As babies we are born with insatiable curiosity. This how we learn about and orient to the world we live in. If we are lucky we will keep a little of that curiosity into our teens and adult lives. It is curiosity that reminds us that we don’t know everything there is to know and invites us to look for the things that we may be missing. When faced with a challenge, a problem, or even a good time, stop and see if you can use curiosity.
Emotions are best understood as a spectrum. There are heavy destructive emotions and then there are light and creative emotions. If 0 was a frequency that we assigned to the lowest and heaviest emotion, it would go to shame. Shame has no creativity. Shame is a stuck and hopeless feeling. If 100 was a frequency we assigned to the highest and lightest emotion, it would be enlightenment or love. There is tons of room for creativity in enlightenment. All the other emotions fall somewhere along the spectrum.
In the middle of the spectrum is neutrality; not destructive and not creative. Generally speaking, we want to at least be at neutral most of the day, but how do we get back to neutral or creative when we fall into destructive emotions? We can use curiosity to move up the spectrum into lighter more creative emotions.
Fear is associated with the emotion anxiety and is about 4 emotions below neutrality. There is not much creative room in fear. However, willingness is about 4 emotions above neutrality and is associated with the emotion of optimism and excitement. How do we make that big jump though? How do we get from Fear to Willingness?
If you can accept that fear is a natural reaction, if you can be willing to see what it is that you are truly afraid of, perhaps using curiosity can swing the emotion. Fear and Excitement feel very much the same, that is why this works so well. The visceral body reaction is the same; increased heart rate, sweaty palms, blood being moved to the extremities that causes a little stomach upset, shaking. When you feel these familiar body sensations regarding a situation, ask yourself if you can choose to be excited instead of afraid.
What if this is going to be so scary; but then again, what if it is going to be freaking AWESOME too?!? Keeping this energy in fear depletes your ability to create, while using curiosity (what if it turns out to be awesome) to move into excitement allows you to use that buzzing energy to create a sense of anticipation (willingness) for the challenges ahead.
This is the big one that gets me. People are different, weird, unpredictable, and sometimes frustrating. We have set ways that we believe that people should act, and that is mostly based on what we were taught. We hold ourselves and others to standards all of the time, it is called expectations, but what happens when a person you care about acts outside of that expectation? How do you react?
If you are in part responsible for this person and their actions somehow jeopardize something for you, you may get angry. We become angry or upset when we think we know why a person has acted a certain way, this is judgement. This happens, in part, because we don’t have enough information to attach compassion to… yet.
Quite often people do weird, hurtful, harmful, or otherwise disruptive things for good reasons (or at least good reasons in their own opinions). We all process and come to conclusions about thing differently. It is entirely possible to do something you think is a great gesture of appreciation only to be received as dumb or hurtful. If you are in a relationship I bet you can think of a few examples.
When this happens, do you ever ask yourself “why on earth would they do this?” Again, examine the tone here; is it frustrated and dismissive? Let’s see if we can shift it. Add the thinking sound “hmm” to the beginning of the sentence and ask the question again. Did that change the tone? Try to sound more like Sherlock Holmes and less like the red queen when you ask the question and now I bet we are getting somewhere.
Why would someone do that? Great question! If we are actually asking this question in earnest, it shows that we are curious and that we would like to learn. Try it out. Ask your partner, in earnest and in the Sherlock Holmes tone, why they would do it. Let them blow your mind with a scenario and thought process that you had never considered before and watch compassion bloom in your relationships.
In business, especially entrepreneurship, obstacles are everywhere. New things can’t be done until they can. Road blocks look like dead ends until you find that one wiggly stone and start digging a tunnel. If all we do is look at our blocked road and see a stone wall, we will always turn back and feel discouraged. Before doing that, get curious. Survey the scene. Get curious about the possibilities. Look at context clues. Where did these rocks come from? Did other people who have traveled this road see these rocks too? If so, what did they do? What tools do I have that could chisel or wash away these rocks? What tools do I wish I had? Now that is a curious question. If I could have any solution I wanted right now, no matter how crazy and far fetched, what would it be?
Then, what if that solution wasn’t so crazy. Dig into curiosity a little more and a little more until the path forward starts to appear. Maybe you don’t have to chisel at all. Maybe the path is not what it seems. Have you ever been hiking and got to a spot where you were like “this does not make sense, I wish they would have marked this path better, I can’t get through this thorny section of cactus, what were they thinking?” And then as you were shaking your head at the absurdity a little flag caught your eye; “Oh, there, around this cactus is the actual path. No need to call a fork lift over to remove this obstacle, seems like it wasn’t in the path after all!”
When building my business websites, it seemed like every inch of forward motion had a new cactus in the path. Email automation errors, shop interface incompatibilities, defense plug-in fails, oh my. Why is my blog now only showing only the first sentence? Why is my shop page adjusted to the far right all of a sudden? Why is my email pinging back? At first I fought every cactus in my way trying to climb over it with determination. No wonder I felt like building a business website was scary, thorny, painful, and not worth it. When I started approaching the perceived road blocks as a new puzzle to learn and solve, it got better.
Okay, I see what is going on here, I know that I don’t have to fight this cactus. Where is the little flag? Where is the path? I will find you! This feeling is different from determination. Determination is a heightened emotion that usually activates anxiety and fear. Curiosity keeps you looking forward, but instead of anxiety you get a sense of pay and creativity. Think of the differences between trying to find an off switch to a bomb vs trying to find your best friend who is hiding under the bed in your room during a game of hide and go seek. Life does not have to be so serious. Most of the time you will not be diffusing a bomb, so why not approach life like you are participating at your own pace with a little pay?
Fear, judgement, and frustration from obstacles are all great motivators to find a different point of view, but what if you are feeling pretty neutral? Apathy is a whole different scary beast to take on. It is sometimes even more dangerous because it can feel pleasant. Careful not to confuse Apathy with peace. Saying I Don’t Care and I Don’t Care are two different things depending on the tone and intention behind it. The first I Don’t Care is the kind that has a little lining of sadness, fear, regret, or hopelessness. That is Apathy. The second I Don’t Care feels like joyous freedom, and that is peace.
If you find yourself in a neutral “I Don’t Care” place that does not feel like absolute bliss, consider that it is Apathy. Eventually you will want to get out of that spot. Apathy over time will turn into depression because you are defaulting on your life. You are not living your truth and your passion. Here is where curiosity can come to the rescue.
Get curious about your life and your path. Get curious about your purpose and what you can be capable of. What should I do, can I do? What do I want to do? What do I want my life to feel like? What is possible for me? What if I did something with my life that was so authentically me that I felt really really good most of the time? What would that look like? What are the first steps I can take right now to get there?
History is full of examples of this. The wright brothers are prime for this. Let’s take this heavy car, put wings on it and then run really fast until we can launch it into the air. Okay, I get it, but, WHY? Sometimes the answer is just because I want to see if it is possible. Can we navigate a ton of steel with a bunch of people on it through thin air across the continent? We can now, but only because someone was curious enough to try it.
This kind of curiosity is the only curiosity that has a little risk involved. Disrupting the usual for the possibility of innovation is beautiful, but it is not always well-accepted. Often the reason that this thing you are curious about is “usual” is because someone is currently benefiting from it being usual; Innovation disrupts the current process. Often the person benefiting from it is doing so at the expense of other people.
Start asking curios questions to people making a buck off the current status quo could land you in a lot of hot water. Being curious about how to change structures, systems, thought processes, policies, and laws will often bring you into contact with some powerful and shady people. Before innovation is celebrated, it is first scrutinized and attacked. The most exciting and life changing innovations have come from people who suffered greatly to achieve them.
Curiosity can be hard to come by. It is much harder to cultivate when you feel unstable, rushed, triggered, activated, or are otherwise living in survival mentality. Curiosity is hard to come by, especially for those of us who have experienced trauma and who are actively healing from trauma. Curiosity can seem like a trap, a luxury, or a useless exercise when you are used to living in your survival patterns (go, go, go, think later).
There is a trick to this mindset sift. Taking a breath, finding the stability that you have within yourself, slowing down, allowing time for new ways of thinking to enter, and stepping out of your activated situation are all ways to invite curiosity in. It is almost impossible to do in a state of traumatization. If you are living with activated unprocessed trauma, curiosity will be like trying to squeeze water from a rock.
I don’t have time for curiosity, I need to trace these steps back to when I last felt stable so that I can make decisions. Your mind may tell you things like this that make you want to run the opposite way of curiosity, but if you always backtrack instead of look for solutions for forward motion, you won’t ever get anywhere. Curiosity happens right where you are, doesn’t need you to back track to stability, but it does ask to you transform yourself into a more stable person in the spot you are in.
These are hard things to do, and again, congratulations on doing the work and showing up for yourself. We get better at these skills by practicing in a safe container. If you are in need of a safe container to practice relational skills, consider my 1:1 Coaching Package to get started on being more authentic and creating safety in your intimate relationships.