Mental Gatekeeping

Guard your mind against false information and negative thinking.

“Guard your heart, mind, and time. Those three things will determine the health of everything else in your life.”
—Andrena Sawyer

You probably believe it’s good to “keep an open mind.” And to some extent, you’re right: you can’t learn unless you’re open to new ideas. But there are dangers to a mind that’s too open.

If we’re being completely honest, some ideas are simply not good ideas. You shouldn’t stuff your body full of junk food, and likewise, you shouldn’t stuff your mind full of false information.

A completely open mind represents a lack of critical thinking. It represents the false assumption that all ideas have equal merit, and the inability or unwillingness to filter out bad information. Having a completely open mind isn’t a virtue; it’s called being gullible.

As an example, consider the misinformation and disinformation crisis we’ve been in since the age of social media. The mass willingness to believe conspiracy theories, and the total inability to separate what’s fact versus fiction, provides a critical example of the importance of mental gatekeeping.

Exactly how to think critically is beyond the scope of this writing. There are countless resources on critical thinking, and a good place to begin is with an understanding of the scientific method.

Much as scientists maintain a healthy skepticism of new information, so should we. That’s not an excuse to be closed-minded, and it’s definitely not an excuse to ignore constructive criticism. But it is an acknowledgment that not all ideas are good ones, and that to truly learn and grow, we must guard our minds against the bad ones.

Mental gatekeeping is about more than just keeping out misinformation: it’s also about keeping out unproductive thoughts. Repetitive negative thinking has no positive purpose. As Rafael Lovato Jr. says, positive thinking is a skill you need to practice just as diligently as actual technique.

Learning to identify, reframe, and divert from negative thinking is a key to mental well-being.


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