I have been talking a whole lot lately about curiosity as our ultimate weapon against the fear and paralyzing overwhelm of change. While fear is trying to make us hide in the doorways and play it safe, curiosity peeks its head around the corner and whispers, “oooh…now THAT might be interesting…” and gives us the little nudge we need to take our first tiny steps.
But this idea doesn’t really mean anything in the abstract, does it? We can know that curiosity is a tool that can serve us and we can believe it can make our life better and a whole lot more interesting, but how do we take it from concept to reality? How do we actually apply it?
What does curiosity look like on the ground- in our real lives on a daily basis?
Because let’s face it, there will inevitably be times in our lives of BIG change and transition, and we want curiosity in our arsenal when that happens. And it’s the daily ins-and-outs that we navigate in our regular ol’ day-to-day life that are where we learn to integrate it into our regular habits.
Curiosity, like joy, is a muscle. It requires use and practice to make it stronger. We can hardly be expected to approach a crisis in our lives with curiosity if we have no experience with it in the face of the mundane.
So how do we practice? What does that look like?
It looks a whole lot like allowing questions to lead our lives instead of statements.
Think about this for a second. What happens when I change “I’m so angry right now” to “Why am I so angry right now?”? Or “I’m just not a patient person” to “Why am I so impatient?” (or, even better, “Is there a way that I could learn to be more patient?”).
We suddenly move from an end to a beginning, right? Saying “I’m so angry right now” doesn’t leave much room to move, it’s not open-ended, it doesn’t offer any possibility. We just feel sort of stuck there. “Why am I so angry right now?” offers a first step, a place to move, a way to shift. And if we allow that answer to lead to more questions, there are infinite paths forward and we are suddenly unstuck.
All statements have a question counterpart, even very basic true statements. “The sky is blue” is a perfectly true statement, but asking “Why is the sky blue?” is a practice in curiosity. “Why is the sky blue?” offers us an opportunity to learn, an invitation to set aside our need to have all the answers and practice being open to the unexpected. Which leads me to…
It’s so simple, I know, but if this isn’t a practice in curiosity, nothing is. By “be open” I mean let go of whatever assumptions we are holding onto or carrying along with us and try to see whatever is actually in front of us.
How about an example? Say we have a dentist appointment and the office is running behind and we end up in the waiting room. We may be carrying the assumption that “there is nothing to do and this is boring” and we're likely frustrated because we have a million other things to do that day.
But what happens when we let go of those thoughts just a little bit? We might look around the room and find ourselves interested in the other people waiting, maybe wondering about their day or their life or their shoes. We might find that the art reminds us of a hotel room we stayed in when we were kids and suddenly we are thinking about childhood vacations and the way traditions come to take root. We might pick up one of the old dog-eared magazines piled on the side table and discover some interesting tidbit about France during the Renaissance or be amused by fashion advice from 1997 or be intrigued by a weird ingredient in a potato salad recipe. These things might not make it any less true that we have a million things to do and that waiting is inconvenient, but it DOES make it far more interesting.
And you never know where openness might lead. Because being open leaves things exactly that: open. Conversations can lead to common ground and unexpected friendships. Jobs taken to make ends meet “until I figure out what’s next” can mean exposure to skills or networks or concepts hitherto unknown and can send us down career paths we never would have sought out before.
Nothing is "on our radar” until it actually gets there, and openness is a practice in curiosity that allows far more things to make it into our orbits, to be seen and noticed and considered. I mean, what would have happened if Tiger Woods had decided he hated plaid pants, that all sports involving plaid pants were off limits- and it kept him from ever picking up a golf club…how would he have discovered his talent? It sounds silly, but we do these things to ourselves all the time.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever uttered the words “I hate math (or history or whatever).” We've all done it, right? Shrunk our worlds because we carry around assumptions about all sorts of things that may or may not actually be true (I mean, if you decided ages ago that you hate math, it's unlikely that you've given all the kinds of math available in the world a try, right? What if you just haven't tried the right kind?)
So let’s do this: let’s commit to spending the rest of today trying to notice when we make statements and try out what it feels like to turn them into questions. Try it! See what happens! And also try it with other people- what does it feel like when you ask your spouse/kid/friend/parent, “Do you know all the reasons that I love you? Want to hear a few?” instead of a plain ol’ “I love you” (which is a statement I totally support, but why not mix it up a bit?). And while you’re at it, commit to finding ways to be a little more open. Try it when you are waiting in line in the grocery store or when you have to interact with a co-worker who isn’t your favorite. Can it be a little more interesting if you put down any assumptions and just see what is actually there with no judgments or preconceived notions?
Curiosity isn’t a cure-all. It doesn’t fix everything. Sometimes it doesn’t fix anything. But what it does do, pretty much without fail, is make things more interesting. It widens our perspectives so that we can see more possibility, feel less stuck, have a little more fun, be a little more engaged. And the more we practice it, the more instinctive and natural it becomes in our lives.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes- I want to hear!
A few more images from our time in Arizona...