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The benefits of curiosity

FionaBy Fiona Murden, Psychologist and author of "Defining You"

Guest Blogger

It’s easy to stop being curious as we get older. We know things, we’ve seen things, and we’ve lived life so there’s no longer the need of a child to ask questions and explore the unknown.

While research suggests that as we age our inquisitiveness tends to fade, it also shows that curiosity is just as relevant in adulthood. Curiosity not only helps us discover more about who we are but provides a basis on which to build better relationships, unlock creativity and innovation, grow our intellect, boost our general health and well-being, and even slow down the aging process.

A study carried out by scientists G.E. Swan and D. Carmelli following more than 1,000 older men and women found that those who were more curious were actually more likely to survive the five-year study than those who weren’t. Curiosity literally kept them alive longer.

In his book “Curious,” Ian Leslie describes the process of curiosity in childhood which is useful to apply to any of us at any age. Leslie’s three steps of curiosity provide a useful framework from which to boost your own inquisitiveness:

1. Knowing what we don’t know.

We can approach a situation accepting our own inexperience. Instead of presuming we know the answer, we can ask questions with an open mind and really considering the answers. This is known as empathic curiosity: an interest in the thoughts and feelings of other people, and remaining ready to encounter the unexpected.

We can use this approach every day of our lives. Rather than answering questions with our habitual response, we can be aware of what we really think, feel, and want. We’re not assuming we know the answers until we’ve looked at things from every angle, digging beneath the surface, and asking ourselves why we feel the way we do about certain things, how the beliefs we have formed came about, and what led us to take certain decisions.

2. Imagining different, competing possibilities.

This about holding more than one possibility in mind at any given time and exploring which one is right. For example, when meeting someone shy, you can consider, “Is this person shy when they meet new people?” or “Are they quiet in this situation because they’re nervous?” Approach situations with the premise that any thought or idea needs to be explored and tested. Try to suspend judgment until all of the options have been explored.  

3. Understanding that we can learn from other people.

This may seem obvious but it’s something we can come to with a closed mind as we get older. Keeping an open mind to others’ thoughts, attitudes, and experiences is incredibly powerful. In social situations, we have a natural tendency to show other people what we know about a familiar subject, rather than listening to what they can tell us. Yet, pausing to learn about them and asking questions inevitably provides information that we can reapply to ourselves. For example, you may find a different way of seeing things, a means of overcoming an issue that you hadn’t thought of, an opportunity that you didn’t know about.

How curious are you? Could you be more curious? Do you do these three things? It's worth trying, even just for a day because being curious really does lead to a healthier, happier, and longer life.

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