How to Open Up

Three Parts:Learning to Share AppropriatelyConnecting With OthersOpening Up to New Experiences

Not everyone approaches their feelings as an open book for others to read. However, closing yourself off from you friends or from new people and experiences can stunt your personal growth. Learn to open up in order to improve your social and mental health and live a fuller, more meaningful life.

Part 1
Learning to Share Appropriately

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    Be aware of different levels of comfort. While it's great to communicate authentically and share yourself with others, you must also consider where and with whom you are sharing. For instance, while it's totally appropriate and healthy to open up to your best friend about your painful divorce, it's not so appropriate to share this with the person sitting next to you on the bus. Think about how well you know the person you are thinking about opening up to and if he is trustworthy.
    • When sharing with others, consider how well you know the person and your comfort level with each other. Try starting small — share only minor things with strangers or acquaintances. And if opening up is new for you, you might start out by sharing minor things with close friends, too, eventually building up to that discussion about your divorce.
    • Keep in mind that sharing personal details strengthens relationships, but it does not establish them.[1] This means that you cannot force a close connection with someone you barely know by sharing something intimate — in fact, this will likely backfire, as sharing too much too soon can be uncomfortable for the other person. Wait until you have established some trust with the other person before you begin to open up.
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    Evaluate your relationships. In an ideal world, a person would feel safe opening up to his family and friends, and would receive comfort and validation from them. Unfortunately, families and even friends are not always healthy. While you may wish to open up to your mother or your sibling or your oldest friend, consider whether or not this person has demonstrated that she or he can listen without judgement.
    • Is this person patient or dismissive? When you or others come to him with a problem, does he listen with understanding, or does he say something like, "That's not a big deal. I don't know why you're worried about that. Suck it up and deal with it!"
    • Does the person often interrupt others or does he allow them to express themselves?[2] Does he make eye contact, nod, and ask questions? Or does he look at his phone, pick at his nails, and then start talking about himself?
    • If this person is not demonstrating that he is an empathetic, considerate listener, start thinking about the other people in your life you might talk to. If you really wanted to open up to your father but he blows off your feelings, then maybe it's better to open up to a close friend instead.
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    Try to talk to friends and family more often. One way to open up is to force yourself to schedule at least one long conversation per week where you talk to a trusted friend or family member. You can start out by just sharing a factual list of what is going on in your life. For instance, if you state, "I went into the bank yesterday and found out my ex-wife withdrew all the money in the account," your friend or family member might say something like, "Oh, that's terrible! You must have been very angry." You can agree or disagree with their assessment. "Nah, I owed her money anyway. It's okay." or "Yeah, I was pretty upset, but there's nothing I can do about it now." In this way, it could make it easier to share things that are going on as well as your feelings.
    • If you are having trouble finding the motivation to do this, try keeping in mind that having social support can reduce stress and can just be overall healthy for you.[3]
    • If you are struggling to open up to close friends and family, try talking in front of the mirror first for practice. If you are having negative thoughts about yourself such as "No one wants to hear what I have to say" try re-framing this to remove the negative aspects by saying to yourself in the mirror, "Others may want to hear what I have to say, I can't find out unless I try."[4]
    • If you are having trouble opening up to whomever you are talking with, ask this person to share first to get the ball rolling. You may find it easier to open up after someone else has first.
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    Embrace vulnerability. Opening up to people, whether they're strangers or people you've known for a long time, can be intimidating. Perhaps you're worried that people will judge you for your thoughts or feelings. Perhaps you are afraid to show who you truly are for fear that others will reject you. This is a very common experience. However, if you can embrace the vulnerability of being open to others, regardless of how it turns out, you will feel more secure and satisfied in life.[5]
    • One way to become more comfortable with vulnerability is to separate your action from the outcome. You can control what you say and whom you open up to, but you can't control their reaction or what they do. Once you realize that you aren't responsible for how others behave or react, you may feel more free to open up.
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    Try journaling. If you are struggling to share yourself with others, it may be helpful for you to express yourself in a journal first. Allowing yourself the freedom to write your thoughts and feelings as the come to you, with no filter, can be very freeing and help you see the benefits of expression.[6] No one has to see what you write, so you can be free to say whatever comes into your mind. Practicing opening up on the page may help you feel more comfortable opening up to others and it may also help you figure out what, exactly, you wish to express to others.[7]
    • Try setting aside five to 10 minutes every day to journal. Don't worry about making sense or your handwriting or if what you're writing seems silly or petty or stupid.[8] Just make the commitment to express yourself every day.
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    Speak to a professional if you can't open up. If you find you simply can't bring yourself to open up to someone under any circumstances, you should seek help from a therapist or counselor. If you are worried you won't open up to your therapist, either, you might try cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), in which the therapist is more active in asking you questions and guiding the discussion.[9] Let your therapist know that you are seeing her to try and learn to open up and you can work together to strategize and collaborate on an effective solution.[10]

Part 2
Connecting With Others

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    Initiate conversations. To open up requires that you talk to people in the first place. One way to initiate conversations is to talk about things that are capturing both your and your to-be conversation partner's attention. For example, if you are waiting in line at a coffee shop and you are both looking at the menu, you might start with "How is anyone supposed to make a decision between all these great sounding options" or whatever else rings true to you in that moment.
    • Remember to listen carefully to what the person says to you, as this will give you clues about how to follow-up the conversation.[11] For example, if she says "I'm going for the Americano" you might mention another coffee shop that you know that makes a great Americano and ask her if she's ever been.
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    Adopt open body language. Like it or not, your body language says a lot about you.[12] To appear more open, keep your arms and legs uncrossed while looking directly at whoever you're talking to. By adopting an open posture you will come across as more positive and open and will not seem closed off or arrogant, which can help when looking for people to interact with.
    • Open, expansive posture can also make you feel more confident and powerful and may help you act in more open ways. [13]
    • Part of open body language is smiling. Smiling is a very social emotion and you will seem more approachable with a grin on your face.[14][15]
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    Ask open-ended questions. To begin practicing opening up, you need to engage in honest, open conversation. Try asking someone a question such as, “How are things going at work?” instead of “How’s it going?” to get an open answer. [16]
    • Then, in turn answer open-ended questions honestly, instead of with trite statements like “Fine” or “Ok.”
    • Or, you might ask, "What's something wonderful that's happened to you lately?" or, "What activities would you recommend in town?"
    • Asking people personal questions is not always appropriate; however, in most cases people will be flattered that you are showing interest and listening to them.
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    Look for mutual interests. Try connecting with someone over hobbies, interests, family life, vacations or books by asking about them.[17] Once someone mentions something you can relate to, say, “Oh, I love that too.” Then, ask follow up questions that excite you and will spark open honest conversation.
    • If you are unable to find mutual interests with this conversation technique, you could try talking about things this person might be interested in in the future. This open-ended question approach might lead the conversation down many interesting paths.
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    Foster a welcoming attitude. A judgmental attitude can show through in someone even if they don't say a word, this is called showing contempt and it is an emotion expression many people recognize.[18] You will be more likely to open up and have others be receptive to you if you stay open-minded when your conversation partner is sharing her opinions; you may find yourself able to speak more easily to the person. [19]
    • Try to keep in mind that you should give people the kind of acceptance that you would want when you're opening up and feeling vulnerable.
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    Try emulating someone who is very open. Observe her in a social situation and take note of how she behaves. You could even pull out your smartphone and take notes without anyone knowing exactly what you were doing. Once you have some notes about the kinds of behaviors she engages in to be open, practice these behaviors at your next social event.
    • Don't copy the person right away in the same social situation or this could back-fire; you could make her uncomfortable, for example, if she thinks you are mimicking her or possibly mocking her.[20]

Part 3
Opening Up to New Experiences

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    Try saying “Yes” as a rule. Although the ability to say “No” is essential for anything threatening your safety, erring on the side of saying "yes" may be an excellent way to become more open to new experiences. Try saying yes to all the invitations you receive this week and all the projects you are offered.
    • That said, do this within reason or else it may backfire and you may become closed off again. Keep in mind that you don't want to take on so many new things that you feel overwhelmed.
    • You may want to ramp things up by initially saying "yes" to a few things you would normally say no to and then saying "yes" to even more than that as you get used to being busier.
    • Try avoid saying "I don't know" in response to questions because it may appear that you are uninterested in the conversation and don't want to get it any thought.[21] Instead, if someone asks you a question and you don't have an immediate response, you might say "Hmm, that's interesting and I'm going to have to think for a second about my answer but I will definitely get back to you."
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    Make a “bucket list. Instead of choosing the things that you want to do before you die though, choose 10 things that you have wanted to do for a while but have not because of your being closed off. Typically, bucket list items are experiences that you will never forget; things that will make you happier.[22] Write your list down and mark your plans on a calendar so you do not forget. Give yourself three months to complete your list.
    • If you can’t think of anything you want to do, you might try finding a list of 10 great places to eat or visit in your area. Complete these things and see how you feel after!
    • Another way to explore what you might like to do in the future is to think back on things you used to enjoy doing. Or, you might try looking up attractions in your city and seeing if anything sounds exciting to you.
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    Pretend you’re a tourist in your hometown. See all there is to see that you think might excite you. Sign up for tours, bus rides or attend events. Few people have opened up to all the possibilities in their region.
    • Also look around to neighboring cities or states and plan mini adventures.
    • Many places have guide books you can find online or in stores; these can be good resources for you to help plan your adventure of openness.
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    Sign up for a class. Learning will open new creative pathways and help you see new possibilities in your life. Try looking for a professional or personal class at the Lifelong Learning Center or library in your town.[23]
    • Also keep in mind that you should be open to other people when you take a class, as this can be a great way to meet new friends or romantic partners.
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    Go on vacation. If it’s been a while since you took some time away, you may have forgotten how exhilarating new experiences can be. Take at least five days off to explore a new area.
    • Go out into nature and experience a sense of awe and wonder at the grandness of it all. Feeling awe can lessen your thoughts on your self, which may help you be less self-conscious and more open.[24]
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    Change your schedule. Get out of your same old habits and routines and add some new spark to your life. You can do this in minor ways such as by changing the time of day you exercise, or not going to the same coffee shop that you always do, or by getting up earlier or commuting a different way.
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    Find a friend that also wants to engage in new experiences. Have the friend pick some new classes or experiences to try to you do the same .
    • Or, tell your romantic partner that you want to become more open to new experiences and ask her to help you do this. Create a financial plan together and save some money to go on an adventure. This can make your life and your relationship more exciting while making you more open, not to mention that a vacation can help reduce stress.[25]

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