How To Change Your Mind
“There’s more than one way to make cookies.”
My friend was holding the chocolate chips in her hand, asking me to use her recipe for cookies instead of mine. I was adamantly measuring out ¾ cup of sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar, and a teaspoon each of baking soda, vanilla extract, salt—the recipe on the back of the Nestlé bag. But my recipe was the only recipe I ever thought was any good. Finally, I pushed aside my feelings, recognized her point of view, and agreed to make her recipe. And I’ll be darned—I didn’t like the cookies.
But that conversation stirred something in me; it laid out the ingredients of a new pattern of thought. See, I prefer cookies a certain way, and I can reliably say that my recipe is better—if the goal is to make cookies for me. But it’s not the best, because as my friend said, there are more perspectives than just my own.
With so many conversations happening about how to change other people’s minds, it’s time to do the self-excavation of being open to changing our own. It’s easy to dig into our opinions and remain there—it’s safe, it’s comfortable, it’s what we know.
But communication and information are more abundant than ever, which means we have to buckle ourselves in and invite ourselves to change when we receive revelatory inputs. Sure, we can stay exactly the same for the rest of our lives, but a growth mindset can help us engage with the world in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Here’s a look at why—and how—we can open ourselves up to changing our minds when we’re presented with new information. Take a deep breath. Change is a good thing, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Why you should change your mind
You don’t have to change your mind all day, every day. But there are some indications that changing your mind reflects positively on your intelligence, and that a growth mindset can help you remain adaptable in the workplace.
You don’t need to change your mind about lived experiences—those are, and will always be, yours. But you are welcome to hold them up in different ways when you learn new information. This is called cognitive reframing, and it can help support a more positive mindset.
Beyond the personal benefits, look to the societal benefits as well. Most of my personal change has come from recognizing the experience of the person or group who is challenging my belief. When we don’t share an experience, we can either become vulnerable and find ways to empathize, or we can protect our worldview by putting up barriers. Vulnerability and sensitivity are not flaws; in fact, they can be our superpowers.
What do you need to change your mind on?
Not every change of mind is about something as frivolous as what type of cookies you prefer; this year has shown many of us that we need massive shifts in mindset. When I was younger, I erred on the conservative side based on my background and education, but as I experienced more of the world, I became more open to the possibilities of it. The change has sometimes been a skydive, and other times it’s been a slow and squeaky scoot down a dull slide. But it’s happened, and I continue to grow each day.
I’ve changed my mind on college majors, friends’ romantic partners, early retirement, moving to a new city, reproductive rights, therapy, medicine, social services, police reform (and defunding), and how I like to drink my coffee. I’m happy with my growth, from the small silly things, to the big challenging ones too. (I’m currently working on changing my mind about what makes a person an “adult,” so advice is welcome.)
There are things you don’t need to change your mind on. For example, I have not and will not change my mind on chocolate chip cookie recipes. But consider whether your resistance to change impacts the wellbeing of other people—the small things, maybe not, but if someone tells you that your mindset harms them and their community, it may be time to open up your mind a bit. Consider, too, that harm can look like unchecked privilege and centering, and is as insidious as other blatant forms of harm.
If you’re not sure what you might need or want to change your mind on, look first to the things you’re most curious about and the conversations happening in your community. List them out, and ponder each of them individually. Do you agree or disagree with the idea? Where does your opinion come from? If it comes from a value you didn’t establish yourself, does that value serve you?
I like to reduce difficult topics into more general themes, then work forward again with those core ideas in mind as I educate myself further. For example, when it came to navigating religious beliefs different than my own as a teenager, I zoomed out. What I found was that many people are seeking meaning and beauty in this life. When I framed it that way, I became excited to learn about the different ways we were all looking to achieve a similar goal. This helps me lead from my core values first, instead of being emotionally reactionary to something I don’t yet understand.
How to change your mind
To get out of our comfort zones, we need to remind ourselves of the gains we experienced the last time we changed our minds, according to Dr. Yasmine Saad, Founder & Senior Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Madison Park Psychological Services. “You are just contemplating someone else’s thoughts the same way you would look at a passing cloud,” says Saad, whose psychology work specializes in mindfulness.
She recommends watching the trajectory of thought patterns and pulling them back whenever we find ourselves dwelling on negative outcomes. From there, we can remain objective and withhold any judgment as we consider another viewpoint. When we look at the differences in our viewpoint and another, we can more clearly see the positive opportunities for growth between the two.
But it isn’t a painless process—even mental change can be physically confronting. “When we get new information that contradicts old beliefs, our nervous systems often respond as though the new information is a threat. And it is, of course,” says Gretta Duleba, LMFTA. It’s common to enter fight-or-flight mode (heart racing, fast breathing, tense muscles), and close ourselves off to new information. “The more we have acted on the old beliefs in the past, the more the new information threatens our values, our actions, and our self-worth,” says Duleba. “Getting the new information could mean disavowing ourselves.”
Duleba says the key is to nurture a calm state for ourselves, one where we are no longer defensive, so that we can be curious and open to new information. When we have a belief that we want to challenge, she advises us to be intentional throughout the process, and to remind ourselves that we are safe, even if the new information feels threatening.
Finally, changing our minds requires a heavy dose of humility and flexibility. Because (gasp) it requires us to admit we were wrong. And many of us, myself included, would sometimes rather double down than face the guilt of admitting such.
”Feelings of being wrong are often associated with guilt and the idea that there is a correct response to certain situations,” says Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, Harvard trained clinical psychologist in New York City. It’s important to remove harsh internalized judgment and view life with curiosity, openness to change, and experimentation with new behaviors. Things won’t always fit into a fixed box, and as Romanoff says, “The reality is life is much more experimental than that.”
When we’re feeling resistance, we can try journaling, meditation, or reading something new. If we constantly fuel our opinions with those who share them, we’re limiting our capacity for empathy and for exploring new ideas. (Though, “new ideas” do not include things that dehumanize, exploit, or harm members of our community.) Instead, we can examine our tendencies towards selective exposure and ask ourselves: is there anything I’m missing?
When we do come to the realization that it’s time to change our mind, may we be cautious of previous beliefs that hold us back from growing even further. Remember, as Saad says, “It is not about what you do. It is about what you do next. It is your reaction to life events that can help you grow or stay stuck.” You’re allowed to grow, and all of us are better for it.
When has changing your mind become a positive experience for you? 🧠 Share in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!