Open Mind, Open Heart

On mission, values, attitude, and connectedness.

For the past few months, I have been working on crafting a personal mission statement and set of core values. Ever since reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for the umpteenth time, I have been utterly convinced of the importance of a mission statement and core values. Which prompted me to start the process of writing my own.

I’m not quite there yet, but I can share one motto that has stuck with me:

Open Mind, Open Heart

To me, it sums up many of my of my attitudes and aspirations.

What do I mean by that?

An Open Mind

An open mind is important. It’s crucial in both learning, and emotional and personal growth. Without an open mind, there is no way to receive the messages that others are constantly sending you.

I’ve heard it said that it’s nearly impossible to learn effectively without feedback. Getting feedback is crucial to figuring out whether you’re on the right track, and thus deciding what you’ll do next. But without an open mind, you have no access to feedback. At best, you have a sliver of the feedback you could be receiving and using.

An open mind is not as simple a thing as it sounds. To truly have an open mind, you need to actively suspend belief. You need to not only admit that you may be wrong, but you need to seek out evidence that could disprove your beliefs.

You can perform a test right now to understand just how open-minded you are. Take some belief you hold about the world, about society, about yourself, etc. For that belief, do you have in mind what kind of evidence would change your mind? What I mean is, do you know what kind of facts or data would cause you to believe something different than what you do?

For many of us, we don’t approach thinking this way. We form an initial belief, hold it for a while, decide that it’s the truth, and move on. We may know what evidence supports our belief, but we don’t know what would — if we found it out — change our mind. What that does is cause us to confront every challenge to our beliefs with a reaction of trying to confirm our belief. It also makes us unfocused and unreceptive when talking with others who may not agree with us. It makes for bad brainstorming, bad strategy sessions, and weak collaboration.

Keeping an open mind is about holding out against intellectual laziness. It’s about always being willing to be wrong about what you believe, and making time to entertain opinions contrary to your own. It’s ultimately about leaving behind fear. So many of us keep our minds closed because we’re afraid that a challenge to our way of thinking will endanger our very identity. But that is a mistake. You are not your beliefs, you are the one who chooses whether to believe or not. But when you make the mistake of identifying with your beliefs, you cut yourself off from so many other amazing ways of thinking and living.

An open mind leaves fear behind, and embraces the wide world of wisdom.

An Open Heart

For as open as your mind might be, it’s nothing without an open heart. Yes, it sounds sappy and like there’s neither practical benefits to it, nor is there any research to recommend it.

An open heart doesn’t mean being an over-sharer, or a sad-sack who cries at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t mean being overly sensitive or talking about feelings all the time. It doesn’t really mean anything objectively. It’s quite subjective, actually, and what it looks like depends on who you are.

An open heart is about being sincere. It’s about acknowledging the value of emotions, and using that to make better decisions — both personal and professional.

More than that, an open heart is about being welcoming to everyone, and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt — until they give you reason to do otherwise. It’s about believing that you can learn something from and get value from everyone you meet.

An open heart is about allowing a real connection others, and encouraging connectedness in general. Those connections are the foundation of a good life. And whatever definition of success you happen to use, connections form the basis of it.

Your open mind can help you to think different thoughts, receive criticisms more willingly, and change your long-held positions on things. But an open heart allows you to let others into your world, and allows you to get into theirs. An open heart allows you to increase the types and depths of experiences you can have by orders of magnitude. That allows you to get exposure to different stories, different information, different wisdom. And all that adds up (so long as your mind is as open as your heart) to more wisdom of your own.

In the same way that an open mind is about leaving fear behind, so is an open heart. Being open with your feelings, and being open to the feelings of others is about realizing that you are not merely your emotions or convictions. Yes, those things move you, and are important to respect, but they are not who you are. And when you can admit that about yourself and others, you can walk openly into conversations without need for a guard. You can be vulnerable without fear of mortal emotional injury. You can ask others to do the same, knowing that they should not be afraid. You can connect, because the connectors are clear of interference.

The open mind allows you think differently.
The open heart allows you to feel differently.
Both are infinitely important in the journey to wiser living.

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”:

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