The Curiosity Habit (How To Discover Interesting)

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The world we live in is an incredibly interesting place. I was fortunate enough to visit Italy a few years ago and I remember the satisfying experience of being able to walk down any alley in Rome and finding something new to explore. I felt grateful to take part in the Human journey.

Our daily lives can feel a little less interesting and a bit routine:

  • Wake up
  • Shower
  • Eat
  • Work
  • Socialize
  • Sleep

Day-in and day-out. If we could enter a state of curiosity at any time we might begin notice the interesting things in the mundane. For example:

  • just an hour before we wake up, our body temperature begins to rise, our brains are flooded with chemicals like norepinephrine, acetylcholine and serotonin that wake us up and keep us alert. It’s is an incredibly complex process.
  • Have you ever stopped and considered that when you turn on the shower, miles and miles of plumbing must work together to provide you with water? Every soap, conditioner, and skin cleanser is a different product with ingredients sourced from different places and marketed by different companies (unless you use a 3-in-one).
  • What we eat provides nutrients and the fuel necessary to carry us through the day.
  • Where we work, most likely, is a complex network of roles and responsibilities working together to accomplish a single goal where each department has its own set of skills, its own systems and processes that have been created through years of trial and error. If you work for a successful company, the odds of it ever being successful were always stacked against it!
  • Each of our family members and friends that we socialize with have separate lives, thoughts, interests and desires that are heavily influenced by the way we interact with them.
  • There are pages and pages written about the wonderful and rejuvenating process of sleep, and where our minds journey during sleep.

What if we could put on our ‘Curious Hats’ on all the time? What if every day felt a bit like walking down an ancient cobbled alley in Rome? I’ve recently began challenging myself to be more curious more often. I look at curiosity as an important habit that has the ability to fuel personal development and happiness . If you’re curious, I’d like to share some advice from modern psychology, business, and personal experience about how to  engage in a more curious life.

Read Voraciously

Voracious, Adjective – wanting or devouring great quantities of food

I love this word – Just saying it is satisfying. Vor-a-cious. Pronouncing it makes you bear your teeth. The curious read everything: Signs, posters, shampoo bottles, books on chemistry, history, pop-culture, sci-fi, journals, magazines – anything that may pique their interest. For many people their is a gap between what interests them, and what they learn – the curious constantly try to close this gap with reading. Psychologist and sociologist B.F Skinner recommended that “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.” Don’t feel intimidated by the amounts of knowledge or literature available for a certain subject – starting anywhere is good enough. Skinner also mentions that “The feeling of being interested can act as a kind of neurological signal, directing us to fruitful areas of inquiry.” Starting the process of reading lends itself to interest in reading. I’ve sometimes come across a book I’ve been interested in and thought someday, I would like to read that. When that happens, just open up and start reading – even for five minutes. It may lead you down a completely new path.

Don’t Worry About Messing Up

No one is as critical of you as you are. One of the biggest road blocks to curiosity is the fear of getting something wrong. Curiosity means asking questions and making some assumption. More often than not, your assumptions will be wrong. Don’t worry about it! It is not so much about getting the right answer as it is moving towards answers. In a scientific journal titled The Psychology of Neuroscience and Curiosity, the author notes that curiosity has a tendency to build upon itself by ‘Information Tradeoffs’ where the subject utilizes “probabilistic elements” to  “explore other possibilities, leading them to better overall choices” (Kidd). In short, curiosity builds on itself.

Be Mindful

Take action in your actions. The next time you are performing a task try to think critically and purposefully about what you are doing. Is there a better way to do it? Why is it done this way? If you had to teach someone else to do what you are doing, could you? As you start to pay more attention to your own actions, you’ll also be able to think critically and empathetically about the actions of others. When you open your mind to being mindful curiosity will come naturally.

Sources:

The Psychology and Neuroscience of Curiosity
Kidd, Celeste et al.
Neuron , Volume 88 , Issue 3 , 449 – 460

Wai, Jonathan. Seven Ways to Be More Curious.Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-the-next-einstein/201407/seven-ways-be-more-curious

https://www.tuck.com/waking-up/

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In Defense of the Salesperson

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When my wife and I walk into an environment where we know we will be met by commission motivated Salespeople, we typically reaffirm ourselves:

‘Remember, we are just here to look’

‘Don’t ask any questions’

‘Don’t make eye contact’

Like most people, I blamed the salesperson for feeling pressured or anxious. It seems to be the general opinion that salespeople can be overbearing, aggressive and even misleading. This conception has lead company’s like Carmax to adopt a a no-haggling policy, claiming not to play pricing games with the consumer or Living Spaces, where employees reassure their customer’s that they do NOT work for commission.

Why are we uncomfortable around the commission motivated salesperson? Of course, many of us have had an obnoxious encounter- but I think the reason is more complex than they are overbearing, or aggressive. I’ll share a few of my opinions:

People are afraid to say ‘no’

I have found myself leading a salesperson on just because I did not want to reject them. I’ll give objections such as ‘I’m looking for something further down the line’ or ‘these are too expensive’. To a salesperson, these are just clues that help them point out other suggestions. There is nothing wrong with being clear about your intention – most likely, they will understand and want to educate you anyways. Take advantage of their knowledge – even if you are not looking to buy then, salespeople know the value of building the relationship.

Guilt Over Indulgence 

Self indulgence may be a rare thing for certain people. I know that most times I’m window shopping at an outlet with my wife, we know we WANT something, but don’t NEED it. I think this makes us feel guilt about our purchase. Our fear of the salesperson is more a guilt about indulgence.

The Perception of Money Motivation

The common perception is that salespeople only care about money. Well, what do you work for? It’s not unusual to work for money. Even for the associate who is not working on commission, their prime motivation for engaging in conversation with you is a paycheck at the end of the week. It may be possible that the commission based associate has the purest of intentions because their motivation is transparent.

What do you think? Do you find yourself anxious or uncomfortable in a commissioned sales environment? If so, why do you think that is?

 

 

Combating ‘they ought to’ mentality

It can feel like a battle to maintain a positive outlook at work. Between organizational shifts, office politics, and general fatigue, staying motivated can be difficult. Most days  I am able to stay productive and engaged, but nothing can hijack momentum like the wrong mentality. By ‘mentality’, I am referring to a state of mind that may influence how work is accomplished or viewed. There are obvious negative and positive mentalities, a ‘can-do’ attitude is an example of a positive mentality while ‘things never go my way.. ‘ is a negative mentality.

I encountered one particularly insidious mentality while I was refilling my coffee in the break room that I began to coin as ‘They Ought To’ mentality. Many people were huddled in a circle discussing the changes to company benefits. I could hear that one person was leading the discussion, while the others were listening and taking turns to also express their disapproval, ‘They Ought to provide additional vacation’…..’at Laura’s company they give every man 6 weeks of paid paternity leave!’…..’If you’re lucky you’ll get a 3% raise!’, who can live with that?’

Now, I want to clarify I am not stating that paternity leave, maternity leave, and other employee benefits should not be advocated for. These are all great benefits that I believe in many places can strengthen the organization that provides them.  The problem with this mentality is that it is disguised as a legitimate concern but offers no alternative solution. It is simply just stating a problem and  provides no constructive approach to resolve it, since no one can argue on behalf of the organization and no one can identify ‘they’. Regardless of what service ‘they ought to’ provide is, in most cases it has already been identified as not being available. We can argue who should provide it, but the fact remains that it is not being provided and that is likely not to change any time soon. How would the internal or external conversation go from this perspective?

Approaching the same issue in another way might look like this:

The organization or institution does not provide (x).

Is (x) important to me or my family?

Am I willing to look for other opportunities so that my family and I can be provided with (x)?

What are other ways I can get (x) without having to rely on my organization?

If someone is not interested in following through the reasoning above, then would (x) continue to be a real need for them?

 

 

Bridge Above The Water: The Hard Worker vs The Valuable Worker

I remember a monotonous and time consuming project I was working on involving a series of data manipulations and entries. My coworker Rich, our systems analyst, implored me to let him develop a way to automate the process. I told him that by the time he was done I wouldn’t need it anymore. I joked with him by saying ‘you build a bridge, and I’ll drain the river dry – either way we both get to the other side’. He chuckled and returned to work. A few moments later he turned his chair and asked, ‘What if it rains again?’

His response was brilliant. It most likely would rain again, since, well…that’s how nature works. A bridge would not be effected by the rain because a bridge was a solution and not a state – like an empty or flowing river. Regardless of how much water was in the river the bridge would always be an option. If someone was not strong enough, or did not have the time or resources to drain the river, they could use the bridge. The bridge would provide value to the entire community. When you take a step back, the bridge was definitely the better of the two solutions. It’s smarter. Sure enough, a few weeks later I was wishing I had built a bridge!

At the time I was being the ‘Hard Worker’, while my coworker was being the ‘Valuable Worker’. I would not stop until my work was done, which made me a hard worker. However, I could’ve spent my time on something more valuable.

I decided to compile  ‘Hard Worker’ habits and traits compared to a ‘Valuable Worker’ traits. Please let me know what other distinctions you can think of in the comment section!

A Hard Worker? A Valuable Worker?
spends most of their time working spends most of their time learning
knows a lot documents a lot
sticks to the process Improve the process
knows how to do their job understands why they do their job
is skeptical of change welcomes change
is aware of the deadline is aware of the mission
checks the to-do list from top to bottom prioritizes tasks
holds on to responsibility delegates responsibility
is concerned with their role only knows how other roles work together
is in competition with others collaborates with others