How to Get Curious When You’re Not

One of your qualities is a sense of curiosity. I know that because curiosity is hard-wired into your brain. You fall somewhere on the curiosity continuum from minimally curious to intensely curious. If you are already a very curious person, you don’t need the information in this post. But if you’re only curious about a fairly narrow range of topics, and you know there are big benefits to expanding that range, there are some easy ways for you to get curious when you’re not.

Why Bother? The Benefits of Curiosity

Todd Kashdan is the pre-eminent researcher in the field of curiosity and the author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling LifeHe says that there is a simple and straightforward storyline explaining why curiosity is so important to a fulfilling life.  It goes like this:

  • When you’re curious, you explore.
  • Exploration leads to discovery.
  • Repetition of exploration and discovery leads to competence and mastery.
  • When you experience competence and mastery, your knowledge and skills grow.
  • That makes you stretch and expand who you are and changes your sense of what your life is about.
  • Which makes you more intelligent and infuses your life with meaning that wouldn’t have been there if you hadn’t been curious.

For ways in which curiosity benefits body, mind, and spirit, see this post.

When Should You Deliberately Try to Get Curious?

There are three kinds of activities where it’s beneficial to get curious when you’re not.

Curiosity is different than other ways of being fulfilled in that it’s about appreciating and seeking out the new.

Todd Kashdan
They are:

  • activities you really enjoy and want to keep doing. Curiosity feeds energy so it’s easier to keep going.
  • tasks you have to do that you don’t want to do like housework or making difficult phone calls. Curiosity makes these tasks more meaningful.
  • activities that have the potential to enrich your life. Curiosity will show you that potential so you will want to participate in the activity.

How Do You Get Curious When You’re Not?

  • Be in a good mood. When your mood is positive, your brain is more easily convinced that what you’re doing is fun and interesting.
  • Spend time with very curious people. They are usually good and supportive guides because they understand your uncertainty.
  • Clarify your values. When an activity is consistent with a value, you’ll tend to consider it important and more interesting.
  • If you want to get curious about an unappealing activity, do the activity but with a focus on identifying three novel or unique things about it. There’s research to show that this increases the likelihood that you will participate in the activity again.
  • Process your experience through writing or by talking with someone about what you have discovered. This works because it makes the event more prominent in your memory, and prominent events are remembered as more interesting. A caution though – If talking with someone, make sure it’s someone who is interested. Otherwise it’s likely that your curiosity will take a nosedive.

Five additional ways to get curious are provided here.

Favourite Curiosity Quotes

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”    Dorothy Parker

“Curiosity is…insubordination in its purest form.”     Vladimir Nabokov

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”   James Stephens

“The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.”    Albert Einstein

“Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment.”     Rumi

Has there been a time when you’ve found a way to get curious when you’re not? Has curiosity ever increased your interest in an activity?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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62 comments

  1. Hi Karen,

    I’ve never not been curious so I don’t have anything to add to this discussion. I can’t imagine having to drum up or force curiousity. I’ve been around plenty of people who don’t seem to have much curiosity, and they make me curious to learn why they are that way. 🙂

    Deb

  2. I’m with Deb on this. I’m naturally a very curious person so the last thing I need is to add to my curiosity (it’s in part why I chose the tag line for my web page (where curiosity kills more than the cat) – that and it fits the whole murder mystery thing grin)

  3. I am curious but feel like I could do with much more up my sleeve so found your lists helpful and looking forward to drumming up some curiousity to make some phone calls I have been putting off for such a long time.
    I have been lucky with a friend (actually they are couple so I guess their curiosity matched) that I have known 40 years and the pair of them are ssooooo curious in ways I sometimes never think of so I use them as my guide , but I am not sure if curiousity comes naturally to me – do you think it is the same as inquiry Karen ? I am passionate about inquiry but tend to think it inhabits a slightly different space…

    1. Hi Sandra,
      I’m passionate about inquiry too. I do think, as you say, that it’s a different animal. Inquiry, to me, begins with curiosity then digs deep. Curiosity can lead to inquiry but doesn’t necessarily.
      How fortunate that you have curiosity guides. They’re good people to spend time with.

  4. I consider myself a curious person so of course I’m going to love this post … what’s not to love about the suggestion that my curiosity makes me more intelligent 🙂
    Like Deb, I’m baffled by people who lack curiosity. Life is too full of wonder.

    I’ve never seen the last quote before “Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment”. It took me a long time to let go of my hubris about being ‘clever’ and the end result was developing a greater appreciation for failure. Curiosity requires an acknowledgement that we don’t know and we might never succeed.

    1. I consider you a highly curious person too, Joanne, and also highly intelligent. Your blog posts, your entire orientation to life supports both of those qualities.
      I know what you mean about the difficulty around letting go of being clever. There were so many decades where being called ‘smart’ was the ultimate in praise from others. I think now that wonder has cleverness beat all to bits, and that wonder can’t happen without curiosity, without that openness to possibility that includes, as you say, the possibility of failure. Really good point, Joanne.

  5. After I got past thinking the researcher was a relative of the Kardashians (my apologies to Todd for misreading his surname!) I found the whole concept of interlacing curosity into mundane tasks quite an interesting concept Karen. It’s easy to be curious about the new and unexpected, a lot harder to muster it in the boring and mundane – but I’ll try the three unique aspects thing next time I’m scrubbing the toilet 😀

    1. Now there’s a mundane task if ever there was one, Leanne. But I’m willing to bet that thinking of three unique aspects will help the time go by, if nothing else. I haven’t read it yet, but Bill Bryson wrote an entire book about the things in our houses and I’ve heard that there is an entire chapter on toilets. You might want to check it out before or after your next toilet scrubbing adventure.

      1. I have to draw my line in the sand and let you know that I won’t be reading an entire chapter on toilets Karen – I’ll scrub and think happy thoughts and move on as quickly as I can!

        Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM x

  6. I tend to be curious — and love Google for this reason. As a parent and former teacher, I often bemoan how the current education system strips children of their natural curiosity! I don’t feel the need to force curiosity when it doesn’t come naturally because my natural curiosity keeps me plenty busy!

    1. Hi Janet,
      I’m a fan of Google too and enjoying searching for more information on the things I’m naturally curious about. For me, I need to force curiosity on those activities that have the potential to enrich my life. For example, Kashdan says that if you don’t like hip hop music, or heavy metal, or whatever, look for the things that will make you curious about it. While I don’t believe that hip hop is going to be enriching my life anytime soon, it will be a fun experiment to take a curious rather than dismissive approach to it. Not suggesting that you need to do the same; just sharing where I’m at with this.

      1. Funny you mention hip-hop. My son is an avid listener of hip-hop and so the 13 hours from NY to Chicago (and any other time we are in the car together) – I listen to hip-hop. And fortunately, my son enjoys explaining the intelligence and cleverness of the wordplay and of the rhyme, the history behind phrases and entire albums. I’ve learned so much about it – even to the point that the vulgarity almost doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’ve been enriched by some. I hope you enjoy the exploration!

  7. I, too, claim membership in the clan of the curious. I love Rumi’s admonishment and think that’s a fabulous way to navigate in the world. But I especially liked the invitation to get curious about unpreferred tasks. I’ll be giving this strategy a try.

    1. Hi Deborah,
      Welcome to the tribe! We’re really glad you’re here.
      The ‘clan of the curious’ – love it! Rumi said so many incredibly brilliant things that I’ve recently gotten curious about him. Expect a blog post about him sometime next month 🙂
      Leanne is going to practice getting curious about scrubbing toilets. Whatever unpreferred task you choose, I hope the strategy works for you. If you feel like, please let us know how it goes.

  8. I am a naturally curious person too and love to learn new things. Where we are currently traveling has my curiosity on hyper-drive. I really like the idea of using curiosity as a way to make an unappealing task more interesting… I had never thought of that as a motivational tool. I hope you are enjoying your metaphorical road trip, Karen! Thanks for checking in!

    1. Hi Janis,
      I’m loving my metaphorical road trip, thanks for asking. I’ll say lots more about it in my RAW NEWS update at the end of the month.
      And I can tell from your comment that you are loving your literal road trip 🙂 I’m looking forward to posts and pictures when you return.
      Do you have any unappealing tasks where you are now? I’m imagining not, but glad you can keep the getting curious strategies in mind when you’re back home.

  9. Hi Karen! I agree with Leanne–having curiosity about the mundane or familiar is more difficult. I’m going to try bring more curiosity to those things. I also suspect that people who are intensely curious are more observant. It’s hard to be curious about life’s little details if you don’t see them! And of course writers are by nature very observant people 🙂

    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Jenny,
      You’ve hit the nail on the head for why I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to write fiction. Nonfiction demands a high level of curiosity, but fiction requires a penchant for noticing. It’s the little details, as much as the dialogue, that brought the hitchhiker in your recent post to life. Do you think that it’s possible to teach yourself to become more observant? That was my goal when I made ‘notice’ my word for 2018. I haven’t made much (any) progress on that goal. I was going to include it in my metaphorical road trip but that was going to be too much, too many areas of focus after being warned by the tarot reader not to take on so much. So I think it will be the focus of my next road trip – if it’s even possible to achieve such a lofty goal. You’re such a good fiction writer, Jenny. What do you think?

      1. That’s a great question. On the one hand, we humans can be very good at learning to interact with the world in different ways. But I think we also have thresholds that limit us in certain areas. I have had no luck, for example, improving my sense of direction or my ability to tolerate loud music. All in all, though, observation seems like it might be one of those things that can be strengthened by building new habits. Let us all know if you come across something that works for you on your next road trip!

  10. Hi Karen, I don’t consider myself a curious person, although I suppose to a degree I am because I love to learn. My husband would confirm that my mind is full of ‘useless information’ but you never know when you might need it! He will tell you that if we are watching a program and don’t know what something is, I will jump up and Google it!.

    I found your point about trying to find three things that are novel or unique when doing mundane tasks. You have shown that even during those times you can use curiosity and make life more interesting. Thanks for the inspiring quotes – I love a good quote – short and to the point, and also a thank you for helping me become more curious. Enjoy your weekend, Karen!

    1. Hi Sue,
      I really love quotes too. Like single strip cartoons, they encompass an entire world of wisdom in a few words or an image.
      All that jumping up to Google information from a tv show is a sign of some curiosity, Sue… as well as keeping you physically active even during down time 🙂

  11. Hi Karen! I tend to believe that curiosity goes hand-in-hand with creativity. How can we be creative if we aren’t curious about things? I happen to LOVE and find why people do what they do to be amazingly curious. I am always surprised and often perplexed–so anything that has to do with people and their motivations sucks me in. I also love to travel and explore and experience new people, cultures, foods, activities…you name it. I can’t even imagine not being curious about life and perhaps that signals a qualification about whether someone continues to grow and evolve or stays stuck and stagnant. I haven’t heard of Todd Kashdan before but I can certainly see why you’d be drawn to reading the book! ~Kathy

  12. That’s an interesting point, Kathy. I wonder if there’s a direct correlation between how curious a person is and how creative they are, or if it’s simply the case that you need to be curious about whatever tiny corner of the universe you choose to create in. I’m not sure and I don’t remember reading about this in Kashdan’s book but I will go back and take another look… and let you know if I find anything to address your point.

  13. Hi Karen – I consider myself a curious person. I really like your favourite curiosity quotes. The 3rd one seems applicable when people tell me that I’m ‘brave’ to travel somewhere by myself. It’s curiosity, not bravery, that makes me do it 🙂

    1. Hi Natalie,
      You’re such a keen traveller that I’m quite sure you are a highly curious woman. I can see how the third quote would so easily apply to you.

  14. Karen, I’ve never thought about creating curiosity. I’ve just assumed you were or your weren’t in the given situation. I like the idea of approaching an unpleasant task with curiosity. I have an eye exam next week, which I typically do not enjoy. I’m going to approach it with more curiosity. I’ll have plenty of material to work with in that situation, I am sure. Thanks for the new perspective!

    1. I’m the same, Christie. Until I did the research, I didn’t realize that you could create curiosity, or that it might be helpful to do so. Three novel or unique things about an eye exam should, as you say, be easy to find. Good luck!

  15. Karen, I’m not sure about approaching mundane tasks with curiosity…. I like approaching them with a “get it accomplished and check off” feeling. But I AM curious….where do you find your quotes? I’ve been contemplating adding ones that reflect the content of my blog posts….like you do, as well as a few other folks. I find them very inspirational and want to “steal and reapply” the idea!

    1. Hi Pat,
      Anytime I’m reading anything, I type out the quotes that particularly appeal to me. I have a really great artificial intelligence database program on my Mac called ‘DevonThink.’ I store my quotes, along with a million other things, in DevonThink and when I want a quote about a particular topic, I can type in a keyword and up they pop.
      But, no need to do any of that unless you want to. In the Google search bar, type “quotes about (whatever the subject)” and you’ll get a huge list from Goodreads and from various sites that offer collections of quotes.
      And I agree – they are so inspirational! I’ve been collecting quotes for decades. Back in my late teens, I had an idea of making a page a day quotation calendar for writers. Someone did exactly that a few years later, starting the whole page a day quote thing. I so wish I’d done it – I’d be quite rich by now 🙂

  16. Hi Karen,
    I thought about your topic of curiosity for a while now during these past few days. For me, curiosity comes in waves. Sometimes I have to dig down and uncover everything that is known about a subject. Other times, it feels great just to cruise along and not really be curious about anything. That’s the mood I am in right now and it feels really relaxing!

    1. Glad to hear that you’re relaxing, Fran. You were committed to so many activities post-retirement that it’s really good you’re finding some balance with a bit of down time.

  17. I’d say I’m a curious person in general, especially when it comes to trying new things. I agree that being in a good mood is beneficial to our curiosity levels, as it is to about anything in life. Also, I am curious to learn new languages and read about a variety of subjects, but I feel my brain can’t handle that these years, so I block that part of my curiosity for now.

    One approach I find helpful to new situations, whether looking forward to them or not, is seeing them as new adventures, from a first MRI (in a loud, tiny metal box, while you have contrast being injected in your veins) to needing to make money, to visiting a new place.

    1. Hi Liesbet,
      The new adventures approach to increasing curiosity has certainly been working for you. By the way, I’ve had an MRI too. It is so incredibly loud, isn’t it. I’d heard that it was but somehow still expected the machine would whirr, not bang and clank.
      I hope that blocking part of your curiosity is a short-term thing.

  18. Hi Karen,
    Sorry for being a little late to the party but hey, at least I am here finally. 😉 LOL I am curious to find out how focussing on identifying three novel or unique things about tasks you have to do that you don’t want to do like housework or making difficult phone calls makes these tasks more meaningful. I mean housework I kind of get; learning how the toilet works or what happens when you leave dishes soaking in soap and water too long for example. That is kind of sciencey stuff that can make one scratch their head a bit and get you curious about the results. It is difficult phone calls that I can’t seem to make the connection with. How can my identifying three novel or unique things about making difficult phone calls more meaningful?

    As for your questions;

    Has there been a time when you’ve found a way to get curious when you’re not?

    I love scouring the internet and punching some random search terms into the YouTube search to see what I come up with. Then I watch the top three videos of that list of results. If not sufficiently curious to dig deeper and learn more I move on to the next random search term to type in and move on to the next top three videos.

    Has curiosity ever increased your interest in an activity?

    Please see answer above, sometimes it works and sometimes I just move on. 😉

    1. Hi Susan,
      With difficult phone calls, the novel or unique things are about the specific call. For example, you can get curious about things like -Why am I finding this phone call so difficult to make? Are there any signs that the person on the other end also finds this call challenging? Where’s the point going to be that I feel defensive or embarrassed? How do I want to handle that moment and how did I actually handle it? So still sciencey – but psychological science 🙂

  19. I am a very curious person in general, and love learning and investigating things. I never thought about being curious about household chores though. Usually I listen to a podcast while doing chores, which makes me forget about the chores. I guess that is a form of curiosity because there is usually something that interests me in a podcast.

  20. My wiring must be a bit damaged because I am definitely not curious and I have never been. I have to be honest it isn’t something I want to chase either, my life is already very full, no time to add more. Pinning this.

    1. Hi Jan,
      I wonder if perhaps you have set too high a bar for deciding whether or not someone is curious. It seems to me that you are quite curious, Jan. On your blog ‘about’ page, you describe exploring possibilities and wondering ‘what if’. Isn’t that curiosity?
      What’s true for me, and might be true for you, is that there’s a defined range of things I’m curious about. That’s perfectly okay. If you enjoy learning about anything – including the non-financial aspects of retirement – you officially qualify as a woman who is curious!

  21. In my quest to deal with life as i know it now..someone with cancer..I have used curiosity as a means of widening my ‘world view’ when things get so concerning for me that I want to shrink into a small ball. I then tell myself I can be curious about this (whatever the THIS is at the time) and explore it and any negative attachments seem to fall away.

    Great post and I believe as someone who already loved people-watching (and listening) I have been more curious than I realised.

    Denyse #MLSTL

    1. What a great use of curiosity, Denyse – to help you overcome the fears of cancer. The quote “Curiosity will overcome fear even more than bravery will” was clearly made for you!

  22. Curiosity is the key ingredient to being a lifelong learner! If you are curious, you are alert and your mind is open to new experiences and new information to make your life better. I’m constantly curious and I think it’s the quality that keeps us young at heart as well as relevant and interesting!

    1. I agree, Linda. And being a lifelong learner offers the benefits you suggest – the vitality of youthfulness and relevance. Thank you for your comment, Linda.

  23. I’m curious as to where the saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’ came from!! I also like quotes and appreciate these ones in your post as they really fit the topic. #mlstl

    1. Hi Debbie,
      Because I was curious, I looked up your question about where the saying “curiosity killed the cat” came from. There’s all sorts of stuff about Shakespeare’s time and how the saying was originally “care (meaning worry) killed the cat”. According to one source, the modern version of this proverb came from 1916 in Washington when an inquisitive cat fell down a chimney, broke its back and died. So curiosity actually killed that poor cat 🙂

  24. Interestingly… I never thought of myself as curious. I like to learn. I like to research in order to learn. But I never connected this love of knowledge with curiosity. I like that I can add this trait to my list of defining characteristics 🙂 Thank you!

    1. You certainly can, Molly. Your story of wanting to learn Italian cooking and of seeking out a market that made you feel as if you were doing your daily shopping in Italy – those are evidence aplenty of your curiosity drive.

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I’m working on this week’s post and would love to hear a little more of your thinking around curiosity and creativity. Curiosity, it seems to me, is the food that feeds the engine of creativity. I can’t think of an instance where it is possible to be creative without being curious. But I wonder – is the reverse also true or is it possible to be curious without being creative? Creativity, I’m thinking, is a state of mind but it is also, usually, an action. Not necessarily an artistic action, but even making a meal you’ve never made before is creative and an action. I can imagine being curious about something and satisfying that curiosity with, for example, a Google search, but not doing anything with the results of the search.
      If you have the time and inclination, I’d appreciate your perspective. Thanks. Karen

  25. I’ve always thought my extreme curiosity makes me a bit odd. I get intrigued by lots of stuff and often tangential to anything going on. For example, on my trip to visit my sister and daughter (son in tow), I became curious about feral cows–whether they existed. Feral cats and domesticated cats do. As do feral dogs and horses.

    Good review of this topic!

  26. I really like this quote: “Curiosity is…insubordination in its purest form,” by Vladimir Nabokov. To me, it captures the essence of what curiosity is — a reluctance to accept something as being merely what convention holds that it is, and also an unwillingness to allow the mind to be tamed by rules, conventions, or habits. Is it possible to have a zest for life without also being curious?

    Jude

    1. Nabokov’s quote was new to me. I too found it appealing, mostly because it was such a different take on curiosity. In thinking about your question at the end, I’m trying to imagine any situation where someone has a zest for life but is incurious. I can’t come up with one.

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