Why Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat…

The late Stephen Hawking advised “It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious, I know I will forever be.” Throughout his life he not only exercised an insatiable curiosity about physics and some of the biggest questions facing mankind, but he also urged people to open their own eyes to every possibility.

Hawking’s encouraged curiosity, inspiring people to take leaps forward in their own understanding. He championed and role-modelled this behaviour, making extraordinary use of his brain to remain intrigued by every corner of the universe. Despite being trapped in an immobile body his brain was constantly exploring. It may even have been what kept him alive for the five decades beyond the doctors gave him. Although that may sound implausible, one study which looked at more than 2000 people over a 5-year period showed that older adults who were more curious actually lived longer (even after taking other risk factors into account).

“Look up at the stars, not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” S. Hawking

Curiosity is a fascinating, even magical behavior that’s relevant to each and every one of us. It defines our natural inquisitiveness as humans, without curiosity we wouldn’t have moved beyond being cave dwellers. Exploiting our curiosity has enabled us to reach the advanced scientific and technological world of the twenty-first century. And with that understanding of the brain and behaviour we’ve found other benefits that curiosity itself brings. These include factors essential to happiness and success:

HAPPINESS & WELL-BEING

A paper by Matthew Gallagher in the Journal of Positive Psychology showed that the “exploration” component of curiosity is positively associated with well-being. Further to this, a German study found that curiosity has a more positive impact on well-being and happiness than gratitude, hope, or even humor.

CONNECTION

When we show genuine interest in others, a curiosity and openness about who they are, wanting to know them and not to judge them, it builds trust and allows a deeper connection to form, ultimately fuelling positive and fulfilling relationships.

INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY

Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology at George Mason University has carried out extensive research on curiosity and says: “When curiosity is supported in the workplace, employees feel energized, engaged and committed, and this helps drive innovation.”

INTELLECT

Sophie von Stumm from the University of Edinburgh worked with colleagues to look at curiosity within an academic setting. She found that intellectual curiosity influenced academic performance to the same extent as IQ. Research published in the neuroscientific journal Neuron showed how our brain learns better and retains more information when we are curious about a subject. And Einstein, another giant of intellect said “I am neither clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious”

We all started life curious about the world. Some people manage to hone and develop that curiosity, Stephen Hawking being case in point, but most of us become too busy ‘doing things’ to fully engage our curiosity, meaning that this valuable skill dwindles gradually as we age. But the good news is that it’s never too late to improve.

Kashdan has found that there are two key elements to curiosity:

  • Being motivated to discover new knowledge and experiences.
  • Having an inclination to embrace novel and unpredictable situations.

How do you use this? Well as a starting point it’s here are 10 things worth trying: 

  1. Following Your Fascination – a stepping stone to developing curiosity is looking about and investigating the things that peak your interest.
  2. Reading – anything and everything you can get your hands on.
  3. Learning from Others – listen to people with experience, people you know and even those you don’t know by watching YouTube, Tedtalks, documentaries and reading autobiographies. The more you listen and learn, the more you will want to learn.
  4. Learning New Things – it sounds obvious but do you do it? Look into what courses you could take whether it’s an hour at your local college or a PhD it doesn’t matter. Try out what works and what doesn’t for you and once you see what does, throw yourself into it to learn and explore in more depth.
  5. Asking Questions – and listening to the answers (before shutting down, thinking about something else or deciding you’re not interested). Other people’s views are always noteworthy, especially when they are different from you own. Try to be open minded, explore and be prepared to shift your perspective (that doesn’t mean you have to, just be open to it)
  6. Observing and Watching– see what’s going on around you, what’s new, what’s changed, look at things as a young child does, even the same landscape is constantly in flux, notice those changes. Be a detective, look under every stone, work out the connections, relentlessly explore.
  7. Trying New Things and going to new places – jump in feet first even if it feels a little scary, it’s only by experiencing difference that we can really stretch our minds.
  8. Pursuing Personal Development – learn more about you, raise your self-awareness, understand where and how you fit in the world, what are your strengths, what you find meaning in.
  9. Speaking to Strangers– not ‘strange’ people but people you don’t know. We learn a lot more from people who are not like us and that tends to be people we don’t know.
  10. Pushing Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone – go on, jump in and try something new. As renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow said “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or back into safety” Which will you choose?

Extracts taken and adapted from Defining You.

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden will be out in April 2018 (UK) and July 2018 (USA, Canada, Australia and rest of the world). To pre-order a copy go to amazon.co.uk, Waterstonesamazon.com, amazon.au . It will also be available in WHSmith’s UK from mid April 2018.

Defining You gives unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

 

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References:

M.W. Gallagher & S.J. Lopez (2009) Positive expectancies and mental health: Identifying the unique contributions of hope and optimism, Journal of Positive Psychology 4(6): 548–56.

Gander, R.T. Proyer, W. Ruch, & T. Wyss (2012) The good character at work: An initial study on the contribution of character strengths in identifying healthy and unhealthy work-related behavior and experience patterns, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 85(8): 895–904.

J. Gruber, M. J. B. D. Gelman, & C. Ranganath C (2014) States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit, Neuron, Oct 02, 2014

T, Kashdan (2009) Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. Harper Perennial

von Stumm, B. Hell, & T. Chamorro-Premuzic (2011) The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity Is the third pillar of academic performance, Perspectives on Psychological Science 6(6): 574–88.

E. Swan, & D. Carmelli (1996). Curiosity and mortality in aging adults: A 5-year follow-up of the Western Collaborative Group Study. Psychology and Aging, 11(3), 449-453.

 

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