreme option: Don’t just travel, move to a new city, ideally in a new country. You’ll get a deeper understanding and appreciation of what you’re seeing. Maybe you can surround yourself with more open-minded people, too.

Train your palate to taste better cover of Chris at a wine tasting
I used to think wine was a pretentious waste of money. My mind has since changed.

9. Take on a New Hobby

Taking on a new hobby is a longer-term version of the act your way to a new way of thinking strategy from my post on quick mind-opening exercises.

For Kim and me, hobbies have included wine tasting and beach volleyball in Cape Town, coffee and Spanish in Medellin, and mushroom foraging and photography in Canada. Kim would love my next hobby to be cooking, but I believe I dislike cooking at about 93 out of 100.

Tip: Sign up for classes rather than teach yourself. The monetary investment and class schedule motivate you to keep at it and you get the extra mind-opening benefit of meeting new people.

Books that change your thinking cover image of Chris reading upside down
The right book, podcast, or blog (ahem) can flip your thinking and keep your mind open.

10. Consume Mind-Opening Material

Read, listen, and learn widely to increase the odds you come across mind-opening new perspectives and information.

But be careful about where you focus your attention. Seek information rather than receive and react to it. For instance, you may want to consider quitting the news.

Here are some of our favorite resources directly related to the topic of keeping an open mind:




  • Reddit Change My View – A forum where people ask Reddit users to convince them of the opposite of what they believe.
  • Wait But Why – The best blog ever and what The Zag dreams of being like when it grows up.
  • The Zag – This is my post, so I’m allowed to pimp my own site. Subscribe to Consider This for a complacency-challenging, curiosity-piquing, potentially-life-spicing new idea every week.
YouTube video

11. Don’t Be Too Open-Minded

“Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”


An excessive willingness to change your mind makes you dangerously gullible and hopelessly indecisive.

Seek the right balance between improving the accuracy of your beliefs and being efficient and effective with the ones you already have.

Keep Pushing!

Here are more anti-wis-dumb ideas to help you keep an open mind:

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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