“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
– Walt Disney
I am a naturally curious person. Apparently one of my favorite words when I was a child was ‘why?’ Whether I used that question at the time as a basis for genuine inquiry or as a way to challenge my authority figures, I’m not sure, but I have always wanted to know more about what I see happening around me on this extraordinary blue-green spaceship we call home.
What does it mean to be genuinely curious? Why is curiosity important and what qualities are needed to support our curiosity? According to Google – the incredible e-curiosity engine – there are getting on for a billion pages on ‘curiosity’. I don’t quite have time for all of those, so here are some things I have learnt along the way and of course am still curious about.
We start life full of curiosity. Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in life. We learn to walk, talk, paint, draw, solve puzzles, play, make friends, make people laugh. As humans our natural curiosity has lead us to discover how to light fires, make tools, communicate, invent things to measure time, navigate, cure illnesses. It has lead us to find ways to travel the World, create beautiful art and music, build great civilizations, put a man on the moon, and may even one day lead us to discover why the Microsoft spellchecker keeps reverting to ‘US English’.
However as we get older, we start to get taught that curiosity can get us into trouble – it’s not a good idea to pick up a boiling saucepan. If curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it certainly got it’s own back if our childlike curiosity led us to experiment with trying to hold it by it’s tail!
We also learn either through painful experience or parental guidance that some things are ‘no go zones’ for our curiosity. In order to gain approval we learn, for example, that is ok to be curious about some parts of our body but not others, or to ask questions about some people/subjects but not others. Limits are placed on our curiosity.
I studied psychology and remember being taught about how as human beings we have a ‘confirmation bias’, which means that we naturally seek out evidence to support what we already believe. If I think the government is incompetent I will tend to look for examples that ‘prove’ this to be the case rather than notice or acknowledge examples of where it is doing a rather good job. Over time we create our own ‘map’ of the World, to help us navigate the World, make choices and be able to have something to argue about at dinner parties. Without curiosity our opinions harden, we more readily adopt ‘positions’, and ‘them and us’ attitudes emerge together with greater potential for conflict.
Essentially our Ego starts to run the show and our curiosity gives way to the need to be ‘right’ and convince ourselves (and others) that our ‘map’ of the World is somehow ‘the truth’. We have forgotten that ‘the map is not the territory’.
Steps to nurture your curiosity
- Check in with yourself. Before I coach I ask myself the following 5 questions.
These questions are extremely important forcoaches to ask themselves, but are relevant to anyone wanting a fuller experience of life
- Am I fully present?
- Am I open and curious?
- Am I honouring the differences of others?
- Am I open to other ways of looking at things?
- Am I open to not knowing?
- Have an open mind. Openness to finding out the truth of something without having to ‘prove’ or satisfy our Ego’s need to be right. Be really interested – just because. As one of my teachers once said “its better to have questions you can’t answer than answers you can’t question”.
- Have courage. Our Ego likes to keep us within the boundaries of the familiar – to keep us ‘safe’. Also what we discover along the way may not always be easy. So we need a certain amount of courage to set sail on the voyage of discovery. Real curiosity takes openness to being ‘wrong’ and a letting go of what we thought we knew. We need to learn how to unlearn, to have a mature playfulness, being willing to explore and experiment. As a coach I support people by walking alongside them as they make new discoveries about themselves and explore the art of the possible.
- Willingness to experience. Knowing something in your mind is ‘borrowed knowledge’; you don’t really ‘know’ something until you live it. It’s easier to read a book on relating than to have a satisfying relationship! The Ego likes to think it knows – this can be a barrier to new experience, learning and discovery.
- Have questions you care about. What can you get excited about? What would you really like to find out? If you could have an interview with God (insert your version) what would you ask him/her?
- Hold your questions lightly. If it becomes about trying to prove something or you turn it into ‘I HAVE to know…’ you will tense up and we need to feel relaxed to be really open and curious. Trying to figure something out is a barrier to curiosity.
As we develop our curiosity our perspective widens, our defenses soften, and everything around us takes on a freshness, aliveness and new-found beauty. I feel so grateful for my curiosity. It has helped me pursue such a rich and rewarding personal journey of discovery, that hasn’t always been easy, but I know will continue to the day I die.
Life has provided us with an incredible high fidelity classroom. The question is – are you enrolled?
To find out more about how my curiosity could help you benefit from yours, visit www.RRLifecoaching.com
Finally, two of my favorite quotes about keeping an open mind:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” – T. S. Eliot
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke