Pursue What Matters
Episode 215: Curiosity is Your Secret Weapon
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
How can curiosity help you be a better leader? Well join me today to learn how the best leaders are observant, humble, gentle and self aware. In a word. They’re curious.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:15
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So I hope you are joining me for the curiosity series this summer, we’re gonna have a lot of fun with understanding this really important concept. So curiosity is the foundation for growth. It’s the foundation for playful living, for better leadership. And today, that’s what we’re going to be focusing on and really talk about how curiosity is your secret weapon, as a leader. And so every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. First is clarity, which is all about purpose. Second is curiosity, which is everything we’re talking about today. And third is leading and building that community. Now, of course, Curiosity is really the foundation for effective leadership. And so let’s jump right in and learn more about curiosity and how this creates a balanced approach to self leadership.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:40
So one of the things that we’ve been talking about is how curiosity really paves the way for greater self awareness, which helps us to have greater self leadership. And you know, as I’m fond of saying, you can’t lead others effectively unless you’ve first found a way to lead yourself effectively. So self awareness and self leadership are really very important. So with this podcast today, we’ll first focus on how curiosity helps you harness the power of presence, we’ll also learn the difference between emotions and feelings. Have you ever wondered if they’re the same thing, they are different. And third, we’ll talk about the characteristics of curiosity. So one of the things that often happens is when we’re facing uncertainty, when we’re dealing with challenges, and we’ve got some significant stressors, you know, we tend to move towards simplification. Now, there’s some value in this, but our hardwiring towards simplification in the face of challenges, can all can be kind of difficult. This is why the power of presence can be such a game changer. And so you can think of this in terms of presence, you can think of this in terms of mindfulness. But the idea is that this sense of presence is really essential for helping you to slow down in the moment.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:12
So literally slowing down your thoughts, slowing down your reactions, your behaviors, your breathing. And that’s really key, so that you can clarify the situation at hand, rather than reacting impulsively out of fear, or stress. And so as we talk more about curiosity, today, today, I hope you will see the value of presence and why it’s so essential to leading Wow. And so you know, when we, when we’re looking at leadership, there’s always uncertainty. And so this ability to slow yourself down, can help you to make wiser decisions. And as a leader, you must be the calm in the storm, you’re the one, you’re the captain, right? Like you’re the one that the team members are looking for. And so curiosity in a very real way, helps you to overcome this primitive, hard wiring for extreme reactions in the face of uncertainty and stress. So curiosity allows you to harness the power of presence so that you can respond mindfully rather than reacting impulsively. And that’s a big deal. That’s a very important skill. So the power of curiosity. When we think about the power of curiosity, we want to think about that in terms of your emotional, cognitive and physical experience.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:38
So a simpler way of thinking about this is to ask yourself these questions, what’s going on in my head? Or what am I thinking? Second, what’s going on in my heart? Or how am I feeling? And third, what’s going on in my body? Or what am I sensing? So these questions really cultivate ate curiosity. And I want you to start, you know, maybe considering your experiences in these three domains starting to ask these types of questions over time, really will help you to cultivate the kind of curiosity that we’re talking about that can really be a game changer in terms of self awareness. So, now that I’ve simplified curiosity, I’m going to add just a little bit of nuance, but I hope it will be helpful for you, I want to take a moment and distinguish between feelings and emotions. So I will often use these two terms interchangeably. And most people do if you, you know, if you hear people talk about feelings, or emotions, I kind of use those terms interchangeably, because they are very closely related, but they’re not exactly the same thing. And so emotions can be thought of as the objective experience in the brain and the body, emotions can be measured in the brain, did you know that it’s pretty cool. We’ve got we’ve got pretty sophisticated brain monitoring these days, and assessment.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:10
So we can see that emotions can be measured in the brain. And this is the cool thing, the resulting impact can then be measured in the body. So for instance, fear can be measured in the amygdala region of the brain, and then you can measure an elevated heart rate in the body. And so that fear response lights up in the brain. And we see the impact in the body. And emotions are universal across humans, right? So we think about the vagus nerve, it is a lightning fast response. It is our stress response, right? There’s there’s a little more nuance to that. But it just is lightning quick. And so emotions are universal across humans, right? We all we all have a regardless of what you think of your neighbor, or your colleague. So emotions were developed to help us make quick responses to our environment, they were designed to keep us safe, to keep us secure to keep us in connection with others. And so you can think about fear, helping you to make a quick response to a bear on a trail. And motions evolved universally to help us survive as humans, and they can be measured objectively.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:28
So now let’s turn our attention to feelings. So where emotions can be thought of as the objective experience in the brain and the body, feelings can be thought of as the subjective experience of emotions in the brain and the body. Okay, so the emotions, think about those they happen in the body, their objective thing, we can measure them, we can track them. But feelings are are so are the subjective experience of our emotions in the brain and body. Feelings can be highly individualized, based on our thoughts, or cognitions. Cognition is just a fancy word for thoughts, or the stories we tell ourselves about a given situation. So feelings can also lead to a cascade of symptoms in both the brain and the body. These reactions are in response to the thoughts or the stories in our head. And again, they’re highly individualized to the person rather than universal across humans. And so, you know, feelings are mental associations, and reactions to emotions. They’re heavily influenced by past experiences, beliefs, and memories. If you have a belief that you are incompetent, that you’re a failure, that you never get anything, right, well, then when someone comes to you with a problem, you may be flooded with a feeling of fear, resulting in a cascade of symptoms that include hyper arousal, and increase in a stress hormone cortisol, and the body believing it is threatened, like it would be by a bear on a mountain trail. And of course, over time, this heightened level of stress takes a huge toll both on the body and the soul. And so feelings are the subjective interpretation of emotions that are experienced in the brain and the body. And those feelings are the mental associations and reactions to emotions, that can be highly individualized and they’re heavily influenced by our past experiences.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:37
And so let’s just think about the startle response. The startle response is something that has evolved to really help us to be highly attuned to danger. Well, if you were a child that was often frightened, maybe you had a scary parent or you know someone that was intimidating, your startle response odds would be on hyper arousal. And if you’re not careful, right, so the association with let’s say a male adult, is one of fear. Now, not all now adults are fearful, right. But if you have that individualized experience, as an adult, you can have a startle response that’s on hyper alert. And so you know, even if you know, the air conditioning, turns on, you could startle. And so you can’t, your body can be flooded with this fear and this stress response, even though you’re not in danger, there’s no objective experience of fear, there is a highly subjective feeling of fear. And this is mostly based on our past experiences, our past associations. And so I do think it’s helpful just to think about the body based emotions, and the brain based feelings, the feelings really are in response to our thoughts, and beliefs about a situation, they are highly subjective. Whereas emotions are more objective. These are things that are universal to humans, and we can measure them. So another thing that can help this comes to us from Dr. Sarah McKay, she says that emotions play out in the theater of the body, right, we experience emotions in the body, whereas feelings play out in the theater of the mind. And I think that’s such a helpful way to think about this. And, you know, curiosity, again, is the act of turning towards your cognitive, emotional and physical experience, with the intent of understanding so that you can respond in order to most effectively meet your needs. And so I love this understanding of the difference between emotions and feelings. And it becomes really important, as we become curious about our experience, because we can ask ourselves, what are the thoughts that I’m having? And where is this distress coming from? And is it coming from these feelings that are playing out in the theater of our mind, right? Like, we’re mind reading, we’re making assumptions, we’re saying, how did they look at me, so we can create a lot of distress in the theater of theater of our mind, and that this is different from what’s happening in our body. And so again, very often, our distressful feelings are in response to distressful beliefs, rather than our actual emotions, which, as you might imagine, can really lead us on a wild goose chase, because we start responding to the stories in our head, rather than the reality on the ground. And so when we think about curiosity, it is gentle, it’s very quiet.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:49
So the heart and the body speak in stillness. And so you must learn to quiet yourself, to listen to, to what you’re receiving from your body over the racquet of your head. So that’s really where we think about mindfulness and presence. It’s important to remember that Curiosity has no judgment, no labels, no shoulds, no expectations, so it’s quite gentle. The other thing to keep in mind about curiosity is that it is simple. Curiosity is direct. And it is present focused. It really asks what is right action in this moment, sometimes in response is simply to note what is happening. So you are the observer, you’re observing what’s happening. Sometimes the best response is compassion. To to be able to say, boy, this is a challenging situation. Sometimes the most effective response is tolerance, or the reminder that this too shall pass. When we get caught in the theater of our mind with distressful feelings, it’s very easy to have a bias toward action that we need to do something in response to these troubling feelings. And most often, those reactions are not well thought out. They’re not in response to the situation on the ground. They are in response to our storytelling about the situation. So curiosity, it’s gentle, it’s simple. The other thing about curiosity is that it accepts reality. And so when you react to experiences impulsively on the extremes of the continuum, with either internalizing or externalizing behavior, you really are resisting reality and in essence, you are saying, I cannot tolerate reality. And so we just want to remember that resisting reality leads to suffering. And so there’s a little equation right like pain times resistance equals suffering. It is it is one of those equations that is so true. When you resist reality. You add suffering to your pain. And, and yet, when we think about reality, we face challenges, we don’t have total control over those. And so you know, when reality is here at your door, you can resist it, you can fight it, you can throw a tantrum, you can make yourself and everyone around you miserable in the process, or you can make peace with it. So you learn to accept what is. The last thing that I want to share today is that the idea that curiosity helps to cultivate self awareness. It the key is to learn to get curious about yourself to ask those key questions about what’s happening, emotionally, what’s happening in your body.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:44
So what are your thoughts and that this self awareness becomes the foundation for self leadership. And as we move forward, we’ll talk more about consistent practices that help you to cultivate curiosity about your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions. And so this self awareness, if honed effectively, really becomes a solid ground for leading others well, and so today, as a review, we talked about how curiosity is your secret weapon, and it really is a balanced approach to self leadership. We talked about the power of curiosity and the difference between emotions and feelings. And then we talked about four, four characteristics of curiosity to help you to develop that self awareness. So curiosity is gentle, it’s simple, it accepts reality, and it helps us to cultivate self awareness. And so I hope that this has been helpful for you, I hope that you will take some time and reflect, maybe consider some of those questions that I shared with you today.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:50
And in the meantime, you can head over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/215-yoursecretweapon. Again, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/215-yoursecretweapon. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. And if you have a minute I’d love for you to review the podcast on Apple or Spotify. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai