The advantage of having a curious mindset

This month’s article was inspired by an incident that occurred recently, and a conversation with a client that followed. Here’s what happened.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my teenage daughter for her usual horse-riding lesson. It was a cold morning and I would be sitting outside watching, so I grabbed the first hat and scarf I found in the cupboard as I left the house.

At this, she complained: “Oh Muuuum, for once can you look normal and cool instead of old-fashioned?”

I laughed – frankly, nowadays my very existence is embarrassing to her!

Later, I shared this story with a client who said: “My daughter is the same with me. When we’re out clothes shopping, she insists on telling me what I ought to wear.”

We both like to think we dress in a modern way, but it occurred to us that maybe we’ve become stuck in our minds about what to wear. We used to be curious about what was in fashion, but somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that curiosity. Perhaps fashion isn’t important (unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld…) but a curious mindset is.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Do you still have a curious mindset?

Curiosity is defined as “seeking new information and experiences”.

As we get older, we tend to embed our assumptions about who we are and how things should be. Unless we are jolted into thinking differently, we can lose sight of the value of being open to new things – whether that’s the latest fashion, or new ways of being and working.

Children have a natural curiosity. Everything is a learning opportunity, and play is a big part of learning.  We can learn from them in this regard. However, they also learn from a very young age to adapt to those around them – their focus is external to others.  These are often known as personas – and we might have different personas (roles) for different people/settings.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung described these personas as masks we learn to wear in the first stage of our life (0-30 years old): “designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”.

These masks can be to please parents, teachers and people in authority once we start work.  However, we can become over-attached to certain masks, which could restrict our development as we haven’t yet discovered who we are. Self-awareness, coming from a healthy curiosity, helps us question these masks and our mindset in general, so that as we enter our midlife we can integrate all the parts of who we are and who we want to be.  Our focus is then both external (others) and internal (ourself).

“Life really does begin at 40.  Until then you’re just doing research.”

Carl Jung

What makes a curious mindset?

Here are some of the qualities you might find useful to develop.

Be open-minded

Keep an open mind, especially to different viewpoints and options.

When I am coaching someone who is facing a work problem, they often attempt to solve it using their tried-and-tested patterns of behaviour. I might ask: “What is the WILDEST thing you could do?” Some people initially reject the question, but it can invite some interesting and wacky responses that lead to creative solutions they wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.

Question your mindset

You can get stuck in habits, especially as you get older. These habits may enable you or limit you. Here’s a little exercise you can do on your own with a piece of paper, for example, if you’re leading a project, at a crossroads, or trying to make a decision. Simply ask yourself these questions and see where your answers take you:

Step One

  1. Describe the mindset that limits you in being fully effective in xyz?
  2. How does this mindset manifest in terms of your behaviour?
  3. What underlying assumptions might there be which are connected to this mindset?
  4. Which statement is having most effect on your behaviour?
  5. What mindset would you need to hold in order to be more effective?
  6. What step or experiment could be taken to loosen the grip on the limiting assumption?

Step Two

  1. What is your key enabling mindset(s) which assists you in effectively enabling xyz?

Ask questions

As you may have noticed, children are always asking WHY. “Why do I have to go to bed now?” “Why does the toy make that noise when I press this button?” “Why is the sky blue?”  We can learn from them to understand our own situations.

For example, the Five Whys technique devised by Toyota that is used to explore the root cause behind a problem. Find out more on Wikipedia

Stay positive

Even if you don’t want to do something, go into it with a curious state of mind, Assume that you or someone else will learn or gain something from it even if you don’t yet know what or how.

Adopt an attitude of lifelong learning

These days, there’s no longer a job for life, nor even a career for life. When you keep learning, it’s stimulating for you, and helps you be more marketable.

Can you remember your childhood dreams?  How many of those did you accomplish, and how many would you like to accomplish?  As we become adults we sometimes stop the hobbies we had as kids, as work and parenting takes over – if you could pick up one activity again, or learn something new what would you most love to do?  How can you make space in your life for this?

Be diverse

Read a diverse range of books and articles, and talk to a wide range of people. Suspend your judgement and maintain your curiosity. You don’t know what inspiration you may find in the most unexpected places.

What does the research say?

I found this interesting study into the social nature of curiosity.

Recent studies have revealed that curiosity can improve psychological and social functioning. The researchers tested whether curious people show better psychological adaptation because (1) they are less sensitive to rejection, and (2) they are less susceptible to daily social rejection experiences.

They found that rejection sensitivity partially mediates the relationship between curiosity and psychological adaptation (life satisfaction and depression). Furthermore, curiosity moderated the relationships between perceived daily social rejection experiences and life satisfaction: Curious people are buffered against such aversive effects, relative to less curious people.

Their findings suggest one possible explanation for why curious people experience better psychological functioning: it’s because they appear to be less affected by social rejection.

Further reading

If you liked this, you might also like my other articles that touch on this subject:

Next month

Next month, we explore how to look after the wellbeing of your workforce.