Be Curious and Keep Questioning
Last week I began with a quote from Albert Einstein. I’ll begin this week with another from him:
“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”As children we constantly asked questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “Why does grandad use a walking stick?” “Why do I have to go in the car?” Indeed, by the age of 4 we are asking around 300 questions each and every day. Between two and five years of age most children will have asked 40,000 questions.
But then, during our elementary, or primary, school years we stop asking questions. Our education system teaches us that answers are more important than questions, so we are discouraged from asking questions.
Research indicates that being curious stimulates and strengthens the brain. As it is for muscles, the more we use the brain the healthier it remains. And that is excellent news for developing our creative powers. When we exercise our curiosity we obtain the following three benefits as well:
- We are motivated to learn and we become better learners.
- Our personal growth is stimulated and the connections we make with people is deepened when we first meet them.
- Our sense of personal meaning and purpose in life is heightened when we are curious. There is always something new to explore, discover, or learn.
We know it is important to learn and develop our skills for listening to other people. To harness our creativity learning to listen to our inner voice is also important – we call it our intuition. It is worth noting that intuition is not a magical process whereby an idea or answer just pops into our head out of nowhere. Intuition is literally learning from within: in-tuition. Intuition is “nothing more and nothing less than re-cognition” according to the psychologist Herbert A Simon.
How do we develop our intuition? Most writers on the topic seem to agree that there are four barriers that we need to overcome:
- Declutter your mind. Tapping into your inner wisdom is difficult if there is a lot of clutter in the way. You will find your own way to declutter; some ways are to go for a walk, get into nature, listen to music or meditate. Perhaps a shower. Have you noticed how often you’ll get a good idea in the shower? It’s surprisingly common.1 Whatever you do, you need to give your mind freedom.
- Ignore what you know. Intuition deals more with feelings, insights and emotions than it does with facts and figures. This does not mean that you reject the facts and figures, just put them aside and ask yourself how you feel about the question, issue or problem? How is your body responding?
- Get out of your head. Go with your gut. Often we get a “gut feeling” before our brain takes over and becomes the “knower.” Get in tune with your gut. Do your stomach muscles contract and tighten or do they relax? Does your heart and chest feel as if it is expanding?
- Let go the need to control. Our rational mind tells us that we should be in control at all times. However, when we wish to tap into our intuition we need to surrender this desire, and trust that our intuition will provide us with insights without our need to dictate what those insights might be.
Anyone who has attended a Playback Theatre performance (or watched the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?) will have roared with laughter at the antics of the actors as they act out, without pre-prepared scripts, scenes, situations and scenarios from the random suggestions of the audience. Those of us in the audience marvel at the ingenuity, spontaneity, and creativity the actors bring to the performance. How do they do it, we may ask?
Can we adopt the ideas of improvisation (Improv as it has come to be known) for our own explorations of creativity? The answer, according to at least one Improv teacher and writer is a resounding “yes.” Improv, says Patricia Ryan Madson, is based on 13 very simple maxims.2
- Say Yes. Saying yes means being open to what is happening, going with the flow, being open to the opportunities that arise. Saying yes builds on the ideas already in existence. Saying no, on the other hand, can be a desire to control the flow, which then leads to everyone being stifled.
- Don’t Prepare. Too much planning can block being in the present; it can distract from listening to others.
- Just Show Up. Just be there, make the effort. Woody Allen is reputed to have remarked that “eighty percent of success is showing up.”
- Start Anywhere. We can lose focus, energy, or time by trying to figure out where to start. Indeed, worrying about where to start can lead to never starting at all.
- Be Average. There is no need to strive for perfection (it’s not possible anyway), just be natural. Bring who you are to the situation, not who you think you ought to be.
- Pay Attention. Although being aware of your own thoughts, ideas and feelings is helpful, being overly focused on them can mean missing the opportunities that are offered by other people or the situation.
- Face The Facts. Worrying about the future is pointless, so too is agonising over the past. Mark Twain, with characteristic wit, noted that, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” Things may not be ideal but they are what they are.
- Stay The Course. Keep with it. Keep in mind the purpose, not what you are doing or even the goal. The purpose of meeting with someone, or acting with others, is far more important than the goal you have set yourself. How many times have we heard the phrase “life's higher purpose” and then forgotten it to think about our immediate goals?
- Wake Up To The Gifts. Opportunities are everywhere, be open to them.
- Make Mistakes, Please. Last weeks blog noted how the fear of failure can block creativity. But be wary: this is not a excuse for slipshoddiness.
- Act Now. This maxim focuses on acting, not doing. Sometimes the best action may be doing nothing, or simply observing.
- Take Care Of Each Other. Share and share alike.
- Enjoy The Ride. Not everything is fun, but we can still enjoy the moment, the situation, the company, for what it is. When we come from a place within us that is joyful, then almost any situation is tolerable. We cannot have excitement in our lives all the time, but we can enliven our lives.
1. Research by the German bathroom and kitchen fixtures company Hansgrohe SE, in 2014, found that 72% of 4,000 people surveyed from 8 countries reported new insights whilst standing in a shower. Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D. (the researcher) comments that “It’s both surprising and fascinating to learn that people are more creative in the shower than they are at work, with Hansgrohe’s findings reinforcing existing research on the importance of relaxation for creative thinking.”
2. Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just show up, Bell Tower, New York, 2005