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Five Ways to Become More Curious

Curiosity is a quality that can be strengthened. Want to know how?

Last week I learned the proper form for a deadlift. I also learned a new chord on the ukulele, how Ebola is transmitted, what it’s like to adapt a screenplay from a book, and exactly how to shape puff pastry into a gross, intestine-like shape. I had a conversation about how some forms of vigorous exercise can sometimes offset the symptoms of Parkinson’s and another about the location of the Arabian Sea—all because I was curious. Instead of letting these things pass by in casual conversation or my daughter's homework handout, or a phrase I read in the book, I wanted to know more. So, I asked questions, did research, tried new things and in the process I learned.

I am naturally curious like this, but this is also a quality I work to strengthen, because it's good for me. Curiosity helps us learn, remember, grow and engage in the world. It’s also fun because out of inquiry comes passion. Curiosity helps us discover what we like and it adds meaning to our lives. It also improves performance.

In one study out of the University of Edinburgh, researchers found that those of average intelligence who are curious and conscientious do just as well in school as those thought to have greater intelligence.

Fear Can Quell Curiosity

Sometimes, though, fear overrides our desire to know. I am curious to know what it would be like to survive alone in the wilderness, but I’m fearful that I would spend much of my time hungry, crying and cold. In this case, my fear will keep my curiosity at bay.

When I wrote my first book, though, I was also afraid. Afraid I couldn’t do, fearful of rejection, disappointment.

But the strongest sense I had while proposing and writing that book was wonder. And that ultimately trumped my fear. I wondered whether I could write a book. I wondered what it would be like to see it on the shelf. I was curious to see what it would be like to write 65,000 words and how I would feel and how I would organize my days. I had so many questions about the experience that the questions themselves kept me going. I needed the answers.

That’s how it works. Curiosity provides intrinsic motivation. Moves us forward. Helps us explore, act, accomplish and it creates a structure for us to participate in life.

Curiosity can be the link between feeling stuck and moving into your greatest life.

Five Ways to Become More Curious

1. Find what fascinates you. You may have to go looking. You may discover a bunch of baloney that does not interest you at all, but the exploration process will yield some surprises and those are always good for revving up curiosity.

2. Do things you don’t know how to do. When I signed up for a Beginning Ukulele class I was nervous. I didn’t have a clue how to play this little instrument. But, I thought it would be interesting to find out if I could. Try something different, something you don’t know how to do. Study a new language, pick up an instrument, try a new recipe or pick up the Sunday crossword and challenge yourself with what you don’t know.

3. Ask questions. We tend to associate questions with childlike behavior and as we grow we act more like the expert than the student. Be the student. Ask the questions. When you learn something new, express an opinion, converse with others, ask why. Why do you like Asian food? What is it about green that turns you on? Why do you do the job you do? Explore your experience through the questions, then seek out the answers and reflect on what you learn. Self-reflection—a processing of the information you discover—is essential to self-understanding and often prompts curiosity.

4. Go to people, not Google. I love Google, but the most dynamic learning occurs when we interact with others. They inspire us. They trigger thoughts and actions that inspire our curiosity. Curiosity is a dynamic process of questioning and creating and investigating. It is inspired when we come up against others who are also exploring the world; others who have knowledge to share acquired from their own inquiry. Hang out with these explorers, ask questions of them, listen and watch and learn.

5. Don’t allow boredom to become you. When we go to a restaurant, I always sit with my back against the wall so I can people watch. I am fascinated by what prompts people to do what they do. I watch their table manners and expressions and become curious. Even in this most mundane environment—lobby of a doctor’s office, seat of a bus, bank teller line—there is always something to read or look at or ponder. Challenge yourself to do that. Curiosity is about inquiry and exploration. Actively choose to act curious rather than succumb to boredom and you will learn more and become more curious.

Curiosity isn’t limited only to the exposure of external things either. Our internal landscapes are fascinating. Next time you are prone to boredom, shift perspective by asking questions: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What do I love? Why?