HOW TO STAY CURIOUS IN YOUR PRACTICE

As we get older, we ask fewer questions. We wonder less. We are less curious. 
We don’t lose the ability to be curious, we just don’t use or ‘exercise’ it as much. Further on in life people tend to expect answers rather than questions.
Staying curious and wondering keeps your mind active and strong, makes you more receptive to new ideas, opens up new worlds and possibilities and brings excitement into your life.
Likewise in our work as educators, guides, teachers and creatives, we need to keep curious ourselves in order to keep creating imaginative and lively guided tours, guided discussions and educational programmes.
Today is the second part in our curiosity double-bill. Last week I talked about how to foster curiosity with your groups and gave you 3 ways to think about how you can cultivate more curiosity amongst participants. So in today’s episode, part 2, I’m talking about how we can stay curious ourselves in our practice. 

AS WE GET OLDER, WE GET LESS CURIOUS

As we get older, we ask fewer questions. We wonder less. We are less curious.
I’ve seen this in the past with groups in museums. The primary school children are full of questions and ideas. By secondary school, you have to work so much harder to pique their curiosity. And with adults, it’s a very similar story.
They have basically stopped asking questions.
We pester our parents with ‘Why?’ and ‘What if’ questions for the first few years of our lives as we try to understand how things work. We’re busy learning.
Apparently we are at our most curious around the age of 4 and that’s when we also hit our questioning peak too. Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day.
We don’t lose the ability to be curious, we just don’t use or ‘exercise’ it as much. Further on in life people tend to expect answers rather than questions.

STAY CURIOUS

Staying curious and wondering keeps your mind active and strong, makes you more receptive to new ideas, opens up new worlds and possibilities and brings excitement into your life.
Likewise in our work as educators and guides, we need to keep curious ourselves in order to keep creating imaginative and lively guided tours, guided discussions and educational programmes.
We need to stay curious about our specialist subjects, the organisations we work with and the collections they look after.
Curiosity keeps us fresh and on our toes. It keeps us relevant. We need to be continuously learning so that we can approach our work with the same curiosity of a 4 year old.
According to Todd Kashdan author of ‘Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life’, curiosity is “an engine of growth.” He says that in order to find purpose and meaning in life, we need to be curious, experiment and learn from trial and error.
He believes that curiosity allows us to lead more fulfilled lives, to be happier, and to create lasting interests and passions.
Likewise, if you’re curious then you’re keeping your mind active and continuously asking questions. You’re also opening up new possibilities that might be hidden under the surface.
So, how can you stay curious and keep wondering? I’ve put together a list of ideas to help us stay curious. I’ve also added some fabulous ideas crowd-sourced from a simple question I asked on Twitter ‘What do you do to ensure you stay curious?’ Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts to this question.

ASK QUESTIONS

A great way to stay curious is to keeping asking questions.  All. the. time. 
Look at artworks or objects that you know well and look at them as if you haven’t seen them before. Start asking questions, What is that? Why is it made that way? When was it made? Who invented it? Where does it come from? How does it work? 
What, why, when, who, where, and how are the best friends of curious people. 
Similarly ask yourself questions about why you work the way you do, why you follow such and such a route, why you work with these artworks and objects. Keep asking yourself ‘why’ until you get to an answer. 
‘Why am I doing it this way?’ is a great question to ask yourself – if you find yourself answering, ‘because I’ve always done it this way’ then maybe it’s time to switch it up! 
When you’re with your groups, ask lots of open-ended questions. These promote longer, fuller and more thoughtful answers and you’ll be surprised and amazed at some of the responses you get. They will feed your curiosity about your subject again. 
Challenge yourself to ask a new or different question to see where it leads the group. Make a note of new questions that you want to try out with groups. 
Actively seek out opportunities for questioning and you will be forever curious. 
SEEK NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING
Many of us are lifelong learners, that’s why we do the jobs we do as we love to learn and to teach others too. But how can we stay in that ‘curiosity zone’ we talked about last week, the space in-between knowing nothing and knowing everything.
Sometimes we become experts in our field and feel like we know enough.
So, be forever seeking out new opportunities for learning in fields you don’t know as much about, read different things – maybe from different fields.
I run lots of courses around a wide variety of subjects that I’m curious about – from developing skills such as our voices and our listening skills to innovative methods and practices that can help to engage audiences. This keeps me curious and enthusiastic about my work.
Subscribe to a new blog, read some new articles or watch video clips outside of your specialist subject area and interests. This will inevitably inspire new thoughts and ideas.
Maybe you always talk about certain themes on your tour – Or focus on a certain historical figure? Could you introduce any new themes or ideas into your programmes? Could you look at a historical figure from a different perspective.
By looking at the themes and stories that you tell, you can start to see if you can make any adjustments so that you are not always talking about the same subjects and people.
Stretching yourself to find new information or do new research could be the boost your curiosity needs!

BE INTERACTIVE

One of the easiest ways to ensure you stay curious is to make sure that you never give the same programme twice. Y
ou can do this by encouraging and promoting interaction from your participants in your programmes. Finding yourself in the same place at the same time saying the same thing kills off all curiosity about your subject.
Learn new techniques and tools to help you create enjoyable and inspiring discussions on your programmes. Ask open-ended questions or use thinking routines to jump-start discussions and make everyone feel part of the discovery process.
Encourage everyone to speak by treating everyone’s comments fairly and paraphrasing for others to hear. Make your guests so curious that they ask YOU questions about what THEY want to know (for more information on this see last week’s episode)
Using discussion-based techniques you will never find yourself in the same place, at the same time saying the same thing again. And who wants to actually do that anyway?

COLLABORATE

As educators, we’re often working alone or in parallel with other educators and our paths rarely cross. So, get together with other educators and create opportunities for sharing ideas; shadow someone else’s guided tour or create a working group of a few educators to workshop new ideas together. Join a community like my membership and surround yourself with like-minded people who can inspire your curiosity and wonder about your practice further.

Don’t label certain artworks or objects as ‘boring’ – I’ve certainly thought this in the past. I’ve seen certain objects and quickly thought ‘that won’t work’ in my head. But labelling something as boring or, to frame it better, ‘non-engaging’ stops curiosity in its tracks. You are closing down possibilities. What about if you challenged yourself to look at that artwork or object again and find a ‘hook’ or a way that will engage an audience. Look at it again from all angles, spend time with it, let questions bubble up, do some research and return to it. Don’t leave it alone until you have found an engaging way to interact with it.

STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

It’s natural to want to stay within your comfort zone and the familiar but changing things up can help us to welcome new perspectives and to not get stuck in a rut.
So, re-evaluate continuously – think about what you do and why you do it. If you always do the same route on a tour, think about how you could change it. I once did a tour backwards because I wanted to change things up and see how it would work.
It was definitely a step out of my comfort zone but made me really aware of new possibilities and it gave me lots of ideas too. If you always work with the same artworks and objects, think about changing it up a little.
Try something new or a new way of approaching something that is so familiar. Try a different activity or use different questions.
Change your timings – think about how long you spend with each artwork – does it have to be 5 minutes at every stop? What if you were to spend 3, 10 or 15 minutes somewhere? What if you slowed down the pace and then sped it up again? What’s the worst that could happen?
Try it out, experiment, watch your group closely and make notes. Refine it if need be and experiment again. Getting out of your comfort zone will really help you to rediscover the purpose of your work again.

KEEP AN OPEN MIND

Having an open mind is really important if you want to stay curious. Be open to learn, unlearn, and relearn.
You may need to unlearn some practices, change up what you do and learn new ways of working. Be open to new possibilities. Keep an open attitude to new and familiar things, ideas, people etc.
Try a new sport or hobby, take courses in subjects that are unfamiliar. Take on new challenges. Stay open and curious.

NOTICE EVERYTHING

Cultivate the art of noticing and paying attention as you go about your daily life.
We can cultivate our curiosity by improving our ability to look and to notice. When we’re tuned in to noticing all the details around us, it’s easier to be curious.
Paying attention makes you eager. So, Look at everything around you, floor, trees, houses, people, things. See the beauty in everyday and keep looking!

QUICK TIPS FOR STAYING CURIOUS FROM THE TWITTERVERSE

  • Jess Vance suggests keeping a notebook handy to jot down ideas. She also recommends listening carefully to the nudges and suggestions from those she admires
  • Michelle Harrell recommends doing Morning Pages (from Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way). Morning pages are a stream-of-consciousness journaling habit done first thing every morning on a daily basis. Michelle also has a ‘later list’ in her bulletjournal to note ideas. She says ‘Capturing my wondering mind without going down rabbit holes- balances my curiosity with a need to focus and keeps a sense of wonder in daily life.
  • Becky Carlzon suggests assuming you’re wrong is a great way to stay curious. So, for example with tricky discussions around sensitive subjects instead of judging other people’s notions, ideas and beliefs trying to wonder ‘what makes you think that? What’s the value, belief and feeling behind that? What’s your story?’ Having curiosity in this way builds connections.
  • Margarida Sampayo suggests looking at things with a beginners mindset. Having a Beginner’s Mind can help you stay open to learning even if you are an expert. Beginner’s mindset is the practice of setting aside your preconceived ideas, opinions, and beliefs to look at something as if you are a beginner. This also implies that you approach something you think you have adequate knowledge about as if you were just starting out. I’d love to come back to this in a future episode.
So some great ideas there for how we can stay curious. Think about which ones of these you could implement in your practice. Let me know how you get on.

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