A Coaching Power Tool Created by Jane Wang
(Cross-Cultural Trainer & Coach, TAIWAN)
a desire to learn or know about something
firm conviction that something is the case
I know it must be so.
A Note on Curiosity:
In cross-cultural training and coaching, curiosity is considered a competence. When crossing ‘cultures’ – learned behavior patterns to ensure group continuity – curiosity in each moment is essential, because we are entering a new unkwown world, as if inside a video game, where the old rules no longer apply but we don’t yet know what the new rules are. Surprises are to be expected. Only with curiosity can we live through change with humor, sanity, and plenty of growth.
Although especially apt for crossing cultures, curiosity as a competence is extremely useful in life in general, especially since change is the constant in life. By cultivating curiosity, we are better able to navigate the transitions we inevitably go through – our own and others dear to us – and come out thriving.
Imagine the blue circle represents the full multidimensional truth about a given situation. It could signify the state of the world, an individual, an event, a project, a relationship, your own life, the universe. The yellow circle represents how much you understand about the entirety of that truth at first glance. Which tends to be true?
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. Mark Twain
We humans tend to think we’re right. In fact we need to feel right.
We walk around wearing colored lenses – our values, beliefs, expectations, assumptions, shaped by our personalities, upbringings, choices, and experiences – and it is through these colored lenses that we look at the world, at other people, at ourselves. Yet we don’t acknowledge our lenses are colored, that there might be other ways of seeing things. We simply are “certain” that we are right.
Like the inflated yellow circle, we have an inflated sense of certainty.
When we meet a new person – whether an acquaintance at a party, a potential new team member, a date, we form a first impression and choose how we treat that person based on our first impression – even if we know practically nothing about him/her. We form judgments about this new person based on our colored lenses – the set of perceptions shaped by our own experiences and beliefs.
When we are undergoing changes in our lives – whether a geographical move, a graduation, a promotion, a new job, a new relationship, or the flip side – people leaving us, hurtful words exchanged in relationships, projects at work failing or not going as well as planned, aging and health issues – we also form judgments about the future (It will be wonderful! It will be awful!) based on our colored lenses, and feel fluctuating emotions, even if the future is simply unknown.
The unknown is frightening and causes us humans much anxiety, so to protect us and bring about a sense of security, our brains trick us into thinking we know more than we do. We grasp onto clues and signs and thoughts and feelings – anything – to feel certain.
That person is xxx. My life will be xx! If I just do this then it will be ok! If I don’t do this then it won’t happen!
In that moment, we are certain we know all there is to know.
All we want is to stop the anxiety we feel around something that is unknown and evolving. All we want is to feel some certainty, and we will allow our minds to form quick judgments, even if based on incomplete knowledge, just for a momentary sense of security.
The problem is, our inflated sense of certainty about the reality — an inflated yellow circle — can in fact obstruct the healthy unfolding of that reality. Most important things in life we want to nurture for the long term – a significant relationship, a career, an organization, a family, a child – are fundamentally uncertain, an evolution, a dance, a reality that’s unfolding rather than fixed. The reality simply cannot be known, as it is evolving and changing all the time. The essence takes time to be discovered, revealed. Time, place, circumstance, other people and influences – multiple forces also shape what becomes.
Yet in fact, one of the key influences on the unfolding of that reality is, ironically, our own attitude toward that reality. We fear that something or someone we care deeply about doesn’t turn out the way we want it to – we fear failure or loss or rejection – so we seek to control/influence/mold that something or someone in the direction we want – to assuage our own fear. We are certain we are right. We need to feel certain so we know what to do about it, all so that we can feel secure.
We size up a stranger at first glance and either dismiss or elevate them. We ‘know’ we will be (fill in adjective) forever, or never get married/pregnant, or never find the right career for us, or never ‘arrive’. We ‘know’ that this other person hates us, or we have to have all the answers to be a good leader or a good coach, or be perfectly capable before embarking on one’s dream, or always know our direction. When we do these, we are falling prey to ‘Certainty’.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Wayne Dyer
Yet often it is in seeking certainty about something that is fundamentally uncertain, or when we dictate what should be instead of discovering what is — that we suffocate the beauty of what we most care about – the beauty of the authentic that emerges organically from the unknown. Sometimes it means we are so sure what’s right for someone else that we make them conform to our way – often with good intentions for that person’s sake – but we take away that person’s ability to undergo their own necessary process to learn experientially what they need to learn from life.
Or it is that something happens that we fear, hurts us, or we don’t like, and we “decide” how we feel about a person or a project once and for all, which cuts off opportunities for relationship or for a successful resolution. We essentially give up, because we touched upon something difficult and painful, but our brains convince us that we are ‘certain’ that thing wasn’t worth the effort anyway — rationalization at its best.
Even when what we’re certain of engenders a happy feeling, we can still be under the trap of ‘Certainty’. This new job/person/country is so amazing! It is natural to feel this way, and happy feelings are wonderful. Yet when engaging with this new job/person/country on a longer term basis, simply being aware and curious about these happy feelings, rather than diving into something immediately or becoming attached to these feelings, it’s important to give time and space for curiosity first, as wonderful as something may appear. Cultivating curiosity will allow more of this job/person/country to be revealed in its entirety. Cultivating curiosity can also help us understand more about ourselves and what make us feel those happy feelings.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust
Curiosity brings a very different energy. Shifting to curiosity can instantly shift the circumstances themselves.
Curiosity is light, open to what unfolds, looking forward to discovering more.
Curiosity is humble, doesn’t assume we know it all with finality, believes there’s always more to learn, a different way of seeing, and is willing to discover.
Curiosity trusts that the future will unfold as it will, that the universe is bigger than we can ever imagine, that all (even the suckiness in between) is good.
Curiosity experiments by trying new things without being paralyzed by the certainty of success or the certainty of failure, because the future is fluid, an adventure waiting to be discovered, a truth born of trial-and-errors.
Curiosity gives benefit of the doubt, gives people more than one dimension, gives life a chance to show you something richer over time.
Curiosity arrives with a smile, sees you, trusts you are more than one encounter, looks forward to whatever twists and turns may be ahead.
Curiosity is love, warmth, connection, kindness.
Curiosity is hope, of meaning, of surprise, of a future beyond certainty, of a mystery that lies beyond.