On cultivating curiosity
I love curious people and enjoy spending time with them, conversing with them. Their excitement for knowledge and learning is contagious. I often wonder why more people aren’t curious. So many people seem to be indifferent. Why don’t they ask why? Are some people simply born without the desire to learn? Are some people just mentally lazy? Or does life become so routine for some people that they don’t mind living in a rut, doing the same things day in and day out? Can such people “wake up” their minds and become more curious so that growth becomes more natural to them?
I certainly hope so. I believe so. It’s why I wrote my most recent book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. And it is why I recommend following these suggestions for cultivating curiosity:
1. Believe You Can Be Curious
Many people fill their minds with limiting beliefs. Their lack of personal confidence or self-esteem causes them to create barriers for themselves and put limitations on how and what they think. The result? They fail to reach their potential—not because they lack capacity but because they are unwilling to expand their beliefs and break new ground. We cannot perform outwardly in a way that is inconsistent with how we think inwardly. You cannot be what you believe you aren’t. But here’s the good news: you can change your thinking and as a result, your life.
Give yourself permission to be curious. The single greatest difference between curious, growing people and those who aren’t is the belief that they can learn, grow, and change. As I’ve explained before, you must go after growth. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom will not seek you out. You must go out and acquire it. The best way to do that is to remain curious.
2. Have a Beginner’s Mindset
The way you approach life and learning has nothing to do with your age. It has everything to do with your attitude. Having a beginner’s mindset means wondering why and asking a lot of questions until you get answers. It also means being open and vulnerable. If your attitude is like that of a beginner, you have no image to uphold and your desire to learn more is stronger than the desire to look good. You aren’t as influenced by preset rules or so-called acceptable thinking. Management expert Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” That’s having a beginner’s mindset.
People with a beginner’s mindset approach life the way that a child does: with curiosity. They are like the little girl who kept asking her mother question after question. Finally the mother cried, “For heaven’s sake, stop asking so many questions. Curiosity killed the cat.”
After two minutes of thinking, the child asked, “So, what did the cat want to know?”
3. Make Why Your Favorite Word
Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” The secret to maintaining that “holy curiosity” is to always keep asking why.
In my early years as a leader I thought I was supposed to be an answering machine. No matter what someone asked, I gave direction, exuded confidence, and answered questions with clarity—whether I really knew what I was doing or not! As I matured, I discovered that growing leaders focused on asking questions, not giving answers. The more questions I asked, the better results we got as a team. And the greater my appetite to ask more questions. Today I have a compulsion to pick the brains of the people I meet. I have become a questioning machine.
Speaker and author Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.” Most of the time, focused questions begin with the word why. That word gets to the heart of matters. And it’s important how you ask the question. People with a victim’s mindset ask, “Why me?” not because they want to know, but because they feel sorry for themselves. Curious people ask the question to find solutions so that they can keep moving forward and making progress.
Scientist and philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg observed, “One’s first step in wisdom is to question everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.” Those are the bookends for continuous growth. Ask why. Explore. Evaluate what you discover. Repeat. That’s a pretty good formula for growth. Never forget, anyone who knows all the answers is not asking the right questions.
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