“One of the most overlooked keys to happiness is exercising our innate sense of curiosity. That’s because curiosity creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences, laying the groundwork for greater opportunities to experience discovery, joy and delight.” – Dr. Todd Kashdan
Curiosity is what you are doing right now. Your attention is open to absorb the next stimuli – ideas on the screen. Many forces will come together to decide if your attention remains open, or it closes up and you move on to the next thing you need to do on your computer. It is a kind of delicate battle between opening and closing forces with enormous impact on our well-being.
We were born completely open to the world, in a state of pure curiosity. This is because we started in a literally safe heaven. We then gradually came to realise the many threats to our
survival and our open curious mind started to build its thick filter of protection. Our attention becomes very selective. From a big yes, we slowly move to a big no. We will repeat this process later on in life, whenever we start with great hopes, and later get disappointed – a new job, a new relationship, a new country and more.
Each disappointment will boost our assumptions about the future. These assumptions are the enemy of curiosity. We are mostly unaware that this is a defence mechanism aimed at protecting us. We convince ourselves that we know!
Well, this is exactly where the challenge of curiosity lies: how to keep wondering, asking and exploring, even when the filter of attention is totally contaminated with our assumptions about the world and about ourselves. The instinct to desire certainty is so compelling. We have lost the ability to ask, “What does it mean?”
How does the curious mind operate?
Curiosity is all about this movement from the known to the unknown, from certainty to uncertainty, from “!” to “?”. This is how we learn and grow. The curious mind will show interest in expanding knowledge, will try to understand, will seek novelty and will suspend judgement or disbelief in order to seek more information. When stuck in a conflict or a problem, the curious mind will negotiate, explore possibilities, and apply various perspectives such as humour and more.
How come this is not that simple?
Our survival instincts will guide us to avoid the unknown. We need it in small portions. We don’t trust easily. Exploring behaviour and a sense of security are strongly related. So if you notice that curiosity has been diminished, you better look for the fears. It is very obvious to see that on young children, where we all started. A secure child is a curious and exploring child.
Curiosity in relationship
When it comes to your intimate relationship curiosity becomes a crucial matter: it can make or break one’s marriage. Past experiences will shape the filter through which partners interpret messages. Instead of asking, “What do you mean”, the mind goes to knowing mode where it feels more certain. A reactive mind is always the non-curious mind. It is the mind that focuses on survival rather than exploring. It is the mind that knows exactly what your partner wants or means. You can’t argue with this mind and there is no point. The curious mind will simply ask and inquire more with the simple and profound question: “What do you mean?”.
What are you curious about?
The basic curiosity would naturally be about the surroundings and the world. Then we get curious about people. But how often do we get curious about our own mind?! I believe that to explore and question, the very engine through which we create and interpret life, is a
noble form of curiosity. It is very daring to wonder if the ground we are standing on is sound and true. It is to question our core beliefs about ourselves and to ask who we really are. Just a body? Spirit? Consciousness?
Notice how the habituated brain makes you stick to the known, so make a habit of novelty seeking. From time to time, try to do one new thing in your activities, whether it is cooking, shopping, music, an outing, travel or sex.
The next time a situation provokes in you a strong emotional reaction, try to follow the questions “What is this” and “What does it mean”. Being aware and non-reactive is how we maintain an open curious mind.
Practice the traveller’s mind and look at the surrounding through the fresh eyes of a first-time visitor. This is why I love showing visitors from overseas around the city.
Share your life events with others. Those who are less emotionally involved can provide you with a refreshed perspective on issues. Invite their feedback. If you are too defensive they may not want to hurt you and less likely to share openly.