How many times have you experienced the following: You believe you have an important insight that, when you share it, people nod their head and murmur “how true”? This is your insight, and over time you believe you have some claim to it. If you could trademark it, you would.
And then, someone with a bigger platform than you articulates the same insight to a wider audience, and does it better than you. Part of you is thrilled, but there’s a less-than-noble part of you that feels that your insight has somehow been compromised rather than amplified, which reminds me of how I felt when a little-known Irish rock band I liked named U2 hit the mainstream. They were no longer little-known, so I was unable to secretly feel urbane and sophisticated for liking their music, forcing me to turn my musical attention to another little-known group named R.E.M.
I just experienced this again. Let me explain.
I often tell my kids – who are powerless to avoid my unprovoked insights due to the proximity of our living arrangement – that curiosity and optimism are habits and can be learned.
How often have we heard someone say “I’m a pessimist” or “she’s not naturally curious”, as if these are traits that are as real as someone’s height or eye color? Certainly some people have pre-dispositions that make these (or other) traits feel more natural than they do to someone else, however these are habits, and like any habit they can be learned.
One of the most profound insights I have ever been exposed to was this simple observation from Stephen Covey: Between stimulus and response lies a space, and in that space is our freedom to choose our response (if you’ve not read his seminal Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, I recommend reading at least through the end of the first habit to understand this insight).
So if you don’t consider yourself naturally pre-disposed to optimism, force yourself, in that space between stimulus of the situation and the formation of your mental response, to answer questions like “what was great about that?”, or “what opportunities for good do I see in this one situation?”.
The reason this is important is not simply because you’ll be more pleasant, although that’s an important side-benefit. I believe it sets you up for success in whatever you do. People who see mutual benefit and abundance around them are the ones who grow personally and drive growth around them.
As for curiosity, if you’re not “feeling” curious, get into the habit of asking “why is that?” to everyday situations. This habit, I think, is increasingly important for young people today as the nature of their professional opportunities undergo tremendous change. The people who ask “why” a lot will be less surprised by, and more prepared for, change when it happens.
Which brings us to blogger Seth Godin, and my “U2 moment”. Seth captures the above point more completely than I ever could, thus co-opting one of my (many) personal harangues and making it feel like I may not be omniscient, and my observation not so unique.
And so if you find this idea to be intriguing, and if you’re curious (see what I did there?) about what Seth has to say on this topic, go here.