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There are many benefits to being more curious

Justin Shelley Leadership & Life Coach.

When I was a lot younger, I had a morbid fascination with ghosts and monsters. Every book I read required some kind of darkness about it. It would have to include an evil character that represented an aspect of the dark side of humanity, and I would read books of this nature again and again.

Every spare hour that I had I would devour information on the supernatural and the occult. I would draw pictures of famous book covers by the author Stephen King and would watch horror films at every opportunity (with mum’s consent of course as I was only 13).

When I look back, I am almost envious of my younger self and the level of curiosity I had then, because it was curiosity that fed my passion for all things macabre. I needed to know everything that there was to know on the topic of horror, I needed to feed my curiosity monster.

Fast forward almost 40 years, and thankfully I am no longer passionately curious about ghosts and monsters. But my curiosity to learn and grow remains a constant in my life. I also strongly believe my inherent curiosity keeps me alive and feeling youthful. I think I would simply stop living if I was no longer curious.

But what makes human beings so curious?

One of the traits of our curiosity can be linked to neoteny, which is a term from evolutionary theory which means the "retention of juvenile characteristics" (see this BBC article by Tom Stafford for more on this). As a species, we are much more child-like than other mammals and our lifelong curiosity and playfulness is a behavioural characteristic of neoteny.

In the book Why, what makes us curious? by Astrophysicist Mario Livio, the author describes curiosity as having different flavours and noted that curiosity is driven by different things.

His three "flavours" of curiosity are summarised as:

Perceptual Curiosity: This is the type of curiosity that we feel when we are surprised by something, or when something doesn’t quite agree with what we know or think we know. This can present us with a slightly unpleasant state or feeling. This type of curiosity could be described as an itch that needs to be scratched, where we need to find out information to relieve our curiosity. Perpetual curiosity can be linked to conflict, hunger, or thirst.

Epistemic Curiosity: This type of curiosity is linked to the human love of acquiring knowledge, artistic creativity, creative problem solving, ingenuity and the desire to discover something new. This type of curiosity can be linked to a pleasurable state associated with anticipation and reward, resulting in the stimulation of dopamine in the brain.

Devisive Curiosity: This kind of curiosity is linked to attraction and novelty and encourages us to explore new places, people and things. Mario describes this type of curiosity as being linked with our obsessive and sometimes addictive tendencies with our mobile phones, text messaging and our constant scrolling of the internet.

What is evident in the author's findings is that some people are naturally more curious than others and that there is a genetic component to this. However, equally as important is the environment or culture that an individual is bought up in. Whether curiosity is stifled or encouraged, it can have a significant impact on our curiosity in their later life.

The good news is that curiosity never dies, it just changes and, whilst for some people curiosity comes much more naturally, the even better news is that curiosity can be encouraged and learnt, so you are never too old to learn new things.

There are many benefits of curiosity that can be learnt and applied.

Here are my top 10 benefits of curiosity:

  1. Curiosity is at the heart of coaching. My top benefit, of course! Curiosity is at the heart of the coaching relationship. Curiosity is a very special quality that keeps coaching conversations going. Using curious empowering questions promotes a person to think more broadly and openly, dig deep and find new creative ideas and ways forward to reach goals.

  2. Curiosity can open up new possibilities. Being curious will allow you to see new opportunities that are not normally visible to you. What is normally hidden on the surface of our lives can be revealed by the curious mind; you get to see the world through different lenses.

  3. Curiosity can be used to disarm conflict. Learning to approach a confrontational situation with curiosity can often lead to a more peaceful outcome. When someone comes at you with anger, leaning in with curiosity can help to diffuse the conflict. By stepping into curious energy and dropping your judgements and beliefs, you get to learn about the other person’s perspective and what is important to them, without getting angry yourself.

  4. Curiosity can make your mind more active. Curious people always ask questions and search for answers. Their minds are always active. The mind is like a muscle that becomes stronger through continuous exercise. The mental exercise caused by curiosity makes your mind stronger and stronger.

  5. Curiosity is good for building relationships. Being more curious about other people and talking to people outside of our social circle (on a more personal level) enables us to better understand those people with lives, experiences, and perspectives that might be different to ourselves. This encourages empathy, reduces our judgement, and encourages our personal growth.

  6. Curiosity increases Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence. Learning to be curious about yourself is a crucial part of developing self-awareness and improving your Emotional Intelligence quotient. The better your Emotional Intelligence, the better your relationships will be with other people.

  7. Curiosity can help us to thrive and survive. The human desire to seek and explore helps us to remain observant and gain knowledge and information about our constantly changing environment so that we may adapt and enjoy exciting new experiences. It is those exciting experiences that release dopamine and other “feel-good” chemicals when we encounter new things in our lives.

  8. Curiosity can foster creativity. Being curious leads to gathering and cultivating new information and ideas, which in turn leads to higher creativity. Thinking differently and more openly can encourage our brains to take a different path to find answers, sparking fresh ideas and promoting more creativity.

  9. Curiosity can make us happier. Research has shown that being more curious is associated with higher levels of positivity, lower levels of anxiety, phycological wellbeing and more satisfaction in life.

  10. Curiosity is the key to great leadership. Leading a team with curiosity has many positive benefits over old-fashioned authoritarian leadership. Curious leaders inspire their teams to be creative and come up with their solutions. Curious leaders tend to listen more, admit limitations, and ask for help when needed. Curious leaders foster a much more open collaborative culture.

So, when you think about it, curiosity isn’t just about asking a question. It can be applied in multiple situations and is an integral part of good communication, leadership and coaching.

I would describe curiosity as a skill, a sharp tool and as an approach to life that keeps us living!

I hope that exploring the topic of curiosity and some of its many benefits has whetted your appetite to become more curious in your own life. If this article has prompted any thoughts or questions and you would like to get in touch, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.


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