Curiosity is a trait we are all born with, it is natural. Humans are gifted with their intelligence and predestined to question their reality and explore the world they live in.
As babies, we tend to put everything in our mouth to test its taste or texture. That is how we study our environment in our earliest days. A few years later, like toddlers, we bother our parents, relatives, teachers, babysitters with endless questions on how, what and why the world functions the way it does. In our teenage years, we are riddled by more abstract topics – meaning of life, layers of our own identity, the spectrum of human sexuality and so on.
Curiosity and Growing Up
As we grow older, we ask less and less questions, and we tend to accept most ludicrous facts and answers just because they are served to us by some authority. Our curiosity slowly fades away. (1)
This seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Curiosity is crucial for our growth and development as individuals and as a society. In order to grow intellectually, spiritually, morally and socially we need to ask questions and seek answers. Why do we neglect this component when we should be nurturing it?
There is a particular opinion that curiosity is somehow dangerous. We’ve all heard the saying “curiosity killed the cat.“ Also, people who ask a lot of questions are usually unwanted. They are labeled as boring or even suspicious. Many people teach their children it is impolite to ask so much. (2) However, we are in control of our behavior which means we can decide which curious intentions to pursue or not.
“On the bright side, understanding that curiosity has a dark side could help you modify your behavior and curb potentially self-destructive pursuits driven by the innate urge to close the curiosity gap. … you can make better decisions if you stop and consider whether your decision making is being driven by curiosity. And, if closing the curiosity gap will have positive or negative outcomes.”
– Christopher Bergland
If we don’t question things, we abandon curiosity – we don’t have to think, work on problems, improve ourselves or make any effort. We can relax, nice and cosy in our comfort zone. We won’t be very smart, happy or entertained, but we won’t cause any disagreements, rattle anyone's cage, make any sparks, and everything will be alright.
Does this sound acceptable to you? How I hear it, it sounds scary. If we lose our primary tool for growth and improvement, what are we left with?
Why is Curiosity So Important and How to Spark It Up?
It is easy to see that curiosity is a good characteristic, but why is it so important for our self-development?
For starters, it helps us be more open-minded – towards new ideas, knowledge, experiences, interests, hobbies, adventures and most importantly to other people. Questioning everything makes us more tolerant and more accepting. It makes us more self-aware.
It develops the way we think; it makes us better in handling difficult tasks and problematic situations. It helps us come up with new solutions and ideas. It lets us think outside the box and become more creative. Curiosity is good for both our cognitive and emotional functioning.
Developing this approach to the world or better said, getting back to it – takes a little effort. However, there are some guidelines on how to do it, but it takes endless practice. Here are a few tricks to help you become more inquisitive and return to your true nature:
1. Question your Curiosity
What does the horse think about while he is galloping? How did people solve crime cases before modern technology? Is the story about Isaac Newton and the apple only a myth? Can we improve prosthetic limbs? Why is there still no universal cure for cancer?
There are so many questions that still need to be answered. There are so many things we still don’t know. The more we know, more questions should arise. Any theory is good only if it can be called into question and tested.
You shouldn’t take anything for granted, what society or school teaches us is not always correct, or at least it is not the only correct answer. If you start living in the present, you’ll notice there are many things to be asked and researched. Pay attention to them. The more questions you ask you’ll create more mysteries in your head, and you’ll have the urge to solve them. That’s how curiosity is sparked up. (3)
2. Embrace the Diversity
Be open-minded. Don’t stick with the same old patterns of behavior and thinking. Try something different. Routine is comfortable while change can be scary. The more curious you are, the less problem you’ll have with change.
Would it hurt to read a sci-fi book once in a while even if you prefer hyperrealism? What would happen if you wouldn’t order the chicken nuggets every time in the restaurant but try spicy Indian dish?
You could like it or not; it can become your new favorite thing or not. You’ll learn from experience anyhow. You’ll become more interested in other things you never thought about. You’ll explore the world a little bit more. There are so many things for you to try out and starting with just a few of them will help you develop curiosity and engage this behavior more.
3. Boredom is Your Enemy
Are you often bored? If you are, you are not doing something right. There is no boredom; there are only free time and opportunity for exploration. You can always find something interesting to do, even when you are waiting in line to pay your bills.
Saying you are bored is like admitting you’ve lost your curiosity completely. While you are waiting you can do at least five things – read a magazine, search for interesting facts on Google, contemplate about life, strike up a conversation with a stranger or call your grandmother to ask about her health.
If some topic is boring to you, you are not looking at it from the right angle. Maybe your boredom is telling you something. Maybe you don’t agree with what you are hearing; maybe you have a different perspective, perhaps you realize there are more important things in life. However, you should explore your feeling and be curious about anything. (4)
4. See the Fun in Learning
Expect things to be fun. If you try to see the fun side in everything it is more likely you’ll find one. This will help you develop a positive mindset that is more open to new ideas.
Learning doesn’t always mean sitting with the textbook and reading for hours. You can learn from experience and your curious investigations. It is an opportunity for developing your inquisitiveness even further. If you learn new stuff, you’ll be interested to hear more about those topics or similar ones, or you’ll realize those topics are not your area of interest and you’ll know to search in some other places.
5. Unleash your Enthusiasm
Start seeing challenges in tasks or make them into contests with yourself, your friends or colleagues. See the fun and joy in the work you do, make it relevant. That way you’ll be motivated to work more and seek answers more.
If you want to develop curiosity about the particular topic, watch how someone who is highly interested and enthusiastic about that field talks about it. Other people’s enthusiasm or love for something can easily interest us and make us more curious about the same thing. Also if we approach things with more enthusiasm, more inquisitive we'll be, because of the positive emotions it will set off. (5)
6. Avoid Biases and Stereotypes
This step is very similar to the first one and probably the most important. In order to be curious, you must keep an open mind. Being biased decreases curiosity by separating things and often people in categories. Biases and stereotypes tell us we already know everything about some phenomena or group of individuals.
If we already know everything we have no need to learn things for ourselves. This way we are losing many opportunities for challenges and exploration. Looking at the world through categories stops us from seeing the whole spectrum our life is offering.
Always Come Back to Curiosity
These guidelines will help you find your way back to your natural curiosity. You will benefit from them because being curious, seeking answers and exploring new things is the path to improvement and living your life to the fullest.