Be more curious.
Understanding the importance of curiosity, and exploring strategies to help build this underrated muscle.
Wonder and curiosity are what drives our growth. As children, we would learn by asking questions and seeking new experiences; never limited by the thought of what’s impossible. However, with more knowledge and experiences that we collect with age, our fire for curiosity extinguishes.
There are several reasons for this shift from childhood to adulthood; some of it is biological, but there are other factors that contribute too. Some people don’t recognize their growing lack of curiosity, others don’t understand the value of curiosity, and many simply do not want to leave their realm of comfort to explore their curiosity.
Fortunately, there are ways we can be intentional about this skill and integrate it into our lives in a meaningful way. So let’s be a bit curious, and explore more about this foundational mindset.
What curiosity really means
To understand the importance of curiosity, we need to first know what it specifically is. The Merriam-Webster definition is as follows:
Curiosity (n): the desire to know: interest leading to inquiry
What are some of the takeaways of this definition? For one, curiosity is something intrinsic and self-motivated. It is described as a “desire” and “interest”; in other words, only you can control your own curiosity. Another takeaway is that there are two layers to curiosity: knowledge and inquiry.
For our purposes, we can say the following:
Curiosity is our self-driven pursuit to learn, think, and grow.
Acting on our curiosity by asking questions
One way we embody curiosity is by asking questions and inquiring. Children are very good at this skill, but adults fall far behind. As writer Ralph B. Smith observed, children ask roughly 125 questions each day, while adults ask only 6 on average.
Seeking the answer to a question can expand your knowledge and challenge you to think. Children have less knowledge, so their regular onslaught of questions is how they learn and grow. Adults on the other hand, tend to already have an inventory of knowledge; for these situations, there are other types of questions that expand how we think, while also enriching our knowledge.
Acting on our curiosity by seeking experiences
New experiences are another way in which we can learn, think, and grow. However, this area is yet again another where adults lag behind children. For children, many experiences every day are new, whereas adults tend to fall into a routine of normalcy.
New experiences show us new possibilities, but after completion, an experience is no longer new; as we age, the rate of new experiences that we organically face decreases significantly. This is where routines take over, and our comfort and complacency limit us to seek new experiences once again.
The importance of curiosity
We are all curious by nature, but having a specific focus on it has a profound impact on different aspects of our lives. As I like to put it:
Curiosity is a mechanism that supports our pursuit for meaning and fulfillment.
Curiosity improves the relationship with ourselves
When you’re sad, do you ever wonder why you are upset? Do you consider why that thing made you unhappy? Are you curious about why that metric defines your happiness? Self-reflected curiosity helps in assessing where you are in life, and can help inform decision-making processes to maintain your well-being.
More broadly, curiosity adds more zest to your life. It is an avenue for new experiences, perspectives, and enjoyment. Remember the thrill you had as a child the first time seeing animals at the zoo, or how captivated you were going on your first airplane? These experiences enrich our lives dramatically, and can be replicated as adults too.
Curiosity improves our relationship with others
Curiosity also impacts your relationships with others as well. Specifically, you become a more interesting person, and you are also more interested in other people (which reciprocates positively).
No one likes uninteresting people. By being curious, you will have collected more knowledge, perspective, ideas, and experiences, all of which will make you more interesting. Without curiosity, your capacity to meaningfully relate, share, and discuss with others would otherwise be limited.
Being curious and interested in others can also contribute to a magnetic personality. One of my favourite lines when I am talking with others is “I’m curious…”. This phrase is less transactional than simply asking a question, and demonstrates that you truly care about their perspective. And people love talking about themselves, it makes you seem like a more interesting person!
How to be more curious
To be more curious, you need to be intentional about your efforts and work towards it consistently. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; however, by using the proper tools and frame of mind, you will be better equipped to discover what you are uniquely curious about.
Develop a hunger to explore
Since this mindset is intrinsic, only you can control it; no one else can decide what you are interested in and curious about. Similarly, it is something you develop, and it is a skill that needs to be trained; you don’t find curiosity, you build it!
Fortunately, it is easy to start building this “muscle”. We are constantly asking questions on a daily basis, but often dismiss them or immediately answer them and settle with the information we already have. However, if a question was important enough to take up real-estate in your head, it’s worth pursuing!
For example, let’s suppose you read a stat that said China’s GDP is growing faster than America’s. You wonder why that is happening, but rather than truly exploring the root causes, your current understanding of the topic tells you it is because of their manufacturing industry (or anything else that comes to mind first), so you settle with that answer and then move on.
Instead of dismissing the questions that come into your head, challenge yourself to be open and embrace them. Rather than using your prior knowledge to settle on an answer, use it as the basis of further exploration, and don’t stop seeking the truth until you’re confident you fully understand it.
Once you go down the rabbit hole of curiosity, you won’t want to stop.
Ask inquiry-based questions
As previously mentioned, there are two types of questions: knowledge-based and inquiry-based.
Knowledge-based questions are more simplistic; they are the ones children tend to ask so frequently. They require minimal prior knowledge, and can generally be answered with a simple Google search. Their answers tend to be limited to reporting on the past or present.
Inquiry-based questions are more complex. They require previous knowledge and context to base a question off of. Ultimately, these questions make you think, often speculating about the future or assessing the past/present. These are the types of questions that you want to be asking more often.
Here’s the formula for asking better, inquiry-based questions:
Assessing the past or present: (Why/How)______ (is/did/can)______, followed by a prompt based on your current knowledge of a situation.
Speculating about the future: (Why/How)______ (will/would/might)______, followed by a prompt based on your current knowledge of a situation.
For an example, let’s again consider that China’s GDP is growing faster than America’s. The question “why is China’s GDP growing faster than America’s?” uses this formula. It starts with a “why”, followed by “is”, since the question is assessing the past and present, and the current knowledge simply is that China’s GDP is growing faster than America’s. It’s that easy!
To put this formula more simply, ask “why” and “how” more than “who”, “what”, “where”, or “when”. Challenge yourself to ask more of these questions, and let your curiosity guide the rest!
Seek new and uncomfortable experiences
Now that we know how to be more curious through our thoughts, how might we be more curious through our actions?
As discussed earlier, seeking new experiences is important, but there’s only so many new experiences you can explore. Instead, take a comfortable experience, and try embracing it exactly contrary to how you normally would. Seek discomfort.
One of my favourite examples of seeking discomfort is on the YouTube channel Yes Theory. Their entire channel is based on the premise of seeking discomfort to push through insecurities, build authentic relationships with others, and face new experiences they otherwise wouldn’t.
By staying in the realm of comfort and routine, you are greatly limited in your ability to explore new experiences. Seeking discomfort lets you be like a kid again; everything is new, and contrary to what you would normally experience. Ultimately, it allows you to be curious beyond what you presently know to be true. You will be more likely to discover new realities and grow!
- In the transition to adulthood, we lose much of our curiosity
- Curiosity is our self-driven pursuit to learn, think, and grow
- Asking questions and seeking new experiences are what enables us to act on our curiosity
- Being curious improves the relationship with ourselves and with others
- Develop a hunger to explore; curiosity is built not found
- Ask more “how” and “why”, inquiry-based questions
- Seek uncomfortable experiences to discover new realities
As a bonus, here is one of my favourite videos from Yes Theory, a great example of how to enrich your experiences by seeking discomfort: