Want to make your life a little more interesting? Get curious. Curiosity is an inner drive to know or understand. It motivates us to seek out the answers to previously unanswered questions and find solutions for unsolved problems. Studies show that because naturally curious people enjoy the search for knowledge, they can sustain their interest and focus for prolonged periods. In fact, curiosity is the personality trait consistently found to characterize the most successful entrepreneurs, scientists, and inventors.
The psychological benefits of curiosity are well established. Research shows that naturally curious people experience greater life satisfaction and even more satisfying relationships. There are even studies showing that greater curiosity is associated with longevity in old age.
SO, how does curiosity increase the chance of a more meaningful, enjoyable and satisfying life? According to psychologist and author Todd Kashdan, “ Curiosity serves as a gateway to what we value and cherish most.” It creates possibilities and opportunities for personal growth by motivating us to explore our world and discover. As a result of our discoveries, we gain knowledge, new skills and competencies. Kashdan points out that curious people actively seek meaning in life. Rather than be restricted by social norms, they seek careers that give them opportunities to be authentic, independent, and creative. They approach others who are different with a desire to understand them rather than resort to stereotypes. They remain curious in long-standing relationships, asking friends and partners questions, instead of making assumptions.
Research shows some people are naturally higher in curiosity in others. But the good news, you can cultivate it with practice.
An important part of curiosity is the willingness to tolerate uncertainty. As Kashdan explains, the need for certainty narrows possibilities. It limits exploration and discovery. Although many of us crave certainty and pursue it as a path to happiness, research shows that pleasure is actually enhanced and prolonged by uncertainty.
Cultivating curiosity involves letting go of the idea “I know this already.” It’s about attending to an experience as if we’ve never had it before. Without assumptions and judgments. In meditation, we call this Beginner’s Mind. Beginner’s mind helps to increase our awareness of aspects of familiar experiences that we’ve become checked out to over time.
Curiosity is greatest in the face of novelty—new experiences and situations. But sometimes life events give us the opportunity to develop new awareness of the familiar. For example, after an injury you might not be able to just jump out of a chair or roll out of bed without effort and awareness. Because of the injury, you’re suddenly hyper aware of the mechanics of standing up or rolling over. That’s the quality of awareness we want to practice with to cultivate curiosity.
Here are some ways to develop curiosity of the familiar with Beginner’s Mind
1. Take one aspect of your daily routine that you do on autopilot or with little awareness, e.g, brushing your teeth, making coffee, or washing dishes. As you do it, slow it down. Attend to each aspect of the process as if you’ve never done it before. What do you notice?
2. Walk a familiar route in your neighborhood and actively look for 3 new things you haven’t noticed before.
3. Observe the palm of your hand and look for patterns in the lines and creases.
So, try cultivating curiosity and you may find your life is a little more interesting and enjoyable.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.