How To Keep An Open Mind

by Toria Sheffield
Young woman with backpack travel and explore
Vertigo3d/E+/Getty Images

A lot of us spend time daydreaming about things we wish we were doing in life, but most of us always find ways to rationalize why we can't or shouldn't do them. And the sad thing is, trying new things — whether it be traveling to a new place, learning a new skill, or just doing something out of our comfort zone — can actually be really, really good for us.

In a piece for Psychology Today, Alex Lickerman, Ph.D, said that it is often simple fear that holds us back from experiencing new things, big or small. "Studies suggest we fear an unknown outcome more than we do a known bad one," he said. "What if I don't like this new dish? What if that foreign country is dangerous? If you think about it, most of the things we fear don't actually come to pass. What's more, we're often unable to anticipate the good things that do occur as a result of our trying something new." He also noted that trying new things forces us to grow and challenge our perceptions; "A spirit of constant self-challenge keeps you humble and open to new ideas that very well may be better than the ones you currently hold dear," he said.

The bottom line is pretty simple: If we're too afraid to get out of our comfort zones, we may never discover something that we love doing, or perhaps even worse, never learn a whole lot about ourselves.

If you're feeling stagnant, or like you want to try new things but just aren't sure how to start, here are seven ways to be more open to new experiences that could help.

1. Understand Your Comfort Zone

In another article for Psychology Today, self-help author Peg Streep said before we can break out of our comfort zones and try new things, we first must understand what your zone is and where it comes from. "You may be caught in your comfort zone, a situation that feels familiar because of your early childhood experience," she said. "Ask yourself: Does an aspect of this situation seem familiar? Understanding where your responses are coming from is a first step toward getting yourself on the move." Maybe you've always been worried about money, so much so that you don't take an opportunity to travel even when you can actually afford it. Or perhaps you always felt you "weren't good at sports," and so never followed through on that skiing class. Think about what's stopping you and analyze if it's real or self-created.

2. Set Attainable Goals

Streep also recommended setting attainable goals for yourself when trying new things. You want to get outside more? Don't book that trip to hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro just yet. Instead join a local outdoors club, or map a trail relatively close by and map your progress. If you want to do something that pushes your physical limits but haven't worked out in years, start with a 5K and then move onto the half-marathon or marathon. These in-between steps will make the "scarier" experiences all the more attainable.

3. Remember: No One Is Good At Anything At First

In a piece for TinyBuddha, lifestyle writer and blogger Jessica Larsen said to remind ourselves that no one is ever good at anything when they first begin. "If we’re not prepared to start out as a beginner, we are limiting ourselves to a very small selection of things that we have a natural affinity for. We are closing ourselves off from a boat-load of new experiences. We may think we are protecting ourselves, yet it’s really just keeping us small and stifled," she said.

4. Remind Yourself It's Good For You

If you're having trouble getting motivated, reminding yourself that trying new things is literally good for your mind could help. In a piece for Forbes, executive coach and leadership development consultant Kristi Hedges noted that happiness and learning new things are closely tied together in our brains. "The ideal state of learning is called flow, when you lose yourself entirely in an activity," she said. "Flow happens when you’re so engaged in what you’re doing, that you lose track of time." So sign up for that painting class — you might find that it's the happiest time of your whole week.

5. Let Your Curiosity Guide You

In a piece for the The Mayo Clinic by Katherine Zeratsky, R.D. specifically about overcoming fear of trying new things related to food and fitness — but that can be applied to literally anything —Zeratsky said to always let your curiosity guide you. Have you always been interested in sewing, but have no idea how to sew? Or maybe you've always had an affinity for a certain period in history and have always wanted to know more about it. Think about what you're drawn to, and use it as a spring board for the class or activity you try.

6. Practice

In an article for MindBodyGreen, professional life coach and best-selling author Nancy Levine said that things become easier the more we do them — she likens our behavior, whether it's learning to say no, or branching out and trying something new, to a muscle that grows stronger the more we exercise it. So again, set attainable goals and allow yourself to build up to the really scary stuff — by that point they might not even seem all that scary after all.

7. Put Your Anxieties In Perspective

In another piece for MindBodyGreen, life coach Tracy Thomas, Ph.D, noted the importance of simply putting your anxieties in perspective. "Even though humans have come a long way, our brains still aren’t very good at telling the difference between life-threatening danger and, well, any other kind of danger (ahem, your boss)," she said. "When you're feeling anxious, step outside of your life and look at it objectively [...] When you understand your anxiety and understand that the end result usually isn’t that severe, you can change the way we experience it." What's really the worst that can happen if you end up being bad at pottery, or actually hate white water rafting? When you think of it in those terms, actually attempting new things doesn't sound so scary.

Opening ourselves up to new things doesn't have to be hard, and it's usually more about us changing our perspective than it is about any major lifestyle upheavals. The next time you're gazing out the window, wishing you could build your own coffee table or daydreaming about backpacking through Ecuador, stop to really analyze what's stopping you — it may just be yourself!

Images: Vertigo3d/E+/Getty Images; Giphy