We are in a box, a box not too big. It is claustrophobic, restrictive and debilitating. How do we get out?
The box is a metaphor that sums up much of our lives. All our beliefs, customs, morals, norms and traditions are locked inside the box. We are scared of what might be outside, as it threatens our reality and influences change.
A change of heart, a change of mindset, goals, lifelong beliefs and the status quo as we know it.
The box has clearly defined boundaries and we know where they are. We know the lines we should not cross, the walls we should not breach. However, for some of us, there comes a time when the box gets too small. It begins to drown our creativity, stifle productivity and leaves us lost and left behind in a radical thinking generation.
So, how do we change this and start thinking more open-mindedly? These steps might just help with that…
There is a very close correlation to the box and the life paths we choose. The box says you will become a doctor or a lawyer, hence, you take the necessary steps to doing just that.
Get good grades in school, get a bachelor’s, and a master’s. Obtain a good paying job, with great benefits, save in a retirement account, retire at 65 and die.
For many that is a life well lived. But, that is also a life very limited.
Many people, once they have reached the pinnacle of where the box limits them, stop learning. They apply what they have learned to get to that point in their lives, but they refuse to or do not see the need to learn anymore.
In a 2008 article entitled The Goal of Learning Everything by Scott H. Young, he says:
“The justifications for functional learning are easy. If your goal is important, you learn what you need to learn. If I want to become a professor, I need a graduate degree. It’s easy to justify spending time and money learning when the outcome is right in front of you.
The justification for lifelong learning isn’t as obvious. Lifelong learning feels important, but when you break it down to practical reality, it isn’t for most people. Most people see a far clearer return on investment for working more, socializing or entertainment than learning unnecessary subjects.”
Learning new things opens up your mind to new worlds, to new realities which you never thought existed. It widens your net and gives you a much firmer footing in your career and personal life.
Lifelong learning does not entail going back to a formal school setting, nowadays you can learn anything online. Learn physics, sociology, psychology, art, health, aviation, dance, writing, marketing, mechanics, etc. Learn and learn well, be varied, be in-depth, be thorough, and absorb everything.
You will be surprised how much of what you learn outside your niche or career bubble can be applied to it. You will begin to think with clarity, make decisions from an informed and diverse standpoint and quickly come up with creative ideas that you never thought you could.
So, learn everything and you will see how much your mind opens up and your thinking changes.
Network outside your niche
Birds of a feather flock together. We have heard this saying time and time again. This is very true as I expressed in a recent article, however, flocking with the same set of birds all the time may not be so helpful.
In most cases, our friends reflect us. They represent our values, beliefs and our self-identity. Hence, they most likely share our opinions and viewpoints on most things.
As good as this might be, it can also be to your own detriment. One of the first steps in thinking outside the box is to listen and respect opinions different from your own. It is understanding that everyone has a unique mind that is crafted by the way they were raised and the life experiences they have had.
Opening up your network to people who you may disagree with will be hard, but only having “yes men” around you will not help you grow. It will keep you stagnant and guarded.
You need a diverse network. Comprised of people that will be honest, share their real opinions (not the ones they want you to hear), tell you when you are wrong, open you up to new ideas and teach you something new ever so often.
Your network should be an asset to you, your business, your career and your overall growth, not a disservice.
It is the norm to wait for your 2-week vacation in the middle of the year and book it to a hotel in a cookie cutter hotspot like Hawaii. But, that is not thinking outside the box.
We love to play it safe when we travel. We go to places our friends and family have told us good things, we stay in 5-star hotels with walls on all four sides and we go on organized tours booked months in advance.
After your return home, you come back learning nothing new other than the fact that there is a hotel in [location you visited]. You did not really explore, you did not mingle with the locals, you did not try the tasty, authentic food from the mom and pops, you did not visit the beautiful beaches and landmarks that are not in travel guides…
You were just someone who went on a plane or road trip somewhere.
The only way to really start thinking out of the box is to put fear aside. Not saying you will not be cautious, but fear restricts progress and true learning. Garnering an open mind means unlocking the fear that has held you back. Getting rid of the fear that kept you inside the box.
Fear of rejection
Fear of change
Fear of death
Fear of failure
Fear of success
Fear of life itself
It makes you play safe, and many times too safe. To extend your mind and at extension, your thinking, you have to see new things, do new things, create your own realities, your own memories. One of the best ways to do this is to really travel.
Travel deep, travel far and long, learn all that you can while traveling, take pictures, create journals, embrace and delve into other cultures, try new foods, sing new songs, learn new languages.
Travel for fulfillment, but also to open up yourself to different ways of living. To learn acceptance and respect of other norms while acknowledging that the world is far bigger than the box in which you have lived.
Stepping outside the box is very frightening. We do not know what to expect when we do, and that creates a sense of fear and apprehension.
But, once we begin to open up our minds to other possibilities, other existences, other realities, and other ways of life, we will see that the box was all an illusion in the first place.
How do you think outside the box?