WISH YOU WERE SMARTER? TRY PRACTICING CURIOSITY AND OPENNESS

WORDS: APRIL D. SCOTT

Many people think that our potential for intelligence is an innate capability we are born with. People also will tell us we can get smarter by attending schools and universities. Researchers in recent times now believe that there are other ways to be smart besides the traditional IQ and “book smart” versions of intelligence. They have developed the concepts of positive intelligence, conversational intelligence, emotional intelligence, and more.

Research has also shown that high levels of these other types of intelligence are more predictive of a successful, happy life than are one’s innate IQ or level of schooling. And the good news is that we can learn how to be more intelligent, regardless of our age.

Dr. Carol Dweck, renowned author and researcher in the field of human potential says that there tend to be two types of mindsets among human beings – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset believes that a person’s capabilities and intelligence are fixed at birth and cannot change throughout their life. People with a growth mindset, by contrast, believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and determination. Dweck’s research found that these growth mindset people tend to be more successful than those who believe that people are either born with a trait or they’re not. It turns out that the brain is capable of building new neural connections all throughout a person’s life.

So, while none of us can change what we were born with and we can’t constantly be in a university setting, we can change our mindset. And once we change our mindset, we see that there are many opportunities all around us, in everyday life, that allow us to increase our level of intelligence and by extension our ability to navigate life for success and fulfilment.

Where are those opportunities? One place to look is at our level of curiosity about the world and the people in it, especially the important people in our lives. Another opportunity is how open we decide to be to new ideas and perspectives.

For instance, being curious about the loved ones in our life gives us a chance for greater understanding and empathy for them. This can vastly improve these relationships. According to Maja Lyon M.A., who works in the field of Group Analytic Psychotherapy helping people with repeated problems in close relationships, attachment issues, anxiety disorders and depression, and stress management, “The quality of our relationships mirrors the quality of our lives. If we cultivate a capacity to engage with others with healthy curiosity and understanding, we will be able to use those same qualities for personal benefit.”

Once we let our curiosity loose, at some point we’ll likely find ourselves in a position of learning things that surprise us, and that challenge some of our long-held beliefs and opinions. And then comes the really hard part – being open-minded and courageous enough to be willing to change our opinions and revise our beliefs.

Elisabeth Escobar M.A. M.Ed., a counselor and coach who specializes in helping people make changes in their lives, says, “By our readiness and willingness to change, we open ourselves up to life in a new way which can enhance our relationships with others and with ourselves. This is also known as wisdom.”

Another phenomenon, and side-effect, of becoming more curious and open-minded is that we become a better observer of ourselves – we get to know ourselves better, our strengths, shortcomings, tendencies, blind spots, and biases. This can be very enlightening but also a little scary, for instance if we happen to learn that we’re not as great at something as we’ve always thought we were. What a shock that can be! But that experience leaves us with wisdom and humility that are hard to gain any other way.

Urška Žugelj PhD is a psychologist and certified coach who works in the field of body-psychotherapy and who supports parents and professionals involved with children and teens. “I encourage clients to get to know themselves from the inside out,” she says. “Being in touch with our feelings and aspirations can help us make better choices and build resilience in face of difficulty. And I believe authentic wisdom comes from our bodies as well as minds.”

Resilience is a hot topic these days, especially in light of the seemingly never-ending pandemic and all its repercussions on our lives. It’s a much-desired trait because, as Žugelj says, it comes in handy during times of difficulty. And there’s a connection between resilience and intelligence, or rather wisdom. The greater the wisdom you can achieve, the greater patience and perspective you will have in life and the better you will weather the inevitable hard times. Curiosity and openness help give us the ability to see and understand life from a “big picture” perspective, a key component of wisdom. It can become a positive, self-reinforcing loop.

And finally, there are other benefits to being curious and open-minded. Besides helping us behave with greater intelligence, and make smarter decisions, in our relationships, they can help make us smarter in all the various ways of being intelligent. One measure of intelligence is the ability to see patterns and make connections among that which initially seems unrelated. Practicing curiosity and keeping an open mind allow us to see beyond our normal frames of reference, beyond the patterns we know well and that we assume represent an accurate picture of the world. If we’re able to see the world in different ways, for example from the perspective of another person who’s different from us, a whole new world of new possibilities, patterns, and connections opens up.

So, remember, what you were born with is not the limit of what you have to work with. You are capable of achieving much more than you realize, and the tools are readily available to you. Run a few personal experiments. Ask your loved ones how they think and feel and accept their responses with a sense of curiosity, wonder and, appreciation. Listen with a completely open mind instead of instantly judging, and then ask yourself what ways there are to look at a situation other than the way you currently think. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

April D. Scott, ACC MBA, is an American and a certified executive coach who works with business professionals to improve their leadership effectiveness. One area of specialty is working with people who wish to improve their English while also engaging in personal development. She is a member of New Bridge Worldwide, a group of counselors and coaches who support expatriates in managing stress and anxiety and in improving their relationships and overall life fulfillment. Other NBW team members are Elisabeth Escobar M.A. M.Ed., Maja Lyon M.A, and Urška Žugelj PhD. They can be reached at info@newbridgeworldwide.com.