One of my biggest challenges is making assumptions instead of remaining curious. Case in point from my personal life. Someone sent me an official document that “proved” they were right in an issue we’re working through. I didn’t read it carefully, missed important details, and accepted their “proof.” Their rights are now being legitably challenged as more important details are being revealed. Sorry I can’t share more about the specifics. Basically, though, I think we all have this tendency. We’re too quick to make assumptions instead of curiously investigating issues. Developing the habit of curiosity seems particularly important to counteract this tendency.
Learning requires us to move toward stressful situations, engage them, and remain present. Curiosity helps us move toward stress.
Habits are cyclical, contain three parts, and are driven to repeat themselves. The three parts are the cue, the routine, and the reward. Stress is the cue; it moves us to do something. That doing takes us through a routine to process stress. Gaining more comfort is the reward for our efforts. The cycle is driven by our comfort-based motivation. What can we change with all this?
The cue can’t be changed; stress is inevitable. The reward, too, can’t be changed; we need relief from stress at some point in the future. Our comfort motivation that drives the cycle, too, is natural and can’t be changed. What we can change is the routine. Developing the habit of curiosity creates routines that keep us engaged in the learning process. It gives our natural comfort motivation a direction toward engagement.
Curiosity can be developed and habituated. It starts by being more interested in learning than the comfort we experience dwelling on what we think we know.
In her book, The Intuitive Body, Wendy Palmer gives us some perspective on curiosity. She says,
“For me, the spiritual worth lies not in the answer but in the fantastic sense of readiness, the intense here and now of expectancy, the instant before we know, when we are still in a state of openness.”
Wendy’s phrases reveal our mindset for curiosity. Expectations, though, could derail our attention. Windy talks about an “intense here and now of expectancy.” How can we relate to expectations better so they don’t derail our curiosity?
The expectancy Wendy relates is about end-results and processes. We expect to know, but we don’t put a time-stamp on that expectancy. By not putting a time-stamp on it, we achieve both end and process expectations. We expect that at some point in the future we’ll know and we expect to continue to apply our tools in the moment as we learn and move in that direction.
She outlines the habit of curiosity in five steps:
- The first step is awareness. Become aware and acknowledge that the mind, driven by its natural comfort motivation, tries to resolve stress quickly, to get to certainty and some future comfortable state.
- The second step is to wait, to pause. Don’t do anything. Develop the ability to pause and wait, to relax into the current stressful situation.
- The third step is to shift the flow of your attention. Instead of allowing it to dwell in the mind validating what you think you know, you shift attention into the body and senses toward the issue you’re investigating.
- The fourth step is blending with the situation. Instead of thinking that you either have the answer or you don’t, shift to a both/and perspective. Acceptance is important for this. You both accept the situation as is, and investigate it in the present moment.
- The fifth step is making a small step of action. This step must be small enough to move you, now. Take the small step of action with expectancy that you’ll discover something.
I think the most difficult step is the first one. Like I mentioned before, we make assumptions due to lack of awareness. In a sense, we’re reacting to the mind’s desire for certainty and comfort and aren’t aware of what’s going on. Once we’re aware, we can pause, shift our attention to the issue, accept it and begin working with it by taking a small action.
Remember, the “routine” is the only part of the habit cycle you can change. You can’t change the cue–the stress. You can’t change the reward–you want relief from the stress. It’s the routine you create to process the stress that’s within your control. Take control by reminding yourself moment by moment, all day long, to be curious. Your awareness will pique the mind’s tendency to derail your attention.
Practice Tip: 5 Steps to Remain Curious
- Be aware throughout the day. Set reminders on your phone, computer, etc. It can be helpful to get a friend to do this also so you can remind and encourage each other.
- Instead of reacting… pause. Allow awareness to expand.
- Don’t let attention dwell in your mind on what you think you know. Rather, redirect it to the issue itself.
- Acceptance is important before action. Take a both/and perspective by both accepting the situation as it is and being willing to take action to improve it.
- Take a small action step to investigate the issue…repeat.