Rigid thinking occurs when an individual is unable to consider alternatives to the current situation, alternative viewpoints or innovative solutions to a problem. Rigid thinkers cling tightly to preconceptions and generalizations, and often react with fear or hostility in the face of unexpected change or challenges. Rigid thinking patterns are frequently rooted in experiences of abuse or deprivation, which lead to a fear-based relationship with the outside world.
Rigid thinkers will usually base their activities and beliefs on things that have happened before. Innovation may be seen as threatening or risky, so reliance on the familiar is preferred. This walking of familiar paths has its benefits; by living a low-risk lifestyle, rigid thinkers reduce their chances of encountering harm.
Living within a set way of thinking and never moving outside of it leads to many missed opportunities. People who move ahead in relationships, careers or personal matters often find that these advances occur as the result of unexpected events or assumed risks. By definition, the new and untried involves heightened levels of risk, but when this risk is assumed consciously and intelligently, the rewards are usually worth it.
Rigid thinkers who wish to change their ways can begin by exposing themselves to conflicting opinions with an open mind. The best way to begin to do this is by reading books, as it is more difficult to argue with or be threatened by a book than by another person. Recognizing the validity of conflicting opinions, even when one disagrees with them, is a large step toward making the rigid mind more flexible. From books, the rigid thinker can advance to interacting with other people who think differently, thus further opening the mind.
The Myers Briggs system of personality tests is a useful tool for identifying unhelpful personality traits such as rigid thinking. Designed to situate an individual within a matrix of different styles of thinking, these tests help the individual to gain insight into strengths and weaknesses. Through awareness, he can move toward healthier ways of thinking and interacting with others.
Marcel Duchamp once said, “I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.” While this attitude may be extreme for some, it does indicate a profound understanding of the dynamics of rigid thinking, and the ways of avoiding it.