Be curious; embrace the interrogatives

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The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.  Albert Einstein

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.   Kipling

Curiosity is simply a strong desire to know or learn something. It is a wonderful trait. It is the antidote for a passive mind; it takes you to new places; it adds zest to life; it is the key to learning. I can’t think of any downsides.

Brian Grazer is the poster child for curiosity.

In his must-read book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Grazer delves into the value of being curious. He dedicates the book, “For my Grandma Sonia Schwartz. Starting when I was a boy, she treated every question I asked as valuable. She taught me to think of myself as curious, a gift that has served me every day of my life.” What a great grandmother.

Early in life Grazer (who is a Hollywood movie producer) channeled his curiosity toward what he calls “curiosity conversations.” He contacts interesting people, requests a meeting, and if it happens, spends the time asking them questions. He’s had conversations with Muhammad Ali, Jeff Bezos, Jay Z, Steve Jobs, Condoleezza Rice, Ted Turner, Andy Warhol, Oprah Winfrey, and hundreds of other well-known people. What a wonderful expression of a curious mind.

The sixty-four-dollar question is: are you curious? Here’s a short self-assessment.

  • Name three things that you are currently curious about and actively pursuing.
  • What have you changed your mind about, lately?
  • What have you learned, lately?

“CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with a higher CQ are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist.” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Samuel Johnson said, “Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”

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Beware of listening to your own voice

talk-to-yourself

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you?—D. Martin Lloyd Jones

The voice you hear the most is your own. Question that voice because often you cannot trust it. My unfiltered, unchallenged voice is often random, paranoid, pessimistic and feeds on assumptions. Self-talk can get us into trouble.

Let’s make this practical. Right now, before you click to the next email, identify two or three thoughts that you’ve had in the last 24 hours that came out of nowhere, from an unidentified source, that you have, nevertheless, entertained and perhaps become anxious about.

Take control of your inner conversations.

We can’t control all of our thoughts (for instance, we have no control over our dreams: we don’t pick the topics and we can’t choose to stop) but we can control our conscious self-talk. Even though we often don’t initiate self-talk (as Jones asked in the opening quote, where do those first waking thoughts come from?) we do have control over whether or not we continue to coddle those thoughts. An old Chinese proverb teaches: “That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change; but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”

Constantly analyze your thoughts: identify who’s talking and reject suspicious thoughts from dubious sources. Simply change the conversation and start thinking of something else.

For more thought on this topic, see my posts Control your thoughts and Be careful of making assumptions

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Here are answers to last week’s puzzles:

SEQUENC_ – complete this word—sequence—using any letter other than E – Insert the letter F; when put on top of _ it creates the E vowel.

Using six pencils, create four equilateral triangles. Place three pencils on a flat surface in the shape of a triangle; then position the other three pencils on top of the triangle, vertically, to create three other triangles. 

Think outside the trapezoid

China is the most populated country on earth. Traffic is problematic. This video shows a plausible, creative solution to the problem—elevated buses. The idea may or may not work, but isn’t it invigorating to consider?

Speaking of solving problems…try to decipher these two conundrums:

  1. SEQUENC_  – complete this word—sequence—using any letter other than E
  2. Using six pencils, create four equilateral triangles.

[I’ll give the answers in next week’s post.]

We are often limited by our preconceived constructs. We view, interpret, and interact with the world from a narrow and limited perspective. It’s like going through life with blinders on: what you see is accurate, but it’s incomplete, restrictive, and often misleading. Because of my limited, narrow and myopic view of life, I wonder what I’m missing.

Here are some suggestions for freeing your mind from mind-numbing constraints.

Get out of your “dog-runs.”

We tend to drift into mindless routine; we get into ruts. (A rut has been defined as a grave with both ends extended.) Granted, routines are predictable, comfortable, and at times, efficient; but they can also be mind-numbing.

It takes initiative and intent to move into unfamiliar space. Drive home a different route; have lunch with a stranger; visit the zoo; come up with 20 unique uses for a brick. Define your dog-runs and venture out of them.

Hang out with people who are different from you.

Most of us gravitate to people who look, think, and act like we do. It’s comfortable and consoling but it can also be anesthetizing. Intentionally reach out to people who will challenge your thinking and your status quo. Talk with people who live in a different world than yours and solicit their thoughts about problems you are facing.

Take a break.

Research indicates that our best ideas and solutions often appear when we’re not trying to come up with them. They come during breaks, casual walks, working in the yard, after naps, and other relaxed moments. I got the idea for a best-selling book when I was on a subway in NYC.

Often, we’re unable to solve problems because of our limited perspective. We try to solve new problems using old paradigms. The only way you’ll be able to solve the two riddles mentioned at the beginning of this essay is to approach them from a different perspective. Force yourself to think differently.

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Be resilient

resilience-001A good half of the art of living is resilience. ― Alain de Botton

I have overlooked this term my entire life. I now have a tight affinity for it. I aspire to demonstrate it. I admire it in others.

Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change and to keep going in the face of adversity.

Resilience:

  • Is only activated by, and can only be expressed during, difficult times. When life is peaceful and unchallenging, resilience is dormant. That’s why you won’t even know if you have it until you face a challenging situation. So the next time you encounter problems, view them as an opportunity to develop (if you don’t already have it) or perfect (if you do), resilience.
  • Requires creativity and adaptability. Resilience is needed when the next move is not obvious; you’ve hit a roadblock and there’s no apparent solution. A resolution will require imagination and enterprise.
  • Necessitates stamina and endurance. Some problems are quickly resolved and require minimal resources. Others tenaciously linger and drain resources. The latter require doggedness and perseverance—attributes found in resilience.
  • Is sustained by optimism. Pessimists are unfamiliar with resilience; they acquiesce to problems and can’t imagine a better future. But optimists see setbacks as temporary and solvable.

Resilience: master it and you’ll be unflappable and imperturbable and you’ll overcome life’s inevitable setbacks. Disregard it and you’ll be stymied by life’s inevitable problems.

“Difficulties are just things to over come after all.” -Ernest Shackleton, one of the great explorers of the 20th century.

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