Inside every human being is a burning desire to learn and understand the world. And in today’s age of seemingly unlimited information, this thirst for knowledge has never been more important or relevant.
Yet, after trying to fit our fingers in electrical outlets, experimenting with one too many drugs, sending a few more drunk texts than we might like, or barely escaping the danger of our libidos, most of us think we are better off putting a lid on our curiosities. We believe grownups should tighten the reins on their desires, because if they don’t put a lid on them, society slaps one on.
Called “The Pandora Effect” or “lust of the eye,” curiosity is often perceived as a threatening and perilous pursuit. In fact, up until the 17th century, it was considered an out-and-out vice. Things changed once English philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon presented and lived out the argument that nothing could truly be known unless it was investigated.
So, what motivates curiosity?
Curiosity is a motivated emotional state and a basic biological drive. By “motivated emotional state,” I mean that you do not have to have a reason to be curious. The need to know and discover is a need in and of itself. As Albert Einstein said, “curiosity has its own reasons for existing.”
A hungry mind is the cornerstone of all learning, innovation, and discovery. Steve Jobs did not have a “reason” to study calligraphy at school, but his innate curiosity during his college years paid off down the road once it came time to develop the fonts for Apple computers. Further, Walt Disney attributed his success to a continuous curiosity that drove his company forward.
Recent studies show that part of the reason we are curious is that novel things are stimulating and make us want to know more. But curiosity and asking questions can also be part of an organized strategy to learn and grow more in the name of progress. The more curious you are, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more it stimulates your curiosity. Our brains intrinsically register this progress.
Your brain on curiosity
When we are curious, we stimulate brain regions sensitive to conflict and arousal. And when we satisfy our curiosities, the brain’s reward center activates. That’s why curiosity can make us feel more “alive” — quite literally. People who are more curious live longer.
If you’re looking to reconnect with life and to feel more energized, stop following the instructions of everyone else for a while, and start being more genuine about what you truly want to know. When you give in to your curiosity, you will likely activate memory pathways in your brain that enhance learning — and this is the kind of learning that sticks.
Traditionally, in everyday life, we may indulge our curiosity by trying exotic foods, reading WikiLeaks, or watching reality television to get the scoop on the lifestyles of the rich and famous. However, this form of curiosity does not involve engagement driven by intrinsic curiosity.
Activating your intrinsic curiosity — your ability to chart your own journey and discover things — is what will uncover your hidden genius. This is easier said than done, though. In order to transition from being a passive onlooker, you must have the mentality of a tinkerer. Here are three ways to stimulate your intrinsic curiosity:
1. Quell the Fear that Accompanies Uncertainty.
The first step to activating your curiosity is learning how to manage the fear that comes along with it. As the poet e.e. cummings said, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
“Believing” in ourselves does not mean that we have to be cheerleaders of our own causes. Rather, there is a biology and psychology of belief — a kind of rule we can adopt with self-talk that shows us something greater and more interesting is possible.
To jump-start your curiosity, begin with “possibility thinking” as your guiding principle in life. This is how every scientific hypothesis is generated — so, be the scientist in your own life experiment! Then, explore to accumulate evidence.
2. Wander Through Your Own Brain.
Curiosity is not just about looking outside yourself. You can also wander through your own brain. In fact, when you schedule mind-wandering time into your day, you can improve your creativity and attention.
Further, such wandering can also help you understand and push the boundaries of knowledge. To hack this process, if deliberate daydreaming seems too difficult, spend some time in the wild — in a natural setting. One recent study showed that this can turn on the mind-wandering network, allowing your curiosity to be directed inwardly.
3. Make Time for Beautiful Things.
Beautiful things can give us the chills, activating the very connections we need for curiosity. They give us a sense of meaning — and when we feel this sense of meaning, the constraints that thwart curiosity melt away.
A piece of art is like a detective story, and when you work out its meaning, you’ve completed one journey of curiosity. So, make a point of having a new, beautiful object or painting near you every week. Change it up.
When all is said and done, curiosity needs to be awakened if you want to put your genius to work. The above three strategies should provide the wake-up call you and your brain have been waiting for.