One of my favourite childhood books to rent from the school library was Curious George. The fun animation, story lines, seeing what George will do to get himself into "trouble" and how his friend "The Man in the Yellow Hat" tried so hard to keep George safe captivated me so much. Little did I know that these stories were themed around a beautiful friendship, playful curiosity, forgiveness and of course learning!
I am a self-proclaimed lifelong learner especially when it comes to music. Learning should not end when one completes formal education but rather should be a process that is continuous. In my previous blog "Is It Ever Too Late to Learn Something New?" I touch on one factor that affects how we learn. CURIOSITY. I don't know why but it appears that as we get older we tend to lose our childhood sense of curiosity. Perhaps this is because we are so engrossed in the fast paced tempo of our lives that it becomes difficult to slow down. But to become that lifelong learner, I am realizing that I have to possess the inner need to be curious again.
Curiosity is essential to learning anything. It is not the same as being "engaged". You can be engaged without needing to be curious. Being curious requires something deeper intellectually - it requires questioning, an open mind and ability to forge new ideas from the experiences. Think of when you were a child and all the questions you would ask your parents about everything and anything. We wanted to learn as many things so we can be like our moms, dads, older sisters and brothers whom we looked up to! Curiosity is innate - it originates from the inside out! It is built on current knowledge that we already possess and our experiences. When we're curious about something we tend to start by asking questions. These questions "forces" us to become more focused on the task at hand. Curiosity allows us to become more present, self aware, self motivated and literally open our minds to endless possibilities. Without getting too scientific, curiosity allows our brains to become more receptive to learning AND retaining something new.
For example, as a student learning jazz music theory I find myself wanting to learn everything theoretically that gives jazz music its characteristic - especially coming from a classically trained background. I found myself being curious about how voicing of a chord extension can alter the sound and mood of a song. If I hadn't been curious, I could have just learned how to build the chord extension in its root position and be done with that. BUT I wanted more and wanted to actually HEAR IT, PLAY IT. SEE WHAT I WAS PLAYING and APPLY IT! It took a while for me to learn it but I eventually did and you know what - it felt AWESOME! This is the other portion of curiosity - when we find that "AHA" moment and understand something it feels good - we're proud of ourselves! This feeling is the dopamine reward centre! When we feel good about something, our brain immediately registers this feeling and it is told to "remember" this feeling and how it got there! Our brains will then seek out these recognizable patterns and before we know it, we are curious about another thing because our brains want to understand!
If curiosity is something that cannot be influenced by external motivation, does that mean it just happens spontaneously? I think that we can shift our mind set in a way that encourages curiosity to occur more frequently in our adult years as it once did when we were a child.
1) Pausing to Think
Curiosity is an opportunity to self-reflect. When you're reading a book, cooking, or having a conversation giving a second to digest your own thoughts will help you explain why, how and what you're thinking what you're thinking and why it interests you which leads to the 2nd point...
2) Make It Personal
When interest is sparked, things become personal and real. It affects our whole being, our behaviours, our intentions and actions.
3) For every answer, have 5 more questions
A question is a direct indicator and practice of our curiosity. Believe me there are times when I question why can't the answers be simple to get to. But if you think about it, the questions we ask can actually reveal a lot more than just our curiosity alone - it can reveal the quality of our background knowledge is, confidence, literacy and conviction to seek out understanding.
4) The Unknown Becomes the Known
Being uncomfortable and outside the box is very scary - believe me I know how and what this feels like. When I find ways to relate something with what I do know, the easier it is for me to make sense of new ideas.
I don't particularly like using this term but seeing how our brains work it probably is the right one to use - do we want to encourage something that makes us feel bad or good about ourselves? You may say this is a silly question and it is! If we can identify desired outcomes and visualize our progress and achievement towards those outcomes, those desired outcomes–including curiosity–can be developed and enhanced.
Although it may seem like Curious George is always getting into some sort of "trouble" by being curious, the only trouble that he would be getting himself into is not constantly learning. This is crucial for attaining any goals you've set for yourself. If we're not curious to learn anything new, we are actually doing ourselves a greater disservice than if we just go through the regular motions of life. We become stagnant and no self growth occurs. Let's aspire to be more like Curious George shall we?