There is a concept in Zen Buddhism, shoshin, that refers to the notion of a beginner's mind. It is the kind of openness, unbiasedness and curiosity that asks questions, embraces new experiences and has an eagerness to learn.
Shunryū Suzuki, Zen monk and author wrote
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.”
That is the paradox: the more knowledge and expertise we accumulate, the more our sense of curiosity or beginner's mind diminishes.
Certainly, learning and amassing knowledge is one of our society’s greatest opportunities. Now more than ever with the internet, globalism and connectivity we are afforded, as James Clear describes, “the education power of a university and the distribution power of a media company at their fingertips”.
Though the internet has the power to suppress curiosity through its instantaneous answers, it can also open our mind through its infinite information, opinions and ideas.
In one way we use the internet to search for a definitive answer (deprivation-curiosity). In another, our approach is more childlike as we aimlessly explore and fall down rabbit holes on unexpected topics (interest-curiosity).
Returning to the concept of shoshin, a beginner's mind is not motivated by a goal or sense of deprivation. It is merely an eagerness and openness to new ideas for the sake of curiosity.
Knowledge and intelligence are key currencies in our modern academic and professional contexts.
Does this mean knowledge and intelligence is more productive and regarded than curiosity?
As we discovered through the work of psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr Judson Brewer, and organisational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic among others, maintaining a sense of curiosity is perhaps as essential for habit-building, problem solving and workplace performance as is accruing more conventional knowledge and intelligence.
Curiosity is an unexpected and overlooked tool both in our personal and professional lives.
As we learnt through the work of Dr Judson Brewer in his TED Talk A simple way to break a bad habit, curiosity - or more specifically mindful curiosity - is highly effective in the breaking of bad habits.
In his studies, mindfulness training provided twice as effective as gold standard therapies for helping people quit smoking. In this study, Brewer and his colleagues asked participants to become mindfully curious when a craving arose. Rather than resorting to fear-based and reactive habits, participants developed awareness of their sensations and feelings.
This broke the craving into more manageable, bite-sized experiences that eventually helped to overcome the overwhelming craving.
He describes the process as noticing the urge, getting curious, feeling the joy of letting go and repeating in order to form a habit.
A study led by Matthias Gruber and colleagues at the University of California speculates that curiosity primes the brain for learning in general.
Their findings suggest that dopamine pathways fired with curiosity, and that there was also an increased connection between reward centers and the hippocampus - the structure within the temporal lobe which has a major role in learning and memory (source).
It seems that keeping an open mind and cultivating a sense of curiosity will allow us to better absorb and store the information we come across.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes for HBR that curiosity is as important as IQ and (emotional quotient) when it comes to managing the inherent complexities of our modern age.
“Individuals with higher CQ (curiosity quotient) are generally more tolerant of ambiguity. This nuanced, sophisticated, subtle thinking style defines the very essence of complexity.”
As we explored in our article, Critical thinking and problem solving using myhaventime, decision making can become easily obscured by cognitive bias. We must practice empathy, critical thinking and challenge our assumptions in order to solve complex issues.
Having a beginner's mind - eager and curious and devoid of bias - allows us to comprehensively assess an issue in order to problem solve and provide more innovative, holistic solutions.
Curiosity as a concept may sound simplistic, but it’s a powerful tool that each of us possessed at one point in our lives.
As children, curiosity was an innate natural ability. However, for most of us, this ability fades as we adapt to educational systems and adult responsibilities.
The good news is that with mindful practice we have the ability to reignite our curiosity and begin to see the world with an open beginner’s mind...
A few months ago we shared the work of the late Sir Ken Robinson, international advisor on education in the arts, on our social media. He was an advocate for the importance of creativity in education and diversity of intelligence.
On curiosity he writes,
“We romanticise the curiosity of children because we love their innocence. But creativity doesn’t happen in a void. Successful innovators and artists amass vast stores of knowledge which they can then draw on unthinkingly. Having mastered the rules of their domain, they can concentrate on rewriting them. They mix and remix ideas and themes, making new analogies and spotting unusual patterns, until a creative breakthrough is achieved.”
This reminds us of the crux of curiosity: it is essential to cast the net far and wide in order to diversify our knowledge, discover new ideas and learn from other people. This is the core of interest-curiosity and a beginner’s mind.
Casting a single line in anticipation of a fish is merely deprivation-curiosity.
Rather than turning to Google every time you have an inquiry or desire to explore a given topic, look to more unlikely sources of information.
Visiting your local library without a defined objective may also yield exciting finds as you stumble upon unexpected topics, authors and categories.
Rather than learning about a cause through peers on social media, what about speaking with an organisation directly or visiting their website for more objective information?
The opportunities to learn outside of Google are infinite if you start looking.
Go beyond your immediate collection of friends, family, colleagues and peers to learn from others with diverse and sometimes divergent opinions from your own.
Rather than making assumptions, ask questions. Understanding a topic from someone else's perspective can influence your own or help in building empathy.
As we cultivate a sense of curiosity and continue to diversify our sources of knowledge, it can be hugely beneficial to capture your insights and findings throughout your learning journey.
By documenting regularly, we are able to reflect upon our growth, habit formation, shifting perspectives, accumulated knowledge and changes in behaviour.
This can be done through traditional journaling or the use of a purpose-built platform like myhaventime which is designed to capture thoughts, imagery, documents and anything else that has piqued your curiosity.