John-Paul Flintoff




On being curious

In 2016, while the UK Brexit referendum was going on, I did an interview with Mandy Lehto. I mean, she did an interview with me.

At the time, I think I felt a bit shy about sharing it because it felt like saying, “listen to me-me-me”.

I heard it again yesterday (Dec 2020) and I thought it was a good summary of lots of things I care about, so I’m posting it here, with massive thanks to Mandy for inviting me.


The Name I Left Out

I wish I had mentioned the name of the magazine editor who was such an influence: Michael Watts.
(Done it now – ta-da!)
Here is a picture of us both, reunited after a few years:


If you have looked around at this website much, you may know that I got myself admitted to psychiatric hospital at the start of 2018 – ie, about 18 months after this interview with Mandy.

I was in a really bad way.

This fact seems to cast a bit of a shadow over the end of the interview, in which I talk breezily about asking for help. But hey, I’m only human.

Perhaps Mandy will ask me back on to MoxieCast to discuss this…? Or maybe I should do a podcast of my own, and invite Mandy.

Just thinking out loud, here.


TRANSCRIPT

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (00:09):
[inaudible] hello? Hello and welcome.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (00:10):
We have a really interesting topic today. We’re talking about curiosity and I think being curious is an antidote to the fear that shuts us down. So if we simply created a new habit of being insanely curious, we’d be likely to be less judgmental of ourselves and other people we’d spend way less time worrying about what other people think about us or negatively rehearsing those scenarios over and over again, we’d have more fun because fear makes less choices for us. And we would trust ourselves that we’ve got the skills and the knowhow to handle whatever life throws our way. So today I’m in conversation with curiosity Ninja John Paul Flintoff, who is a writer, performer, coach journalist and improviser. And we talk about how curiosity and some improvisation skills can actually help us to have more fun, be braver, lean into our edge and to feel more alive.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (01:02):
If that sounds like something you need, join us. I’m Mandy lotto, and this is Moxie cast. So today on Moxie cast, I have John Paul Flintoff and he is a writer performer, and coach he’s been a journalist for 15 years, including writing for the financial times. And the Sunday times, he also teaches life-changing courses at the school of life. And even more interestingly, he’s been a bin man and executive PA a high wire window cleaner, a rat catcher tailor taxi driver, and assistant undertaker amongst other things. So that makes him the most curious and creative person. I know maybe with the exception of my eight year old daughter. So welcome John Paul, have I left anything out of that introduction? It

John-Paul Flintoff (01:50):
Sounds pretty comprehensive to me.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (01:53):
Excellent. I’m so happy to have you on Moxy cast today. And I wanted to talk about curiosity as a self-development tool and it’s such a helpful and easy concept that is so often overlooked. So thank you for being here. Thank you for asking me. So tell me about curiosity and curiosity. Have you been lifelong friends?

John-Paul Flintoff (02:14):
Oh, it’s it’s I suspect the simple answer is yes, but why w why have a simple answer because that’s a bit boring. So let’s be curious about the answer. The answer is almost certainly I had all of the childhood curiosity. I think it probably was substantially squished out of me. Um, when I got carried away by, you know, the whole trying to be right as a teenager and anxiety about exams and all of the things that, that do squish curiosity. Um, but I was happy to rediscover it when I did rediscover it. Not quite sure when that was, but I think it’s always been a thing for me. Yes. It probably what I’m saying is it’s, it got a bit diminished at times when I was anxious about not looking stupid as a teenager,

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (03:01):
And it seems you’ve recovered from that anxiety and angst from teenage hood. And that’s what I wanted to talk about today was thinking about curiosity as a form of bravery, because it helps us to narrow that gap between who we are on the inside, which could be playful, fun, a bit cheeky you quirky and who we think we need to be on the outside.

John-Paul Flintoff (03:26):
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s, it’s, you’re you’re right. I hadn’t really thought about it that way. Um, for me, curiosity is the thing that calls me forward and I want to do the thing, whatever it is cause it’s exciting. So, I mean, I’m even right now thinking, gosh, if I, if I find myself being curious and then my self-consciousness says, Oh, you’re trying to look brave, then, then that might hold me back. But I can’t allow that. I am curious. And I think probably one of the reasons why I’m curious is I probably have a very strong sense that, you know, life is fleeting and we only get one short and I want to try loads of things. I really just like trying things. And I, I, um, someone gave me the w what could sound like a backhanded compliment recently, but I think it was sincere. She said, um, what I love about you is you’re quite willing to put things out there when they’re not all that good.

John-Paul Flintoff (04:21):
And I thought, okay, I see what you mean. But the thing is that if, if we are constantly trying to make everything perfect, then, then we will obviously take a long time to put in the out there if we ever do. And I suppose, yeah, you mentioned that I’ve been a journalist and I think one of the great things about journalism, which is not a form of writing that I wanted to go into in the first place, I wanted to be a poet and like perfect poetry, but you don’t make any money that way. So I thought, what else can I do that will, what will pay me as a writer? And I went into journalism and I had that slight disdain for journalism. I thought, well, this is just rubbish that no one’s going to want to read the following day. But then I went into it and I found it really exciting.

John-Paul Flintoff (05:03):
And I think that fostered the opportunity for me to be very curious. And I realized that journalism can be wonderful and you come into most stories. I did, I, this doesn’t apply to all journalists, but I went into most stories necessarily with beginner’s mind, because I would be writing about a subject that I didn’t know before. And it’s important to explain that I was a feature writer on a magazine on, from different magazines at different times. So I didn’t have to write the same beat all the time. I had trained as a journalist on a trade magazine writing about the legal profession. And I got really bored after, well, I mean, it was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. And then suddenly like, Oh no, I’ve done all this. I don’t want to do this anymore. So I wanted to be a generalist. I wanted write magazine stories about anything that just appealed to me.

John-Paul Flintoff (05:49):
And I was so lucky to be able to do that. And it meant that every, um, I had an amazing editor for very short period. Actually, he didn’t, he didn’t stay with me for very long, but he could see when I was curious about a thing. And sometimes I say, Hey, wouldn’t it be amazing to do this? And he, I could see, he didn’t think it would be. And I’d say no, but wait, it’ll, it’ll, I’m sure it will. And the great thing about him was that he trusted me and he let me go off and do it. And sometimes it didn’t work out so brilliant, but sometimes it did. And one of the things I learned was I really loved to take a subject that seems incredibly boring and make it interesting or take, uh, a topic that seems too explicitly exciting and make it thought provoking.

John-Paul Flintoff (06:37):
I love that. I thought that was amazing. And so I think it probably dates. I, Jeff, I have now identified, I think when I rediscovered the opportunity that is presented by curiosity, and this, this was when I did some of those things that you’ve mentioned when I was writing as a magazine writer, I became absolutely carried away by the idea of being like the new journalists of the 1970s, the American new journalism movement. And George Kenton was a real model for me. And he was immerse himself in the world. And, and it’s just not the same to go and ask a practitioner what it’s like, I’ve done that. And you can get a lot of really interesting stuff, but when you do the thing yourself, well, then you really understand. And I copied Plimpton really. I mean, I caught in the ring with books. I copied him that explicitly. And I also did some of those other things that you’ve mentioned. And I thought this is amazing. I can learn about the world in so many different ways with just the excuse that I’m a journalist and I’m writing a story.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (07:44):
It also sounds to me like you have something that called result apathy, where it’s actually that you’re, you’re not fixated on having to have an outcome turn out a certain way that you’re simply curious about the process and simply present to whatever it is that you’re engaged with rather than thinking on it has to turn out

John-Paul Flintoff (08:06):
That’s. So that’s such an interesting conversation for me because I haven’t thought about these things. Some of the things that I’ve just said, or the one that I’m about to say, which is you’re right. And one of the reasons why I’ve realized now that I said, I, sometimes we can very disillusioned with journalism is because I had a very strong sense. And sometimes it was true. And sometimes it was just the thing in my head, but I had a sense that the editors had a particular story in mind. If I felt that an editor had a really strong outcome in mind, it felt like I was, I was trapped. I was sort of dead. I couldn’t bear it. And there was one occasion when I was sent to interview someone, I won’t go into great detail, but he’d been released from prison for, for a terrible thing.

John-Paul Flintoff (08:52):
And I had a strong sense that the editor just wanted to be to sort of will journalists recall it, turn him over, you know, just give him a bad time and write a horrible thing. I just didn’t want to do that. I spent three hours with this guy, a very well-known person. And he was in tears for at least an hour. And I just felt really moved by the experience of being with a human being wrestling with this very difficult thing. And I wanted to write a more compassionate piece. And when I sense that that wasn’t acceptable, I sort of thought, well, that’s it. I don’t want to be a pianist anymore. It was, it was that extreme. And I think that what you said about me not being wedded to the outcomes is so important about going into writing. If you know what you’re going to write, don’t bother writing it, you do something else.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (09:36):
And I think this is a great metaphor for life as well. Even for those of us who aren’t writers and what I wanted to also take you in the direction of talking about improv, because I know that you’ve spent a lot of time doing improv, which I think for a lot of people is their idea of health simply because there’s no script. We can’t pre-prepare, we have to be in the moment we need to trust. And I think secretly, this is something that all of us really, really want to do more of, and the ability to pick up some of these skills that you’ve learned in improviser, which is really about being radically present and really paying attention and listening with every fiber of your being. It’s not just listening to what someone is saying, but reading their body language. Tell us a little bit about you and improv and how you perceive that as curiosity in action. Is that, is that right? Yeah.

John-Paul Flintoff (10:32):
Yeah. Oh, you’ve done a brilliant description of important, you know, I should, I should lift it and put it on all of the things that I ever tell anyone about it is that, and I stumbled into it by accident. I think I avoided performance as a discipline for a long time. Cause my dad is an actor and it’s not going to be good to be more or less successful. So I just didn’t do it. I was a writer. So I then was writing this book, which I wrote and had the cheek to call has changed the world. And I wanted to know what it’s like to be a person who can make change happen very instantly. And I was looking for the change that that’s inside us because the change that we affect outside us is always kind of co uh, it happens at the same time as the change inside.

John-Paul Flintoff (11:20):
So I wondered who are these people who can make themselves capable of change in an instant. And I read a lot of furry, boring books about acting. I don’t recommend any of them. And then I read a very interesting book about improvisation by Keith Johnston. And I thought this was like finding religion for me. I just thought this is so good. And I read the book six times in two years, and I mourned that he was dead because I would’ve loved to have interviewed him. And then I discovered that he wasn’t dead. He’d just moved to Canada to worry about that.

John-Paul Flintoff (11:49):
So then I realized that I could in fact meet him and, and he doing training. I felt I would do a story like, you know, like learning to be a rat catcher or an undertakers assistant, I could write about the experience. And then it would be, you know, an excuse for going to hang out with him and do some training. In fact, I never wrote a magazine story, but I did go and do lots of training with keys over a period of a few years, and I’ve done other input training. And I just thought, when I’m doing it, I’m so completely alive. And I can’t for people who don’t know what that means, that sounds like mystical gobbledygook, but I just, you know, do it, try it. And it’s wow. You’re not planning. You’re totally honestly there. Now when it works, I mean, sometimes of course we can go into our heads and get anxious and then not be very good. I found that I, I’m not particularly troubled with that. And I, and what I want to say very clearly is that’s not because I’m brilliant, but because I’ve been with people who’ve made it possible because there’s so much, do you use that word trust? There’s so much about trusting the other people to look after you. So I’ll look after you on stage and you look after me. And I just know that you’ll look after me, so I don’t have to worry about being any good cause, cause you will do that.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (13:07):
So if we lift some of what you’ve learned about being curious, more curious about being less afraid of failure, about being more present, about listening deeply, what, what could we use from your experience in our real lives? Because I think all of us want to be all of those things, more curious, radically present, better listeners, less afraid of failure.

John-Paul Flintoff (13:35):
What can we do with that? Um, one of the, one of the things is to, uh, just to be present and aware of the fact that there are going to be voices in your head creating anxiety and just notice them and don’t worry about them. Don’t, don’t take them too seriously. Don’t pretend, try to squish them cause they they’re going to be there anyway. Notice that you’re feeling awkward. Maybe sometimes that, that for me, it can be the great thing. The great moments of liberation is just to name the thing that’s going on. So if I’m feeling awkward, just say, I feel really awkward and then I’m off, I’m free. Yeah. Rather than pretending it’s not. So, and so that’s a really important part of it. It’s actually about not denying and being curious about one’s own experience. So if, if, if it feels terrible, say that, yeah,

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (14:27):
It’s actually neurologic or neuroscience backing for that. Did you know that? Please tell me you name it to tame it. So when we actually named the thing that we’re feeling, it actually helps us to stay in our prefrontal cortex brain as opposed to when we deny it and when we suppress it and when it washes over us, then what it does is it actually triggers the reptilian brain, which then has three choices. It has three basic choices to toggle between fight, flee or freeze. None of which are particularly helpful when we’re trying to network or try to be, you know, try to give a presentation or, or when we’re creating anything. So it,

John-Paul Flintoff (15:11):
Well, that’s, I’m so glad to hear that because it’s nice to have a kind of scientific thing that justifies what I was doing anyway. Um, but I remember Keith telling us once when we were all quite new in the training and the approach, uh, when you’re struggling on stage, just tell the audience with a cheerful smile, wow. This isn’t going to do too well or something and asked them for some help. And or you can say, well, Oh, a bit awkward or something and ask for help, ask for help. And I think that’s the other thing that happens when we honest acknowledge what’s really going on inside ourselves, we are fundamentally asking for help. And it doesn’t mean that we have to say it to another human being we’ve already asked for help just by writing it down in our journal or by naming it to ourselves because we’re handing it over in some way. We’re saying, look, I’m not alone quite up to this. Um, but I, but I’ve recognized it. And so then a certain type of freedom just comes as I kind of an inevitable and wonderful result from that in my experience. And, and yet at the same time, you know, awkwardness feels horrible. So it’s, it’s, it’s not like a magic solution that says named the awkwardness and then you will feel like a million dollars named the organism. You’ll still feel a little awkward, but it will go probably quite quick.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (16:33):
And also we’re not fixating on it and making it worse than it is. Yes. So, um, I’m thinking how we could apply this for people in the working world. So if they name it to tame it and if would,

John-Paul Flintoff (16:49):
I’ll give you an example. So a couple of, um, not, not long ago, and I’ve done this a few times recently, cause when I’m doing little workshops using impro, um, I tend to get into a kind of a thing where I try the same experiment in different workshops to see how, how it varies. But one really beautiful example of this was at a workshop recently that was very work-related. Um, everyone wanted to kind of take out and you know, how am I going to apply this in the office kind of thing. And yeah, great. That’s wonderful if they want those. Um, and at the end, after doing lots of games and exercises that allow us to be delightfully conscious of things that we might otherwise not notice that we do, I role played some things that happened in real life. And one of the role-plays was, uh, a young woman who has a very, um, not listening, alpha male boss.

John-Paul Flintoff (17:45):
And she often has to give him advice about what the company their department should do. And he doesn’t listen and he doesn’t take her advice. And she gets obviously very frustrated by that. So we role played it. I said, let’s just see what it looks like and you know, tell. So I gave her the capacity to direct the other personal stage with her. So a man played her boss and she played herself. As you said, he would be like this. And he would stand, you know, sort of his groin sticking out forward that totally like owns his base and all of that. And I’m going okay, that’s right. So he could do that. And he did that to her direction and she’s standing next to him saying things like, I really think we need to do the thing because we were giving him all this advice that she obviously does.

John-Paul Flintoff (18:27):
And he’s saying, I know, I know. And so she’s coming out with more and more reasons for why she should do it and trying to justify intellectually what needs to be done, but he’s still not listening. He’s not listening. He’s not listening, he’s not listening. And um, I said to her in that moment, how do you feel? And she said, well, I think we need to do it when she came out with analysis and more intellect, more propositions, I said, yeah, but how do you feel should watch was really frustrated. And I said, Oh, and I said to the audience, cause there was a large group of people watching this. I said, how did you think she felt? And they said, yeah. And I could see, she felt frustrated. And I said, so you mean, and just for clarity, I said to the audience, so you mean, you didn’t know that she was frustrated and they went, Oh yeah, no, you could see that.

John-Paul Flintoff (19:08):
And I said, did you know that you look frustrated? And she said, no, I didn’t. I didn’t know that. Um, and I said, so what happens if you just say to the man, I feel frustrated. Let’s just see what happens then. So we did the whole role-play again, she tried lots of things. He still in this. And then she said, I feel really frustrated. And immediately inevitably his body language changed. He said, what do you mean why? I said, well, I feel that whenever I suggested to the you’re not, you’re not really, I’m not, I’m not adding any value here. And he said, what do you mean? And she said, well, I tried all these things and you don’t hear them. He said, Oh, okay. And the moment she named her all this experience in the moment it disarmed him and it had this wonderful effect.

John-Paul Flintoff (19:50):
And so I came back to her and I said that you, you didn’t say that you’re frustrated. Why not? She’s like, I can’t say that. I can’t say that. Like, this is some awful shameful, shameful thing to, to acknowledge. And I said, but you’ve just heard that the whole audience knew that you were frustrated as if she thought that it was hidden behind some amazing, brilliant sheen of professionalism and clever ideas, but it wasn’t, there was absolutely an enough, so there’s something really deep about denial going on in here as well. And so I think that one of the skills that we can all learn is just to be better at naming what’s going on in the moment. Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (20:31):
And that’s, that’s also being curious, isn’t it. If, if, if you’re going down a particular route and it’s not working, we, we can sense that our bodies give us clues all the time that something’s not working. So it’s about, well, this is obviously not working, so let’s be curious what else we could try. Let’s try something

John-Paul Flintoff (20:48):
Different. And even there, I I’m learning and I I’m getting the impression which may be wrong, that this is a very male thing. But even there I’m learning that it’s a very it’s it’s, it can be, it can be a mistake even to think what’s the Watson alternative. Just, just slow down, just go. What does this feel? Like? Just say, I don’t know. It just feels terrible. And just sit with that for a bit, because what I have tended to do the part like, Oh, I’m not fixing it. I’ve got to fix it in a new way, a new way. Maybe I can’t maybe just putting my hands up and saying I’m defeated. And then someone else can say, how can I help? And rather than always thinking struggle harder, struggle, harder, struggle hard, just stop, struggling and pause and just go, Oh, I need some help.

John-Paul Flintoff (21:34):
And, and, you know, coming back again, because you did ask, and I know that you were interested in input. One of the things that Pete said when you’re on stage, you know, this is only improvisation performances, turn to the audience and ask for help. What an audience really loves is if a member of their own group is invited onto the stage to help out, it’s beautiful to watch. And I mentioned this because it was a metaphor for how we are in life. Generally, it is beautiful to watch when a performer invite someone onto the stage and treats them with courtesy and kindness because that person you’ve invited onto the stage is kind of the whole audience. So the whole audience wants to see that you look after them. So we invite them onto the stage. You say, look, I’m really struggling here. Can you help with this thing?

John-Paul Flintoff (22:14):
And then the person comes on and they seem to have, of course, all the capacities and the powers that any of the so-called sort of expert performance and the audience watches that and go on that. It was nice and everyone likes it to watch a performer struggle and then ask for help and then have the help. And then the person who helped is given a huge warm round of applause and goes back to this seat. Never feels good. So, so for me, that’s a beautiful metaphor for the fact that I am allowed to ask people for help. Because again, I think it’s a man thing we don’t like to ask for help. I can’t ask for help.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (22:49):
How can, how, what would you say? I was just trying to think how we can make this easier. Particularly if we think about the corporate world and we think, Oh, well, we have these stories that we tell ourselves, and there’s this judgment that we might have that especially of ourselves, that we’re not professional. We’re not knowing what we’re doing. If we ask for help, if we throw up our hands and say, this feels awkward, how can, what would you say to help to make that easier, particularly for bloke?

John-Paul Flintoff (23:16):
Is that something that I think that the simple saleable answer to your question is kind of actually the people who look the strongest are the ones who don’t look like they need to do everything on their own. Really. You really don’t, you will look stronger if you know how to ask someone for something and there’s this, there’s this kind of anger and anxiety around the idea of asking for help, because it can sound when I say it like that as if it’s, it’s got to be done in an awfully needy sort of whiny sort of maybe even crying kind of what it doesn’t. It can be just, you know what, I’m a little bit short of time or, uh, I don’t think I really understand what you want me to do. Can you explain it again or any number of ways in which we can ask for help in a perfectly strong, empowered way?

John-Paul Flintoff (24:04):
So asking for help, doesn’t have to be weak. Clearly it can be very strong. Um, if you’re, if you’re an artist who does things with, you know, there’s some artists who goes from city to city asking people to take their clothes off and photograph sort of a thousand people in Trafalgar square, you do need to ask people for help to do that. If you’re the artist, you can’t just make it happen any other way, except by asking. And then people will look at the pigeons. They go, wow, gosh, heaven. And you know, that’s just one metaphor for a million ways in which an amazing person does an amazing thing only because they asked for help. And that’s, that’s a model that can apply in the corporate world too. We don’t have to instruct and demand.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (24:47):
Yeah. And this goes back to the judgment piece that I, I wanted to bring up as well, that when we stay curious and when we stay radically present and listen deeply, we can change our relationship with judgment being judgemental of ourselves and other people. And I think this goes back to this. If I trace this back, it goes back to this voice that we have in our head when we live in that victim mentality or when our ego is driving us hard and we need, we need to be some way we need to be somebody we were should, we’re all over ourselves. I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be doing that. And we’re not actually at our best from when we’re in this place. And we can be really, really judgmental of other people. And I just wanted to refer a moment on how we can overcome that tendency to become judgmental of others by learning is almost like a daily practice to implement curiosity when that trigger of feeling all judgmental. And blamey when that comes up. Can you speak to that for a minute?

John-Paul Flintoff (25:56):
Yes. And, and do you want me to sort of keep a focus on the corporate kind of idea, is that in the back of this as well, is that useful?

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (26:03):
I want this to be useful for people when you know, how, how they could apply this in their real lives.

John-Paul Flintoff (26:07):
Okay. So, so the very top line on it is I try to make a practice of remembering that if I’m being judgmental, that people it’s almost guaranteed, that the thing that I’m not liking in them is what I’m doing right. That minute myself, not just in theory, I can be like that song, but actually right in that moment, I’m doing exactly that thing. So that person is presenting me with a brilliant opportunity to look in the mirror. And it’s really hard to do that in the moment because of course we’re running around having all stories and feeling negative and miserable and blaming because we’re vulnerable. We don’t want to see that in ourselves. So it’s hard. It’s going to be hard, but if you can make it a practice, then try to get faster at noticing that there’s an opportunity here to recognize something you’re doing yourself.

John-Paul Flintoff (26:56):
That’s, that’s one thought to give a little story, which applies to this, to the workplace. Um, problem that comes up again. And again, that I hear with the people that I work with is around the idea of communication and about, um, how we all want to look good at work. So here’s a story, a kind of story that happens a bit like this all the time and every kind of office you can imagine. Someone says to someone else that we need to do to dah, dah, dah, dah thing, and the person hears that doesn’t know what the thing is. So they say, yeah, sure, okay. Don’t want to look stupid. So you say yes. And then the boss figure says, what do you sort that out? What do you do that? You know, can you take over that? And so that the person who reports to that boss figure says, yeah, sure, no problem goes away, but looks up on Google, feeling sick, feeling, judgemental, feeling a lot of blame and hating the boss for asking you to do something really difficult, looks on Google.

John-Paul Flintoff (27:56):
Can’t find anything about the [inaudible] thing. Um, so sort of puts it away for a while, carries on doing the work that they know better. It doesn’t do anything about it. A couple of days later, they positive find the corridor or Hey, how you doing? Yeah. Great. Yeah. And then a bit of guilt triggers in feeling that I haven’t done anything. The boss doesn’t know there’s a problem going on at the name. And, um, but the other person is thinking aligned on that. Things are feeling with guilty. Next time they pass in the corridor, there’s no eye contact. Um, maybe they, maybe they start avoiding each other, but the bus still doing things going on. So then the boss sends an email and says, how are you getting on with it to the other thing? And the email comes back. Yeah. Great. Really good. Thanks. Don’t want to look stupid.

John-Paul Flintoff (28:39):
Don’t want to look bad, especially now that all weeks come past. So then another, another week goes past and by now the employee is thinking kind of, I’ve got to find another job because I’m going to be sick because I haven’t done this thing. And just because we didn’t dare to say, you know what, I I’m, I’m curious, what is this thing? What is this? Dah, dah, dah, can you tell me a bit more about it and have you want me to do it? And so actually taking that curiosity back to the person who’s made, the request of us might actually flush them out. They might say, you know what? I don’t even know what that is, but our clients asked for one. Um, and then he say, Oh, would you find out what it is that they want? And then I’ll, I’m sure I’ll have a good at it.

John-Paul Flintoff (29:20):
But if we don’t name our own, um, our own uncertainty, our own lack of awareness or a not knowing what the thing is, our own anxiety, any of that in some way, then the problem will, the problem will continue. And then we get to the situation that’s so much worse because we haven’t named earlier. And we just looked like an idiot. Like, what did he say that two weeks ago? I didn’t want to look stupid. Well, how stupid do you feel now? Um, so, so really being open to being able to say, Hmm, I’m not sure I understand. That’s all it doesn’t have to be, Oh God, I’m so stupid. I did a degree in this, but I didn’t even know what that thing is. Or, you know, I was at Harvard, did my MBA and we never covered that. And you don’t have to be an expert on everything. And one of the things that makes us much better is to be able to say, I don’t know everything, because I think when we start out in the workplace, we think we have to know everything. And of course, nobody knows everything.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (30:18):
Yeah. But the thing is, we’re so much more hard on ourselves. We, we don’t actually expect other people to know everything, but yet we have this impossible standard that we set for ourselves. And when we live in this place, fear makes so many choices for us.

John-Paul Flintoff (30:35):
Yes, it does. And it keeps us small and it isolates us and it, it makes us work so hard to try to make ourselves look good, which is when we step into that kind of bubble of anxiety about, am I looking good yet? Am I, I sort of go in and call it the bubble of poor me. If you can catch yourself when you’re in the bubble of poor me, then, then probably the bubble will pop just by catching yourself and going back to the idea of impro two people on stage together, they don’t know where they’re going. There’s no script. The only way they can work together successfully is by taking whatever the other person gives them being set. We’re building a structure as you’re going along, rather than like in, I don’t know if you’ve seen the Wallace and Gromit film where Gromit has to build their train track as his train moves forward onto it.

John-Paul Flintoff (31:27):
Does that ring any bell? So that’s what we’re doing and input. We don’t know where the train is going, but we keep on putting bits of track down and the train goes on to that and then put some more track down and the train goes into that. So that’s what you’re doing. And the only way you can do that is by doing it with each other and try to make each other look good and have a good time. And if you’re, if you’re constantly trying to give your partner the time, that’s more than just clickable to the stage and improvisation.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (31:52):
Absolutely. Now I liked the idea just as, as a close, what would you say about cultivating curiosity as a daily practice? Because I think it’s a bit like a muscle, don’t you think? Definitely. What would you, what would you throw out there for people to try?

John-Paul Flintoff (32:09):
The most important thing is to have a kind of, uh, because of what we’ve already talked about, I think is to have a constant check-in with yourself about what your emotional experiences or without any kind of attachment to an intellectual story about why that should be. So, and, and so I would say that one exercise, I might give you another one in a second, but one exercise would be to, I think you print off on the internet, great long lists of all the different emotions that we can experience. So if you take sort of, for example, anger, there’s ballistic rage and there’s grumpiness, and there’s a whole load of other things in between. So, so becoming a connoisseur of your own emotional experience would be one. And once we become better at that, then we can become also more curious about what might be the cause or what might be a solution.

John-Paul Flintoff (32:55):
So that’s one thing that we can do for curiosity. Another thing that I, I would share just because someone mentioned it to me yesterday, and it’s quite interesting right now at this moment, when in the UK, we’re in the middle of a referendum and everyone seems to be so fixed on their own point of view. Um, a friend told me that he did an experiment where he spent a month absolutely immersing himself in the newspapers that were not his point of view. And talking to people who didn’t share his points of view and not as we all normally do, allowing ourselves to preach to the converted and to be the converted who others preach to really challenge yourself by just listening to the other point of view for a month, what would that be like?

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (33:41):
Wow. Yeah, it just took me a minute to actually digest that, but that can be very, very powerful and something that we can apply in so many situations where there’s potential conflict or when someone has a different type of idea, because straight away when it’s the temptation is straightaway, we go into a place where we try to convert somebody to our point of view, whether it’s arguing for budget at work or whether it’s getting feedback on a piece of writing or something that we’ve painted it’s we immediately want to defend our position. And then we go down that rabbit hole of getting judgmental or shutting down, and then fear starts to hijack the conversation. Whereas if we’re constantly noticing and being a connoisseur of our own experience, which I love that saying, we can just check in and say, what’s going on here? Why am I attempted to shut down when you know, what is, what is my experience in this moment?

John-Paul Flintoff (34:40):
It’s so nice to see that. And so nice also to feel that moment when we don’t think we need to be right.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (34:49):
Yeah. We don’t need to be right. How do you actually remember to do this? Because as I said, this is like a muscle and none of this is rocket science. It’s not difficult, but we just need to remember to do it.

John-Paul Flintoff (35:03):
I suppose, that things that can help include, um, journaling. So I am a trained coach now and I talked to people about journaling and I realized that a lot of my, um, benefit from having been a journalist is that it’s a form of journaling. I’m constantly having to write down what I think about the things that I’ve seen in the people I’ve talked to. And so that’s been a blessing. I don’t think every journalist experiences it that way, but I would say that Jen Lynn can be a great habit. Absolutely.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (35:34):
And for people who think, ah, that’s not going to be for me, takes too much time. Do you have like a mini on the go version?

John-Paul Flintoff (35:43):
Yes. Do the mini on the go version, whatever that means for you. So write down on a scrap of paper for five minutes. I mean, just doesn’t have to be a beautiful book with ribbons on it. Journalism. I think another, you know, I, I’m embarrassed to say that. I used to think that’s what it was. If you’re journaling, you have to have a book with sort of glitter on it. And so it wasn’t for me, but actually I can write it on a piece of paper, write it down and go, yeah, no, that is what I think of course. And then throw it away or burn it or fetishize it and put it in a book with clutter on it. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s the writing process that matters. Not that art finished artifact.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (36:23):
What about putting a prompt? Even if you put something into your calendar that at a certain point of the day, that might be twice a day, that you might get a little ding at 11 o’clock when you’re about to go and get up and have your cup of tea and stretch. And that might be an opportunity to check in and just think, what, what am I experiencing? What’s going on for me too?

John-Paul Flintoff (36:43):
I think that’s a really good idea. I gather that there may even be apps that do this automatically. So your, your phones sort of pings every hour or something. It says, what’s your emotion. Now you’re being really annoyed by my phone or whatever it is. But yes, I do recommend making it a habit by putting it into some sort of a diarized structure. But then I like the fact that I, I, after a while, got sick of having it kind of being too rigid and I, and I make it much more fluid and I do it whenever I feel like it. But that’s, I think because I’ve owned a habit. Yeah.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (37:16):
And I think that’s the thing that any, any habit that we can piggyback onto an existing habit, you know, could be getting up to go to the loo at whatever time in the morning or getting the cup of tea, that this is something that’s already ingrained. And therefore you can piggyback on an, a preexisting habit like brushing teeth or something that you do a few times a day, just as a quick,

John-Paul Flintoff (37:36):
My current version is, um, is to write it down on a visa baby, put the piece of paper in my pocket for a while and every sort of open it up and have a look at it and go, yeah. Interesting. Still or not interesting. So I do another one. And so, um, I’m remembering, I think it was on something like Monty Python and some sketch about worrying about having dirty underpants in case you get run over. If I get run over, someone’s going to go through my pockets and go through what he’s been thinking. Thank you so much.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (38:03):
I really love jamming on curiosity because as I was saying before, we started recording, it’s really a fantastic self-development tool. You can think about it that way, that it helps us to be true to ourselves. We can be so much less judgmental of other people. We can spend less time negatively rehearsing and worrying, you know, especially what other people think about us and just feel more comfortable participating in all sorts of shenanigans and adventures that are, that are outside of our comfort zone.

John-Paul Flintoff (38:34):
That there should be a t-shirt saying participating in adventures. Yeah.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (38:39):
Yeah. And also living from a place of curiosity, I think it’s really powerful. And I’m going to try a lot of these tips that you suggested because fear makes less choices for you when you’re curious, do we don’t get shut down that reptilian brain doesn’t get triggered when we just keep inviting ourselves to be curious in any given situation. And like with the [inaudible] is trusting ourselves that we have the skills and the creativity to handle whatever comes at us. And if we get to the end of our knowing or the end of our trust at that moment, to be able to say, I need help asking for help on this in a non needy way. How brilliant is that? Thank you so much for that.

John-Paul Flintoff (39:22):
You’re totally welcome. Thank you. Thank you for listing those things from me by asking you brilliant questions and having me do this.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (39:30):
And on one final note, since you mentioned the word brilliance, could you please tell us what your brand new book is about?

John-Paul Flintoff (39:36):
My brand new book is a novel called What if the queen should die? It’s not this queen, it’s queen Anne. And it’s about what happens when, when the sort of the boss goes, because it’s all set in the last few hours of her life. Is she going to be succeeded by this one or this one, there are two possible successes and it’s kind of a metaphor for how on earth do we handle the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen? And I actually improvised a lot of the books. Authors normally sit alone in a room on a keyboard. Um, but I got lots of my performer friends to help me workshop some of the scenes. And it was really fascinating. So I included in the book a large amount about the process rather than just here’s the finished product. This is how the book was produced. And I got a message from someone yesterday saying that they, that they particularly liked the last bit, which was all about the process. So that’s good too.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (40:29):
Actually, we can actually see behind the wizard’s curtain a little bit, how you’ve put it together and how you live from this place of impro and curiosity. Yes. Thank you so much for being here. How can people find out more about you?

John-Paul Flintoff (40:43):
Well, one way would be to have a look at my website. There’s lots of films and bits and bobs here and there, and the website is www flintoff.org.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (40:52):
Fantastic. And that will be in the show notes. Thank you very much. Thank you so much for being here. Any parting, pearls of wisdom…?

John-Paul Flintoff (41:00):
Keep listening to Mandy, because she really knows what she’s talking about.

Mandy Lehto, MoxieCast (41:05):
I do love having you on the show. Thank you so much for being here. You’re welcome. Thanks so much for listening to today’s episode. If you found anything really useful and interesting, I’d be really grateful if you could head over to iTunes and give it a rating. And also who do you know, who really benefit from this episode? Be someone’s day maker and forward them the link. Thanks again for stopping by this is Mandy Lehto signing off from Oxy cast. [inaudible].


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Posted: December 11, 2020

Keywords: guest, curiosity, mandy lehto




John-Paul Flintoff headshot, with Yours Truly written across it John-Paul Flintoff is author of six books, in 16 languages, including How To Change The World and A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech. He worked for 15 years as writer and associate editor on the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and other papers and magazines.


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