Openness is one of the personality qualities that determine how much we achieve. Just like other personality qualities, we can somewhat change it in the right conditions. This will make us more open to other people, to the new technologies and practices, and new ideas. It is a somewhat risky move, but on average it pays off. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Step out of the comfort zone
Once the psychological aspects are dealt with, the practical aspects get easier. All you need to do is step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Do not be afraid to waste time and money, yet always try to leverage the experience.
People buy breadmakers and 3D printers, install the latest greatest neural networks on their computers and cloud accounts, get expensive workshops and cheap video courses. Early adaptors really enjoy all of this, even though the ecosystem is not fully developed and some money gets zero return. On average in the 21st century, all of this pays off…
Now and for the rest of this article, let us examine the psychological aspects.
The big five and success
Out of the big five personality qualities, at least three are correlated with success, maybe all five. High openness, high conscientiousness, high extraversion, low neuroticism, high agreeableness. Just do not get extreme, because then the numbers revert.
Openness is the quality that enables the fastest growth. In a good environment, with a constant flow of interesting people and technologies, with constantly changing game rules… Openness is the game-changer in the 21st century – not before that. But now… You should really work on your openness! Fake it till you make it.
The first step to opening up is feeling safe. This may sound harsh, but… What other choice do you have? If you do not feel safe, if you do not open up and acquire new assets, then and only then you have a real reason to worry.
So, when you need to open up and learn new things, you should go to your safe place. This is probably a small corner of your home where nobody dares to come. Spouses and kids are fine, they are a source of joy, but also a source of stress. Pets actually reduce stress. So go to some quiet and clean corner, preferably with a pet, if possible when your family is out. Ideally, this should also be the corner where you practice mindfulness. Then you will feel safer.
You can also visualize a safe place. It is different for everyone. For me, it is a park bench. It can be a forest, a river/lake, a beach, or a meadow. Usually, it is nature, and not magnificent nature: mountains and caves, deserts, and oceans tend to be dangerous peak experiences.
Visualize opening up till it feels safe
From the safety of your safe place visualize in all details various scenarios of stepping out of the comfort zone. Do not focus on what can go wrong, and instead focus on exciting new possibilities. You really need to get safe and excited about the new options.
Once you are fine with the upside of the experience and excited about it, try to think of risk mitigation. Focus on issues that have solutions, and people that can provide effective advice. Build a support network, to have a backup if you misstep.
We are not equally open in all of our activities. When we feel more margin for mistakes, we are naturally more likely to open up.
Make others open up
One of the ways to grow a support network is being supportive of others when they open up. This is an acquired skill.
Do not be manipulative. You will feel bad after the event. Human intelligence handlers make other people open up, but this makes the handler feel uncomfortable. Unless this is your job, be sincere.
Pay close attention to any information the other person shares at the beginning of an interaction. This is a big issue. It takes us time to build up attention. By the time we are focused, the other party is modifying the story specifically for us.
Establish a point of connection and use that to continue the conversation. Typically we like people who are just like us in one way or another. If a person is very different, he might be interesting but does not feel safe. Find safety in experiences and attitudes you share.
Don’t make assumptions. Even people that are very much alike are also very different. Consider brothers… They might have a lot in common, yet they will be very different in things you cannot predict.
Ask questions without seeming nosy and intrusive. Let the other side decide what he wants to share right now, and what he prefers to keep hidden. As the confidence grows, emotionally charged issues surface. Accept the experiences of the other person and his unique peculiarities.
Figure out when to back off. When a person shares emotionally charged info or when something bad happens, he will be overwhelmed or exhausted. That’s perfectly OK. Everyone needs his space.
Again, active listening is an acquired skill. It comes from a keen interest in the other person and what that person has to offer. Learning about someone’s troubles can also help you to cope with your own.
If you failed once this means very little
I will elaborate on this point. In reading comprehension, there are several levels of understanding. The basic level deals with understanding the symbols and translating them to sounds. The next level deals with building texts from the sounds. Then there are comprehension and retention. Some people forget, but above that, there is a question of what you do with the info you acquired.
If for example, you have dyslexia, forming sounds from letters is hard. But if you can suppress subvocalization, you can do all other layers of handling easily. Before I met Anna, my reading speed and long-term retention were not great, but I was very good at leveraging the info I acquire. This is yet another layer of handling the content.
Failing any level of tasks does not close the path to the next level. It may require a different format of learning, more motivation, and other things. All of us have a lot of invisible scars. In theory, that should not matter at all, as we try new things.
I am not good enough
Unless you are a raging narcissist, this thought has come to your mind a couple of times.
I work with a lady that has PhD from MIT and was selected as one of the 100 most intelligent women in Israel. We talk about various things. I told her that I am not the smartest person in our company. She said she was not the smartest person in the conference room for the last 20 years. Well, our boss is smarter than both of us. His IQ is well above 160. So what? This does not stop us from trying new things, making points, and pursuing our own ideas.
We are all not good enough. Even the people who are freakishly good in some activity are not that good in everything else. This should not stop us. The more accomplished people feel better joking about themselves. We are human.
And this is the place where scars matter. The first time something fails we think it is a rare occasion. We try the same thing, hoping for corrective experience. If we fail again, we try something very different. And if we fail once more we instinctively stop trying. “This is not for me” we say. Probably we are wrong, and yet it is very hard to overcome bad experiences.
Reading your own mind
There are two basic strategies for overcoming emotional issues. It is possible to use willpower and power-through like navy seals do. Alternatively, it is probably easier, to become sensitive and deal with the root cause. How does that work?
Be quiet, inside and out. When we practice meditation or mindfulness or lucid dreaming, we do not scare off the thoughts…
Listen with your heart and gut as well as your head. A lot of thoughts do not get vocalized. Some thoughts do not even get visualized. We feel serotonin in our guts, and we get stress through our heartbeat almost literally. With some luck, the relevant thought will eventually be formulated into something less abstract.
Exercise emotional awareness. Notice when you are uncomfortable with the emotions you are picking up. See if you can release your judgment by activating your curiosity. Instinctive behavior is often as accurate as deliberate activity.
Be non-judgemental. Basically do not criticize. This is a huge part of any mindfulness routine. Relatively easy to acquire, but almost impossible to master.
Check your openness by reading minds
When we are open we can see the trends. The future trends appear from reading scientific and technological literature. The cultural trends present themselves through popular culture. Personal issues are reflected and automatic reactions and spontaneous responses.
To read the minds of people and the future of the planet all we need is curiosity.
And then we need humility to deal with a large number of mistakes we make. Let us face it: there are no prophets in our generation. Probably this is a good thing.