Curiosity: a vital ingredient for fulfilment and positive growth
Written on the 16th of April 2012 by Sue Langley
“You can’t always be happy but nearly always profoundly aware and curious”, asserts Todd Kashdan, Senior Scientist at the Center for Consciousness and Transformation at George Mason University and author of Curious? Discovering the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life . His extensive research suggests that curiosity can be applied to encourage growth, replenishment and creativity, as well as reset kneejerk pleasure seeking, particularly through short-term gratification (as in this classic experiment with children and adults ) or harmful substance abuse.
According to Kashdan, curiosity makes us more psychologically flexible; we gain vitality and a greater capacity to tolerate anxiety and distress while staying mindful and connected, leading to more sustainable satisfaction for “a life well-lived”.
Curiosity also inspires a mindset of continual learning, an essential quality to cultivate in organisations today. Addressing audiences at the 3rd annual Positive Psychology and WellBeing Conference, Jennifer Garvey Berger, author of Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world , cites “passionate curiosity” among three principles for supporting people to grow. “Telling people to be curious is hard,” acknowledges Berger. We need to look beyond curiosity about facts and be prepared to question our underlying assumptions, even certainty itself. “Look for times you are arguing certainty,” she advises. “Be curious about that.”
Maintaining curiosity without judgement can be a critical skill when learning new mindsets and behaviours. At the same conference David Drake, founder of narrative coaching, shared his model for working with learning edges to move ourselves - and others - from good to great. During three stages of growth , people moving from reactivity (stage 1) into inquisitiveness (stage 2) can release habitual defences or reactions by accepting and exploring strengths, how they’ve served growth so far and how they might be matured. Looking for the learning opportunity in the often uncomfortable process of change prepares us for generative growth (stage 3), in which greater agility and impact can be strived for and achieved.
Giving ourselves the gift of curiosity or working with a curious and encouraging guide such as a coach or supportive leader can make all the difference in successful emergence from challenging times.
Curiosity doesn’t have to be a tool used just in challenging transitions. We can cultivate curiosity daily, allowing the new experiences and people we are allow ourselves to be curious about to make us feel more engaged, alive, compassionate and whole.
EIW encourages a curious outlook in individuals, organisations and teams, embedding curious and mindful behaviours to enhance performance, flexibility and learning. One example is using psychometric testing such as Mayer-Salovey-Caruso, Realise2 and MBTI to get curious about yourself and your team and develop self-awareness practices that can be used in everyday work life.
How do you use curiosity most days?
EIW team members share their practices....
Curiosity is a way of learning more. I like to get curious about people. I find people endlessly fascinating and the more curious I am about them, the less I am concerned about myself. In anxious situations it is easy to get overwhelmed by your own internal emotions. By getting curious about others my own emotions fade into the background.
Personally I also like to be curious in my own life. I love to learn, so getting curious about the way the brain works and human behaviour is essential to my role and also inspires me to share what I learn with others. It also links to mindfulness about being focused on one thing and being present and this is something I like to practice when I am out walking, or in a natural environment.
Celia, Consultant and Coach
I hang out with people who inspire me. Surrounding myself with people who I want to model and learn from has helped me keep my curiosity open. It’s also more than that. For me finding these people means I’ve become even more curious about what’s out there and what’s possible and also who I want to be, do and have in my life.
I appreciate how much I don’t know! I like to go into situations with an open (and empty) mind. It’s amazing how much I have learnt using this approach. Often it’s tiny little snippets of information that I’ve picked up on because I’ve gone in open-minded.
Being an introvert sometimes I find it challenging walking into a room full of people and having to initiate conversation. Except – it’s fascinating to learn about people. For example, I was sitting next to someone at a training event who appeared very corporate and well-presented in shirt and tie. When we got talking I found out that he had spent a couple of years at a monastery and was a martial artist. It was amazing to me because I never would have imagined this person doing that unless I had asked lots of curious questions, not just the “hey, how are you?” kind of questions.
Linda, Executive Assistant
I like to follow any inspiring idea or thought and research it and see where that research takes me.
Often we start out looking at a topic and the more time we spend researching it, the idea branches out into something bigger (like an Octopus - one body, many arms) and becomes far more interesting. Before you know it, you forget what you were originally researching and go down a different avenue – even more engaging and inspiring than what you originally set out to look for.
Sophie, Marketing Manager
Curiosity is a gift I can give others. To me there is nothing more acknowledging than someone who is genuinely curious about who you are, your interests, passions and unique challenges. I know that when I am genuinely, appropriately curious about another person, as a friend, colleague or coach, I am able to offer them my focussed attention and am showing I value and appreciate them. When I focus on curiosity I am more able to put aside my own preconceptions and judgements and be more fully present. Curiosity acts as my guide. It makes me focus on being a better and more compassionate person.
Kashdan, Todd (2009). Curious? Discovering the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. HarperCollins.
Delayed gratification builds resilience – more in upcoming articles.
Garvey Berger, Jennifer (2011). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford University Press.
Drake, David (2012). Moving from good to great: A narrative perspective on strengths. Proceeding at Positive 2012, Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong, 22 March 2012.
Sue Langley is a sought-after speaker, facilitator and master trainer in emotional intelligence, positive psychology and the neuroscience of leadership. Sue has studied positive psychology at Harvard and is the first person in Australia to undertake the Masters of Neuroscience of Leadership. Considered one of the leaders in Australia in the practical workplace application of these fields, Sue is CEO of Emotional Intelligence Worldwide and the author of “Positive Relationships at Work,” in Positive Relationships by Sue Roffey (Springer, 2012).