If you have spent any time around a 3 year-old, you know that they are question generating machines. Humans across cultures naturally develop the ability and the desire to know about the world around them. Formalized education, aka school does a pretty good job taking this ability away from most of us, or at least marginalizing it. What happens when you use it? What happens when you don’t use it? How can you develop you natural curiosity?
What happens when you are curious:
Learning is driven by the desire to know. It’s as if curiosity is a thirst an learning is a tall drink of water. When you allow your natural curiosity enter into a situation, you will learn exponentially faster. When you lead your responses to a situation with questions, you will learn and make fewer errors (especially the kind that are difficult to correct).
When we enter a situation, for example an interaction with a friend, lover or spouse things go better when we are curious. When you first meet someone, you begin by finding out information about that person. If he/she is someone who interests you, you tend to have long conversations or interactions with him/her to find out more about how he/she thinks or reacts in a situation. In fact, it is this initial curiosity that fuels most romantic relationships.
When we engage in our hobbies or take classes in something we care about, we enter those experiences with questions. We have decided that we want to know more about that thing. We have questions. We talk about that thing, read about it and make friends with people who share that interest. Curiosity is the fuel for those relationships and those activities. In the best situations, it helps us expand our circle of friends, our employment opportunities and our expertise.
What happens when you AREN’T curious:
Humans tend to overestimate what they know a subject and underestimate the problems they don’t know about. Folks who aren’t curious tend to make assumptions about the world around them to explain what is going on. Folks who don’t practice curiosity in situations tend to offer false reasons for things that are happening. They don’t understand why they are not getting jobs or failing in their relationships. They are quick to find reasons outside of themselves (blaming) without knowing what is really happening. They also attribute their good fortune to “luck” and therefore don’t understand what is causing that good fortune or what might cause it to end.
For example, if a friend does something you don’t like and you assume why he/she has done that thing, you might end up saying or doing things that will hurt that relationship. Oftentimes, this is expressed as our need to be “right.” Being right might sooth your hurt for awhile, but it will keep you from understanding what is happening. Asking that person questions will allow you to understand and communicate your care for him/her. Also, if that person actually is a big jerk, you will definitely know that because you actually asked why they did something.
In learning situations when you aren’t curious, you don’t question what you are being told, you don’t apply it to yourself and it fails to make an impact on you. Think about required classes you have had to take that didn’t interest you. You remember so much less because you didn’t plug the skills or information you were were supposed to be learning. Failure to be curious can cost you relationships, learning and employment opportunities.
How do you practice being curious:
While we all enter the world as bundles of curiosity, we don’t all remain that way. Staying curious is a habit that one can cultivate. Below are some specific things you can do to keep a curious mind:
- Make a list of questions that you would like to know the answers to. They can be simple or complex, but create a list of them and review the list once a day. If you drink a morning coffee, like I do, try and review your daily questions over that first cup of coffee.
- When you are faced with a complicated problem, make a list of questions you have that are specifically about that problem. Set about answering them. Try not to assume what you know. If you need to, write down what you think you know about the problem and then make sure to say how you know that to be true.
- If you have a person or a situation that just irritates you, question the situation as if you were not a person in the situation. In other words, imagine that you were looking at things from the outside. What questions would you have if you were a stranger?
- Expose yourself to new experiences. Try new restaurants or recipes. Learn a language or a musical instrument. Learn to dance or how to program a computer. This makes your mind flex because you are placing it in situations where you cannot assume what you know.
- Have conversations with people with whom you aren’t likely to agree. They will challenge you to consider not only their positions, but the value of your own.
- Read books on subjects that you don’t know about. The author didn’t know about it when he/she came into the world either and learned about it. The book is an expression of what he/she has learned.
Your curiosity is what makes you knowledgeable and interesting to others. It helps you learn faster and have better relationships with those around you, but your innate curiosity needs to be grown, nurtured and sometimes challenged.