Curiosity is a VIA Character strenght I interpret a little bit differently than the general association of the word. When we call someone curious we tend to think about a person who is asking too many questions, especially here, in the British culture. It is not even appropriate to ask a newly met person about their profession directly – we simply need to be as polite and safe in our questions as possible. I can see how this can mean we are respectful, but for many people, this approach can be really isolating. We miss out so much. We lose a genuine connection with each other.
A general curiosity, the underlying interest in people and the world can be really positive. Being inquisitive about the world around us leads to new findings but also new perspectives. It makes us feel better. It stretches our perception beyond our very own biases, allows us to connect with people in new ways. This process can be so rewarding! In our daily conversations, we navigate between each other with a lot of assumptions about our individual view of reality. We tend to assume how the world looks like for others. We now know however we all have a very different set of skills experience our reality. Even if our lives were similar, we would all perceive and interpret it very differently. We hear and understand words differently. We all have a different definition of sensations and feelings in our bodies. Test it out – as a few friends for their definition of joy, love, awe or sadness, pain, fear. We all have our very own experiences from our past that shape the way we decode and interpret the here and now.
It can be really safe and bonding to assume that we have no idea about the actual experience of another person. If we start our conversations there and ask our questions with pure curiosity and the intent to understand, to connect better, to enter that person’s view of the world, we might discover fascinating ideas. We might learn, get inspired, be moved or find ourselves helping others just by offering more relevant responses. That sense of connection addresses a very basic human need to feel a bond with another person. It touches our inner child and simply feels good.
There is also a grounding element to asking questions. One question especially: why? We know this from marketing, branding and other areas of business. We experience this when working on disorganised, hectic projects. We feel happier at work when we know simply why we do things the way we are doing them. The core purpose of our work sets a direction we can always adjust to. Having that inner compass as an employee, as a business owner, or as a private individual really increases our resilience levels in more stressful times.
Knowing our personal goals can be really empowering. Let’s face it, we all feel that sense of purpose in others. We recognise it in them from the way they walk, speak, connect with us, make their life choices. We see the people who are clear on their purpose. Asking the why question is not a one-off task though. It’s a habit. It is a journey of serious but also courageous explorations. It can be initially quite daunting but trust me: it’s just another habit. It takes about three months to really learn a habit which, if you think about it, is not long. It is worth it too. Asking yourself goal related questions, exploring your dreams and reflecting on your journey helps us feel confident, steady and grounded.
Yesterday I have listed a few personal tips, so I will do something similar today. Here is how I practice curiosity:
- Setting goals – whether it’s short, or long-term goals it is really easy to get into the habit of planning. If you struggle, I recommend the 5 Minute Journal (on paper or as a mobile app). One of its core elements is daily morning goal setting and evening reflective review. It’s a simple task, which when repeated, really starts to become a mental habit fast.
- Understanding the meaning of work – I always ask myself the question: what is the why behind my commitments? Why am I working in specific industries? Why do I care? Why am I willing to spend most of my day working towards a particular mission in my life? Where do I want to be in 12 months or in 5 years time? (Forget about the fear of getting there or failing, just map it out). You do not have to meet your mission but it won’t hurt to at least try to head towards those goals.
- Exploring new ideas and perspectives – looking at things from a different perspective. I would normally ask myself: what else is there? what am I missing? what am I not doing? what could I be doing better or just differently? Two things happen when you do that: you might discover a better way or realise that your original approach is solid and you should stick to that. My dad gave me this tip when I was learning photography: always move the camera to an unconventional angle (place it under a flower, take a selfie of a tree above you, shift your perspective, look behind your subject – explore and experiment). If it helps, do just that – we all have cameras on our phones these days.
- Changing focus – looking closer, closing eyes half way or sharpening our view to see greater depth is another photographic exercise. Imagine sitting on a bus in traffic in heavy rain. What do you see in the window: raindrops, glass structure, dust, the street maybe, a reflection of your friend in the window, trees, buildings, the taller blocks of flats above the landscape, maybe even stars? Work more with this approach – shift between those perspectives and experiment with how quickly you can move between those worlds. How does it feel to realise the real depth of our reality? Can we apply this to other areas of our lives? Can we use this in problem-solving?
- Asking others the “counselling question”: how does it make you feel? Or even: how is this for you? We all have a different experience of the very same event. How is rain in traffic at midnight for your friend? How is it for you? Compare the notes and pay attention to what shapes the answers. Ask yourself the very same question and see what comes up for you.
- Asking orientational and special questions to locate and describe experiences: where is your anger now in your body? Step out of your comfort zone and state the difficult truths – for example after an argument ask: what is in this silence for you? how does it sit with you? Open up new paths for connection and conversation by daring to ask more questions – of course, if you feel it’s appropriate.
- Exploring the opposites – I like this one a lot. People often complain about missed opportunities or mistakes their friends made. I do this a lot myself. But how do we want our expectations to be met? The answers can be really telling. So ask: if you were ignored yesterday, how would you like that person to react better to understand you? What would they have to do to meet your need then?
- Asking about our stories – finding out more about our roots and the experiences that shaped us can be really bonding. Ask: what is your story? This relatively large question can open up a lot but it can also be used around particular experiences – is there something else that shaped your reactions to this now? Why are you feeling this way now? Please remember to ask those questions with care, genuine attentiveness and be prepared to make time for listening afterwards.
- Exploration game – it’s my little fun game. I like browsing for new ideas without a goal to see what comes up. I like bumping into new books in a library, charity shop or a second-hand book shop. I don’t plan particular reads just pick books based on their cover, colour, location on the shelf. The randomness of that act opens me up to things I would otherwise miss.
- Self-reflection – asking yourself questions can be really powerful and healing. Review your actions, events in life, conversations, feelings. Notice how you reacted or felt and think about the deeper meaning for you. Try not to censor, nor judge yourself (we do so much judging in our head!). You can do it in writing or simply in your thoughts – every time you have a moment to yourself.
This became a rather long list, but I would love to hear from you. What are your ways of asking a lot of questions?