A Post on How to Cultivate Curiosity, and Why That’ll Help Your Life
Curiosity Is My Bread N’ (vegan) Butter
My whole livelihood runs off my curiosity. I work as an intimacy coach where I meet with individuals and couples; I use listening skills and empathy to create a safe space, and then I just get super fucking curious. I ask them questions they’ve never thought to ask themselves. I am unsatisfied until I totally understand how they see their reality, and then I ask more questions. Honestly, it’s incredibly fun and rewarding – using my curiosity to help people know themselves better.
I also have a podcast where I meet with folks who I admire in the worlds of sexuality, personal growth, and spirituality. All I do is meet with them, rev my curiosity engines up to 120, and just let it rip. It’s a blast, and it pulls out fresh and inspiring ideas for listeners to vibe on.
Curiosity is my livelihood, my source of inspiration, the engine to my spiritual investigation, my means to connection, and my gateway into excitement.
I want to deconstruct my passion for curiosity and present how you can cultivate your own sense of curiosity. In this post I describe what curiosity is, and give some tips on how to develop it.
If You Cultivate Your Curiosity, Your Life Will Improve
Curiosity Makes Life Way More Fun
Curiosity is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. It’s what causes children to understand the world. It’s what caused Edison to create the lightbulb. It’s what can allow you to fall in love with the same person over and over again. It’s what’ll like take humanity to Mars (well, that and the other primary human motivation of running from the messes we’ve created ^_^ ).
You can never know anything fully. That includes yourself, your friends and lovers, and your craft. Curiosity is what allows you to keep digging deeper and deeper. Curiosity allows you to know any part of your life with ever refreshing detail.
When you are curious, you feel pulled to explore. No matter where you are or who you are with, your environment becomes a playground for your questions. When you are curious, life cannot be boring. Curiosity turns life into a game of investigation, where each question takes you a layer deeper into the infinite and ever-mysterious nature of life.
Curiosity Can Lead To Greatness
Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, writes “If I had to put the recipe for genius into one sentence, that might be it: to have a disinterested obsession with something that matters.” Paul goes on to explain that curiosity is the most important skill to achieve greatness. It pulls you to do more than determination or motivation could. It also allows you to develop skill as you deepen into the terrain you are interested in.
Two Types of Curiosity
There are two sides to the curiosity coin:
- Curiosity as a state of being (general curiosity), and
- Curiosity in something (particular curiosity)
General curiosity is the skill of wondering. While in such a state, it’s as if every stimulus (objects, people, thoughts, feelings, funky smells) becomes a piñata, stuffed with the fulfillment and fascination of exploration.
To test this out, I have an activity that’ll take you about 60 seconds. No matter where you are right now, look around your environment, and every time your eye lands on a new object, think to yourself “I wonder….”
As a demo I will do this real time right now where I’m sitting: “I wonder if this table was made by hand. I wonder who the person was who made this table. I wonder what this table meant to them when they made it. I wonder why my arms aren’t very hairy and if that says anything about my hormones. I wonder how many mugs of water I could drink before getting a belly ache.”
This activity allows your curiosity to roam. Everything your awareness touches gets converted into a question. It’s fun! General curiosity is broad in its scope. You need not be curious about anything in particular – it’s about being in a state of questioning and wonder.
Particular curiosity is the gateway into passion. It’s finding a thing, or process, or theme, or question that infinitely captivates your interest. Whereas general curiosity may bounce around from question to question, particular curiosity has a focus on one question, and everything you come in contact with becomes fodder for that question. The deeper you get into the inquiry, the further you want to go.
For example, a big question for me right now is “what is gender?” The more I delve into this question, the more questions I discover. I use every conversation as an opportunity to explore this question and see how others relate to their gender; when I’m people-watching I’m observing through the lens of gender; and I’m reading and writing about gender.
Now I want to note, I don’t think it’s paramount to only have one primary question your whole life. Some people might be like that. I have one friend who is enraptured by the question ‘where do thoughts come from?’ It’s guided their life into NLP, Buddhism, and network theory. I don’t know why, but that question just drives them. Which is cool. But I’m not like that. I’m multi-passionate and proud — I always have 1-3 primary questions circulating my world. They sub in and out for each other. Some questions are one-time players, whereas others keep coming back.
While the two types of curiosity differ in their focus and application, they are using the same base muscle. General curiosity asks about everything, and particular curiosity asks about the same thing deeper and deeper.
In the rest of this post I lay out some practices to increase and explore your own curiosity.
Practices to Teach You How to Cultivate Curiosity
Solo Practices To Build Wonder, Discover Your Particular Curiosity, and Develop Your Asking Skills
I recommend you try out a journaling practice (which is helpful for far more than just curiosity cultivation).
Here are three exercises to try every day for a week:
- Ask yourself a question. Any question. And answer that question for as long as you can. If you run out of steam, ask a followup question. Continue to do this, and you may eventually completely lose yourself in the flow of questioning. Do this for 10 minutes.
- Start with the stem ‘I wonder…’ write until you complete the thought. Then do it again, and again. Do this for 10 minutes.
The first two activities have two benefits.
A – they increase your ability to take interest and be in a state of wonder (which is vital for both general and particular curiosity), and
B – if you flow through enough questions/wonderings, you will notice where your curiosity tends to hang out (ie you will hone in on your nexus of particular curiosity). Doing so will get you in touch with the membranes of your passion/s.
- Pick one of the question/wonderings above, and spend 3 minutes asking it in as many different ways as possible. (eg: what am I afraid of? What holds me back? What thoughts does fear latch on to? Where does fear get energy from me? What thoughts scare me the most? etc)
There is a skill to question-asking. Different questions call back different answers. As you play with curiosity, you’ll see that tweaking your questions can allow you to discover different tracks.
It’s also worth noting that as you build your skills of awe, wonderment, and question-asking, you will become an infinitely better conversationalist with others. People LOVE when you get curious about them – because it feels really good to have someone attentively wonder about your world.
Practice Cultivating Your Curiosity In Every Conversation
Every interaction you have is a chance to practice honing your curiosity.
Try out any of these tips in the next conversations you have.
- Get interested in whatever they bring up
Test yourself to see just how curious you can get about different topics. This is a practice to build your curiosity muscle.
When I was younger I worked at a senior center. Half of my job consisted of having conversations with older folks, many of whom weren’t totally with it. These conversations were very one-sided; I did 10% of the talking. However I practiced being interested in whatever they brought up. When they told me a story about how their washing machine was broken, I practiced evoking my own curiosity. How did you fix it? What did you do to wash your clothes? Do your machines often break? I was cultivating my general curiosity around everything that came up.
- Find their particular curiosity. Get curious about it
When you’re with your friends or new people, ask them questions until you find what they are particularly curious about. You can even ask “what in your life are you most curious about right now?” And then try as hard as you can to get curious about their curiosities. This is using your general curiosity to feed their particular curiosity.
- Use other people to explore your own particular curiosities.
Try guiding people to your interests. Let’s say you’re curious about integrity. Ask people what they think about integrity, or how they relate to integrity, or if they think integrity is important. Probe others’ experiences around your interests.
People love talking about themselves. So fuse your particular curiosities with their life, and it’s a win-win.
- Get curious ABOUT people
Challenge yourself to see how deeply you can get to know someone. Someone who you’ve known a long time. Challenge yourself to see if you can learn something new everyday about your childhood best friend, or your lover. Try to learn something new about everyone you meet for the next week.
You can only do this by getting curious and asking them new questions.
- Practice your questions
Write out the 10 most interesting questions you could ask someone to get to know them. For example, What’s your relationship with routine? Where do you hold yourself back? How did you play as a child? When did you start to care about your aesthetic?
Then actually test out your questions on people.
There’s really no excuse for any conversation to ever be uninteresting. You have the power to take interest in whatever comes up, to extract interest from the other person, and to bring the conversations to your own interests. It just takes practice.
Make Life More Awesome
The more curious you become, the more interesting life becomes. By learning how to cultivate your curiosity, you actually make life (and people) more interesting.
Nothing is more fun to me than being curious, and for that reason I love being by myself, because I get to wonder about all of my interests. And I love being with other people because I get to wonder about them, their interests, and my interests through them.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but you know that cat was having a damned good time!
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