We’ve all heard the expression “a child-like wonder.”
Children look at the world with pure curiosity. Their behavior is often geared toward what happens if I do this…?
As we grow up we learn these lessons and we mold our personality and behavior from the lessons learned.
We learn fairly quickly that repeatedly dropping objects on the ground is annoying to anyone in earshot. We learn not to hit people, to look before crossing the road, etc etc.
But we pick up a lot of other modes of behavior from parents, friends, and society at large we’re often unaware of. Things like:
- “If a person looks like this, then they’re that.”
- “I can’t do that because then I’m this.”
- “That type of stuff is only for those people.”
Everyone has schemas:
a personal story we use to define ourselves; and schemas about our environment: our unique perspective on what life is and how the world works.
BRIEF INTERLUDE: ONE OF MY PERSONAL SCHEMAS
Every time I walk to a yoga class I want to tell everyone that sees me on the street with a yoga bag over my shoulder, “I’m not whatever you think a ‘yoga person’ is. So whatever you’re thinking you can just stop right now, because I can tell you right now, you have the wrong idea about me.”
And then of course I realize the only one who cares what I look like with my yoga bag over my shoulder … is me. And I’m arguing with myself. And truthfully, given how much kale I eat, I’m probably a lot more “yoga person” (whatever that is) than I care to admit.
I have a schema in my head that tells me I’m a driven, entrepreneurial woman and for some reason I’ve concluded that ‘yoga’ isn’t part of this story. Despite the fact that I love yoga some part of my brain hasn’t assimilated all the parts of my story – or schema – yet.
WHY YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SCHEMAS
Schemas tell us how to think, act, and relate to others.
Our schemas grow out of what happens to us as we progress through life: our experiences, our cultural backgrounds, our environments, the ways our parents and family and caregivers treated us, the teachers who guided us, those we befriended along the way, and so on.
When you do anything in life, you are operating according to your personal schema, whether you are driving a car, developing a romantic relationship, going about your daily work, or assuming a position of leadership.
And this type of thinking, this self-schema, is at the root of what holds us back.
Schemas tend to follow these 4 prevailing guidelines:
- We quickly and efficiently process information that matches our current self and success schema
- We tend to retrieve and remember information that supports our self and success schemas
- We tend to resist information that contradicts our self and success schemas
- We shape our perceptions and expectations of others, our environment, and ourselves according to our schemas
THE UPSIDE OF AWARENESS…
Whether positive and optimistic or negative and pessimistic, our stories become so deeply ingrained, so taken for granted, they cannot be easily changed.
By challenging yourself to question, evaluate, and change your schemas you are opening yourself up to curiosity.
It’s in our nature to be curious.
Lock that part of yourself up and you halt your personal development.
You might feel safer entombed in that which you know, but you’ll never know how much safer and happier you’d feel if you let your mind stay curious.
A 2014 study at the University of California-Davis discovered that the brain’s reward center lights up when someone is curious, thus releasing dopamine, which gives humans a high.
That’s the convincing part:
Curiosity makes you feel good.
It’s as if our biology is trying to tell us something: stay curious and you’ll be rewarded.
What researchers don’t know is why one person naturally has more curiosity than another, but we know that we can grow it.
WHEN YOU STOP BEING CURIOUS
When a leader’s preconceptions take center stage, they become myopic.
Leaders who curtail their curiosity unknowingly surrender to the status quo bias, confirmation bias, loss aversion, and the sunk-cost bias.
Moreover, when you only focus on that which you know, you will most likely get answers with which you are familiar, that have been seen before, and have been tried.
And that can be comforting.
But if you focus on that which you are not familiar, that you haven’t been exposed to before, then you might find something you never had before, that hasn’t been tried, where you could be the first person to try it, and you might even develop something great that has never been seen before.
We let our preconceptions overpower our natural state of curiosity, that wonder we had as children that eroded over time as our “stories” took hold of our lives and told us what to do and how to do it.
The myopic leader is often trying to achieve greatness by going down the same road of all that came before.
We’ve all seen leaders who let their curiosity run wild (and those who seemingly have none):
- Jeff Bezos recommends having a “learn-it-all mindset.” Don’t assume you know everything or that something you’re not naturally interested in has no value.
- Google sets up their office spaces specifically to cultivate curiosity.
Everyone with whom you come in contact has information to give you.
If you presume to know everything or get all of your information from one source you are limiting your potential, the potential of your company and the people who work for you.
Do you want to create something that hasn’t been seen before?
Do you want have new ideas and think differently?
Do you want to become a stronger leader and develop new skills?
All of these things are necessary to be a great leader and all of these things require us to challenge our current way of thinking.
To create something that hasn’t been seen before, to develop a company or leadership traits that you don’t already have, you have to be willing to change, to be something you didn’t think you were previously.
We let our schemas guide us without realizing we can always rewrite our story. In fact, we should. We too often stop rewriting our story and let our schemas dictate our behavior for our entire lives.