5 Ways To Cultivate Elastic Mind

The world, as we knew it is changing fast, and our competence needs a boost. The social, technological, and cultural developments affected by the pandemic are steaming ahead, and our survivor is much dependent on our emotional radar and our flexibility to adapt. We are trained to solve our problems with rational analysis and logical devices; however, the swirl of change is extraordinary, and the analytical thought process has its limitations. As, Leonard Mlodinow explains in his book – Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World:

“Analytical thought is the form of reflection that has been most prized in modern society. Best suited to analyzing life’s more straightforward issues, it is the kind of thinking we focus on in our schools. We quantify our ability in it through IQ tests and college entrance examinations, and we seek it in our employees. But although analytical thinking is powerful, like scripted processing, it proceeds in a linear fashion…and often fails to meet the challenges of novelty and change.”

He further indicates that by embracing elastic thinking, we can effectively respond to new challenges.

The good news is that elastic thinking is an innate capacity that can be honed to reframe the problems and questions which open doors to new ideas.

Mlodinow writes that we solve problems through interactions of different systems in our brains. And as we are trained to dispense from inappropriate urges and unconventional ideas in favor of reason, those structures in our brain that generate new ideas must compete with other structures that censor them. To solve problems, our mental interactions and censors evaluate the most favorable solutions and eliminates the rest. This wiring is well suited to a stable environment as it considered ideas through the lens of what has worked in the past. However, in changing circumstances, we need a new approach to solving a problem.

He writes that as humans, we are attracted to novelty, and the reason is that dopamine is released when we face something new and non-threatening. Hence, we are inclined to explore, learn, and be rewarded with the feel-good dopamine that contributes to feelings of pleasure.

Here are his suggestions to develop elastic thinking:

  • Pick an idea that you don’t believe in and try to convince yourself of it. The idea is genuinely challenging your existing beliefs.
  • Dwell on an incident when you were wrong. Think about it hard for you to realize that you are not always right.
  • Try different food. Research has shown that by ordering the least popular food or a new dish, your creativity and imagination will increase.
  • Talk to strangers, people who are different from you, and think differently from you.
  • Go and see art—all genres of art, not necessarily the most famous paintings but diverse representations of arts.

Remember to cultivate an elastic mind, Mlodinow explains that we should adopt an unstructured approach and not force a logical process to all situations:

“The challenge of insight is the analogous issue of freeing yourself from narrow, conventional thinking.”

Featured Image by Morysetta

Beginner’s Mind – Foundation of Mindfulness # 3

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Shunryo Suzuki

Past experiences and preconceived ideas have great value when it comes to making decisions about everyday activities. However, they are tainted to the degree that we cannot absorb the new reality of the present time or the face value of an action, a discussion, or a situation. It is always comfortable to skim through the information to support and validate our previous experience; nevertheless, we tend to lose the possibility of learning a new way of doing things or transforming our ideas for the better by seeing things with fresh eyes.

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Art by Magritte – The Human Condition

Everybody knows that some things are simply impossible until somebody who doesn’t know that makes them possible. - Albert Einstein

The real problem starts when you are an expert, one who has more assumptions than questions. Fending off new ways of doing things or not being receptive to new ideas happens to the experienced. An apprehension swishes and contaminates the mind, which in turn will end up either with cherry-picking to justify the established rules and practices or simply dismissal of the new approach.

When we adopt the mind of a beginner, we endeavour to look at things as if for the first time, free from the influence of the past or speculation about the future. We open ourselves to what is here now, rather than constructing stories about what we think is here. Much like a scientist who observes without bias, beginner’s mind allows us to collect raw data. This opens us up to new possibilities, rather than being confined by habits and conditioning. — Tracy Ochester.

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Art by Magritte – The treachery of images

A beginner’s mind is keen to meet a new person, have a fresh outlook on familiar people, or learn a new skill. Practicing beginners’ minds (or shoshin in Japanese Zen Buddhism) feeds a growth mindset. An outlook that refuses to have more of the same for the rest of its life knows well that the safety zone is not always the right place to be. It stales the mind and prevents you from growing and reaching your potential. By default, we prefer to stay in our comfort zone, yet adopting a growth mindset requires courage to embrace vulnerability and humility. To acknowledge that there is always a better way of doing things or when it comes to human relations, we give people the benefit of the doubt.

Ways to Cultivate a beginner’s mind

  • Adopt the notion that endless possibilities exist.
  • Switch off the autopilot mode. 
  • Be in the present moment.
  • Listen carefully when a familiar topic comes up; you don’t have to rush to express your opinion or add value; observe and ask questions like you didn’t know about the subject.
  • Explore something to re-experience the feelings; it can be basic as eating your meal or making your bed.
  • Stop labeling and notice that you are on auto judgment – Ask yourself why you consider things as bad, good, right, or wrong? Is it out of habit? Integrate seeing things in your life as they are!
  • Learn a new activity to integrate challenges to your comfort zone
  • Mingle with people who have a different view of life and explore their perspective and lifestyle.
  • Change a routine in your life, your walking route, exercise, or things you eat. 
  • Practice gratitude and appreciation – it weakens the habit of taking things for granted.

 

For more information, read “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Featured Image by aykutaydogdu