All of our lives we are exposed to new things. Both objects and ideas. Situations and obstacles. Failures, disappointments and successes. What we learn from all of our days is highly variable. Most times it’s simply enough to say “I get that” and move on.
But what I found over time, was that when I thought I knew something I found out I didn’t. Proven to me many times with failure after confidently taking a step forward. Understanding something is very different than being exposed to it. Much like hearing what was said but never understanding its value and nuance.
What gives us a clue that we are beginning to understand? When we begin to find the next questions.
Listening to a podcast this morning, the interviewer asked the guest what was their secret to losing 60 lbs? He said it was simple. Eliminate all of the sugar in your diet and eat steamed vegetables as your carbs. So now you have two choices once hearing this. You could say OK, that sounds reasonable, and go on with your life. OR you can ask, why eliminate sugar? Why did he focus on sugar?
I know little about financial investments. So in a recent deep dive into mutual funds, I discovered that some of these funds also are offered as an ETF. (It’s not important for this discussion to explain the differences.) My reading and research could have stopped at trying to learn about mutual funds. But my travels went far enough where, later in the night, I now have questions as to what is the difference between them and when should you use each type of investment fund.
Once you understand that learning never ends and that there is always more nuance to a topic than what first appears, finding the next questions is an important skill needed to build up your knowledge in a substantive way. It’s the only way we can nurture a deeper understanding of whatever we encounter.
Questions never appear at first glance. They always come a bit later in your journey of learning. When you have no questions, most likely, you have only scratched the surface of what you have read or heard. In this case, your understanding is quite narrow, small and superficial. Thinking you know when you really don’t, is one of the most dangerous mistakes we can make. For it grossly misleads us causing us to begin again once realized. Especially when we act on the little knowledge we have.
Another example of shallow understanding is the way we use and cling to other’s opinions. They never lend themselves to further inquiry unless we challenge them with doubt. This rarely happens when talking to friends. Why? Because we trust our friends. Again, if in conversation where advice or something new is shared and no questions are asked, you can assume that there is more for you to learn before using what you heard to influence your next decision.
Describing this skill to find the next questions is easy. In one word, it’s curiosity. Making it a foundational component for personal change and growth. Questions should lead to more questions as our understanding deepens. Once we embrace this, regardless of our age or circumstance, is where the value of curiosity begins to grow exponentially (to our benefit) through the many days of our lives.