“Why?” is the children’s favorite question.
For them, the world is a new place and they strive to study it with each passing day.
“Curiosity is hardwired into our brains,” explains Scott Shigeoka, author of The Quest: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World.
Not coincidentally, a number of studies have found that babies look at new objects for longer than familiar ones. However, there is a myth that only children are curious.
“A meta-analysis of over a million participants in dozens of studies found that we actually become more curious throughout our lives,” Shigeoka said, as quoted by Fastcompany.
“It’s often one of those superpowers, like creativity. If you’re told, ‘You’re not creative, you’re not an artist, or you’re not curious,’ you can lose or dull those qualities.”
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Inner curiosity can be restored.
According to Shigeoka, it is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. The scientist offers a few tricks that can help keep your curiosity in shape.
“We know that we often exaggerate the assumptions that people make about us,” explains Shigeoka.
For example, research from the University of Pennsylvania found that Democrats and Republicans think the other party dislikes them twice as much as they do.
“We often reinforce the hatred we assume other people have for us, especially if we come from different group identities. Our assumptions are often wrong or not nuanced enough. What helps is getting to the heart of where someone is coming from , and understand it better so you can actively communicate and build stronger relationships with those around you.”
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Instead of guessing, become an “admitter” by admitting when you’re wrong or don’t know the answer. For example, you might say, “Tell me more,” when you’re told you’re wrong. Prioritize learning and growing, and remind yourself that people are wired to forgive.
This can be as simple as saying to yourself, “Today at lunch I intend to be curious and look for opportunities to ask questions, not just share answers.”
Shigeoka’s curiosity leads him to embark on a 13-month long quest to understand people who are different from him. He attends Trump rallies and megachurches, showing up with a curiosity to understand others.
“As a gay person who goes to organizations that have anti-LGBTQ legislation and views, I thought I would be met with hate. By being curious, I realized that we can see our common humanity and understand each other more deeply .”
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“It’s like going to the gym and bench pressing 250kg. Instead, go and lift some dumbbells. You feel good, and part of that good feeling produces dopamine.”
When you don’t consider someone’s emotions, you devalue them.
This can happen unintentionally, such as being glued to your phone while someone is talking to you, or not making eye contact with someone in a service role.
Curiosity is about recognizing the dignity of the other person, even if you don’t always agree with their position.
It all starts with knowing when to share and when to listen, says Shigeoka.
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For example, listen if you are part of a group with greater social power, if you are already heard, and if your views are frequently represented in the social culture.
Share if you are part of a group with less social power, if your views are rarely represented, and if you are not often heard in relationships.
Go below the surface
Finally, welcome curiosity during difficult times, such as heartbreak, career change, relocation, or loss, says Shigeoka.
“We can give up the urge to be curious in a really difficult conversation or during a conflict, but that’s when we can get the most out of it. That’s when you can learn the most about yourself or others.”
Curiosity has a spectrum, and most people like to venture into what Shigeoka calls the “shallow end.” Moving along the spectrum to deep curiosity is where the transformation happens.
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For example, instead of asking someone, “What’s your name?”, go below the surface to a place of richer stories and values. Ask, “What’s the story behind your name? Who are you named after?” It gives you a deeper insight into who the person in front of you is.”
Curiosity can be a power to connect.
“It has the power to change our perspective and the way we navigate the world. I think that’s where we need to focus our curiosity.” added Shigeoka.