How to increase curiosity

Reading time: About 3 minutes

If writing is boring you, solve the problem by figuring out how to increase curiosity. More curiosity will be like a slap on the face or a cold shower. It will invigorate you!

The very first paying job of my life was as a babysitter, at the princely sum of 50 cents per hour. One of my regular charges was a young family across the street. Those kids were trouble. They liked to pull stunts like throwing their cat and gerbil in the room — with me — giggling and quickly slamming the door behind them. Or they’d try to carve up the beautiful oak banisters in the hallway with the family carving knives. 

Trouble aside, the girl in the family was exceptionally bright. Whenever I told her something, she’d look at me with her big brown eyes and ask, “WHY?”  And when I answered, she’d ask the same question again. And again. Why is it so hot today? Why is it summer? Why are there seasons? Why does the world spin around?

Her relentless questions drove me crazy but many years later, I was unsurprised to learn that she’d earned her PhD from the London School of Economics and had become a professor at a leading European institution. She was starving for information and this hunger inevitably fueled her academic career.

Writers also need to be ravenous to learn more. Why? Curiosity sparks creativity and that, in turn, leads to a self-sustaining system: Creative questions lead to curiosity, and curious questions lead to creativity. 

Celebrated scientist and author Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Me-high Chick-sent-me-high) — the person who defined the term “flow” for writers — argued there is a direct relationship between our attentional resources and our interest in the world: Nothing is interesting to us unless we focus on it. According to Csikszentmihalyi, we can develop our curiosity by making a conscious effort to direct our attention to something in particular.

Although of course some curiosity is hard-wired — you’re just born that way — it’s also a skill you can learn and cultivate. If you want to improve your own curiosity, here are six steps you can take:

1-Question everything. Ask lots of questions. Like the child I used to babysit, keep asking why. And never be afraid of what you might regard as a “dumb” question. Smart people know there’s no such thing; there are only people too fearful to ask. Remember the proverb: Anyone who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes. Anyone who does not ask remains a fool forever. 

2-Welcome boredom. Instead of picking up your phone or turning on your streaming service the next time you have nothing to do, take a deep breath and allow your mind to wander. Stop saying you’re bored. Instead, explore the world around you. The more you say you’re bored, the less opportunity your mind has to grow. If you’re on a bus or train, strike up a conversation with a stranger. Watch the people around you and be fascinated by their quirks. Most of all, enjoy yourself. This will lead to asking more questions, learning new skills, and becoming more engaged.

3-Get out from behind your computer and go exploring. Many of us have become fixed to our desks, especially during COVID. Understand that while Dr. Google may know just about everything, he certainly doesn’t know what’s going to most interest you. Often, he’s way too specific, which doesn’t give you the chance to enjoy the delights of randomness. Explore the world as you would an interesting bookshop — strolling from table to table, ignoring some books here, picking up others there and leafing through them. 

4-Try something that’s outside of your comfort zone. We all have habits and that’s okay — except when the habits keep us from trying anything new. If you’re the type of person who always orders the same meal from a restaurant every time you go, branch out and try something new. I remember being in a Japanese restaurant once and ordering a potato dish. The waitress tried to talk me out of it. “You won’t like it,” she said. “I won’t blame you,” I assured her. She delivered the dish and I did hate it (the potatoes were raw, slimy and dipped in egg) but I didn’t regret ordering it. I’m curious about food and I wanted to know what that dish tasted like.

5-Listen without judgment. Most of us try to talk too much during conversations. But if you can suspend your judgment while talking to others, you’ll be allowing yourself to be more curious. You’ll focus less on what you’re going to say next, and more on the words and information the other person is telling you. Listening begins with being silent. So next time you’re having a conversation with someone, just listen. 

6-Try not to dwell on the past. When you spend all your time remembering the past, you don’t give yourself a chance to be curious about the future. Many adults make the mistake of focusing on what they’ve already been through. The trouble is, this attitude will stop you from finding new opportunities that are ripe for exploring. Focus on what’s to come, not what’s already happened. 

Curiosity comes from the inside, out. It doesn’t happen with flashing lights and fireworks. Instead, it arises out of our own past experience and current knowledge, then leaps forward as our brains seek patterns they recognize.

The celebrated thinker Albert Einstein always said he thought he had no special talent. “I am only passionately curious,” he said. 

Today, ask yourself whether you’re being curious enough to be a writer.

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Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 

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My video podcast last week addressed how to write more brilliantly Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How do you engage your sense of curiosity? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better.  Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy! 

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