Curious in 2017

As with most good things that I do one time, I then pronounce them a ‘tradition’. And so again I begin this year with the ‘one word’ resolution tradition.

The premise of this is pretty simple, choose a word that will set your intention for the year ahead. It can be any word and the idea is that you utilise this word to draw your focus on something that you’d like to infuse into your life: to thread through it.

At the start of 2016, I gave this a go. And after a bit of thought I decided my word was ‘courage’. And I blogged about it. Some which is probably not all that interesting. And some which may be a bit better.

What I really enjoyed about this ‘one word’ adventure over a traditional resolution was that it was something I was able to come back to time and time again. It helped to guide some of my goals for the year. And when I was feeling doubtful about something or stressed it helped to ask the question ‘What would Harry (Potter) do?’

So with my courage on board, I’ve set myself a new word as I head in 2017. The word is – curiosity.

Curiosity is by definition an interesting subject. It’s that state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something. It’s the process of how an idea can suddenly pop into our mind, only to open up an array of doors for us to gaze into. Curiosity can create an openness to unfamiliar experiences, laying the groundwork for greater opportunities to experience. I reckon the ability to be curious about the way the world works is one of the most underrated qualities or talents that we can develop.

Like most aspects of humanness, everyone possesses curiosity to some degree. We differ according to the strength and breadth of our curiosity and also our willingness to act on it.

Again like most aspects of humanness, curiosity is something that we can nurture and develop. With practice, we can harness the power of curiosity to transform everyday tasks into interesting and enjoyable experiences. We can also use curiosity to intentionally create wonder, intrigue and play out of almost any situation or interaction we encounter.

It all starts with wanting to know more.

According to the smart people (aka the ‘research’) developing our curious side has all sorts of benefits. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Improving our health
In a 1996 study more than 1 000 older adults aged 60 to 86 were observed over a five-year period. Researchers found that those who were assessed as being more curious at the beginning of the study were more likely to be alive at its conclusion, even after taking into account age, whether they smoked, the presence of cancer or cardiovascular disease, and so on. It is possible that declining curiosity is an initial sign of neurological illness and declining health. Nonetheless, there are promising signs that enhancing curiosity reduces the risk for these diseases and may even reverse some of the natural degeneration that occurs in older adults.
In his book, The Power of Premonitions, Dr Larry Dutton cites studies that have shown women “who regularly engage in mini-mysteries … taking on novel experiences that get them out of familiar routines (better) preserve their mental faculties later in life.” In short, a regular dose of the unexpected helps keep your brain healthy.
  • We become smarter.
Studies have also shown that curiosity positively correlates with intelligence. In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2002, researchers correctly predicted that high novelty-seeking (or highly curious) toddlers would have higher IQs as older children than toddlers with lower levels of curiosity. Researchers measured the degree of novelty-seeking behavior in 1,795 3-year-olds and then measured their cognitive ability at age 11. As predicted, the 11-year-olds who had been highly curious 3-year-olds later scored 12 points higher on total IQ compared with low stimulation seekers. They also had superior scholastic and reading ability.
Other studies have shown that high levels of curiosity in adults are connected to greater analytic ability, problem-solving skills and overall intelligence. All of which suggests that cultivating more curiosity in your daily life is likely to make you smarter.
  • We have better relationships.
Turns out it is far easier to form and maintain satisfying, significant relationships when you demonstrate an attitude of openness and genuine interest. One of the top reasons why couples seek counseling or therapy is because they’ve become bored with each other. This can lead to resentment, hostility, communication breakdowns and a lack of interest in spending time together (only adding to the initial problem). Curious people report more satisfying relationships and marriages. Happy couples describe their partners as interested and responsive.
Curious people are also inclined to act in ways that allow relationships to develop more easily. In one of study, participants spent five minutes getting acquainted with a stranger of the opposite gender, and each person made judgments about his or her partner’s personality. Researchers then interviewed their closest friends and parents to gain added insight into the qualities that curious people bring to relationships. Each of these groups — acquaintances of a mere five minutes, close friends and parents — characterised curious people as highly enthusiastic and energetic, talkative, interesting in what they say and do, displaying a wide range of interests, confident, humorous, less likely to express insecurities, and lacking in timidity and anxiety compared with less curious people.
Curious people ask questions and take an interest in learning about partners, and they intentionally try to keep interactions interesting engaging and playful. This approach supports the development of good relationships.
  • We are happier
The Gallup organization recently reported the results of a survey conducted with more than 130,000 people from some 130 nations, a sample designed to represent 96 percent of the world’s population. The poll identified two factors that had the strongest influence on how much enjoyment a person experienced in a given day: “being able to count on someone for help” and “learned something yesterday.”
What this poll confirms is that developing good relationships with other people and growing as a person are foundational components of a “happy” life. Both factors are supported by curiosity.
In fact, in one of the largest undertakings in the field of psychology, two pioneers in the field of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, PhD, and Chris Peterson, PhD, devised a scientific classification of the basic human strengths. This system was the end result of reading the works of ancient philosophers, religious texts and contemporary literature, then identifying patterns, and finally subjecting these ideas to rigorous scientific tests. Their research eventually recognized 24 basic strengths. And, of those 24 strengths that human beings can possess, curiosity was one of the five most highly associated with overall life fulfillment and happiness.
  • We might find our true ‘Meaning’
If we are going to find a meaningful purpose or calling in life, chances are good we will find it in something that unleashes our natural curiosity and fascination. Indeed, curiosity is the entry point to many of life’s greatest sources of meaning and satisfaction: our interests, hobbies and passions.
While being passionate about something naturally renders you curious to know as much as you can about it, it also works the other way around: The more curiosity you can muster for something, the more likely you are to notice and learn about it, and thus the more interesting and meaningful it will become for you over time.

This is all very impressive smart stuff. And if any of this eventuates over the course of the year, I’ll be stoked, however none of this had anything to do with why I chose curiosity as my one word for 2017. There’s three pretty simple reasons why I picked this word.

Firstly, over the past little while I have seemed to become a little bit stuck in the familiar with very little engagement in it. Really just going along with it. And I want to be more engaged. And here’s the thing - nothing will be interesting unless we focus our attention on it.

Here’s an example – apple stickers. The tiny stickers stuck to the fruit that sometimes you may forget to peel off and end up biting straight through the plastic. Turns out they are fascinating things. When I was in high school I began collecting these things (I told you I was a nerd) and I can guarantee it might surprise you how many different stickers there are out there, how they work and the lengths your friends will go to collect them for you.

And it’d be so nice to get some of that feeling back. Some of that - “Oh wow, that sticker I have never seen before! Is that from a royal gala? It must be from Tasmania or somewhere? Look at the colours! How exciting” – wonder back into my daily life.

Also, occasionally I worry I’m becoming a little bit of a judgmental sod. Or at least jumping to assumptions way too quickly. I don’t know where this has sprung from, but lately this judgmentalness has popped its ugly head and I’d like to nip it in the bud. And the best way to do it? Be curious. Ask questions. Listen. Ask. And listen some more. The more we know, the harder it is judge and the easier it is to empathise.

Thirdly, this year is going to bring a lot of new things for me. There will be new opportunities. But probably also many moments of uncertainty.

Us humans very rarely thrive under uncertainty. We rarely look forward to anxiety and tension, but research shows that these mixed emotions are often what lead to the most intense and longest-lasting positive experiences. People who take part in new and uncertain activities are happier and find more meaning in their lives than people who rely on the familiar.

Most of us mistakenly believe that certainty will make us happier than uncertainty. Imagine that you go to a footy game knowing that your team will win. Most people would say that, yes that would make them happy. Yet knowing the outcome in advance takes away the thrill of watching each play and the good tension that comes with not knowing what will happen next. We forget about the pleasures of surprise and uncertainty.

So, I’m hopeful that curiosity might be the thing that helps me thrive (or at least lessen the panic) in moments of uncertainty.

And how am I going to do all of this? How am I going to cultivate my curiousioty and reap all of these rewards?

You’ll just have to wait and see.

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