WHY IS CURIOSITY IMPORTANT?
Do you remember how playful, lively and curious you were as a child and how rapidly you used to learn new things? But as we age, most of us begin to lose that spark of exciting curiosity.
Having a healthy curiosity is one of the key factors of youthfulness. So today we’ll be discussing the amazing impacts curiosity can have on our well being and how can we develop a healthy, empowering curious attitude to make the most out of our life.
But before we begin, just take a look around you. All man-made things that you are seeing or experiencing right now, someone was curious enough to think of a creative idea or a solution which can be used to increase the quality of our life experience. All the inventions, ideas, growth, and development that exist in the world today has come from some form of Curiosity.
A Proactive Approach Towards Life’s Challenges
Let’s take the example of kids again. It’s rare to find kids with proper upbringing to be in the state of depression, frustration or hopelessness when they’re faced with challenging tasks. On the other hand, most adults when faced with life’s challenges tend to spiral down into disempowering, unproductive and negative states.
The difference is simply the “approach” towards the challenge. Just because children are usually so curious, instead of getting caught up in assumptions and worries, they begin to observe with a keen, open mind and a neutral emotional state.
They exercise their curiosity and ask good questions. Sometimes we find their questions to be weird and out-of-the-box just because of how open they are to learn about life and discover new possibilities.
Plus, they rarely take things personally. They don’t take offense, neither are they worried about what people will think about them or is someone trying to indirectly point at them. They are so immersed in the beautiful curious world of their own imagination and thinking that they don’t have time to get into these petty psychological wars that we as adults run inside of our heads.
And by the way, what do many adults tend to do? What kind of questions do we sometimes ask?
“Why does this have to happen to me?”
“Why can’t I get over it?”
“Why is my luck so bad?”
“Why does that person hate me so much?”
“Why is everybody against me?”
“Why don’t people understand?”
“How in the world will I be able to do this?”
“When will I ever get rid of my problems?”
You know the rest. We’ve all been there.
What’s even worse is that many times before even asking any questions, we jump directly to assumptions and conclusions So mostly we aren’t even curious, ever! We just “know” things at this point.
A few examples:
“He/she hates me, I know it.”
“I won’t be able to do that, ever.”
“This always happens to me.”
“I’m not good at this.”
“I don’t have the confidence and charisma like others.”
“People don’t respect me because I’m not rich or I don’t look good enough.”
“Society is full of evil, everybody is out to get you.”
And when sometimes we do get curious by chance, that curiosity tends to head towards the negative direction.
Negative and disempowering questions will usually lead to negative and disempowering answers, which will ultimately determine the quality and experience of our lives.
Can you imagine the state of mind of that child who is curious?
Instead of being overwhelmed, he/she takes on a proactive approach. Keen to find answers and solutions with a neutral mindset. Enjoying the process of exploration and learning along the way.
Many of the most successful and most fulfilled people have this same approach towards life and life’s challenges. It doesn’t mean that they have lesser difficulties, in fact, they have much more in most cases. But they have trained themselves to approach things proactively and curiously.
It just takes a shift in our attitude, and our experience of current life shifts instantly. We begin to perceive things with a new pair of glasses.
Curiosity Activates Our Consciousness
Needless to say that when we get really curious about something, we tend to spend greater mental energy towards that subject of interest. We start to actively observe, learn and reflect. This exercises our deep thinking processes and we start to pay conscious attention towards things that matter.
All this happens as a result of the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in our brain.
Reticular Activating System (RAS) is simply the filter system of our brain that filters out unnecessary information. Our brain receives and processes literally millions of bits of information per second (some experts even estimate 400 Billion bits per second). If we were to pay attention to every single bit of that data, we would go insane.
So, fortunately, by the Mercy of God, we have a data filtration system, that cuts out all the unnecessary information and only brings to our attention the information that we really need at the moment.
Right at this very moment, your brain is receiving tons of information through your senses but are you really paying attention to them?
For example, the temperature of the air that is touching your skin, or the softness or hardness of the fabric you are wearing or the position in which you’re sitting, or the sensations in your feet, or maybe a little stretch in your back. Maybe there are different sounds in your room. The sound of the fan or the air conditioner, maybe the sounds of the birds or traffic outside. Even the sound of your own breath.
Then there’s a huge chunk of information that comes from the functioning of our own bodies.
The beating of the heart, the digestion of food, breaking down of food into simpler molecules, re-assembling millions of molecules into the exact right order that our body requires. Transporting the right nutrients in the right destinations through our body.
Then there is the functioning of our immune system, constantly battling foreign bodies at all times. The production of all dynamic variety of necessary bio-chemicals within our bodies and then releasing them in the right quantities when needed.
Constantly producing and breaking down millions of molecules, assembling, de-assembling, transportation, defense, memory, emotions, actions, reactions, you get the point.
It’s kind of an entire world within us. All that data is processed through our brain, without us even knowing.
Let’s do a little experiment:
If you have a clock or a watch nearby, tell WITHOUT looking at the watch/clock,
What is the color of its inner dial?
Now look at the watch and see which color is it?
Have you looked at it? Have you noticed the color? Now, WITHOUT looking back, tell me what was the exact time? 🙂
Let’s try one more thing.
Keep your focus on this screen. If you’re indoors, inside a room, tell me WITHOUT looking around, how many things are there in the room that are of red color?
Count them in your mind.
Now look around and see if your estimate was correct.
Chances are that you missed a few things. Even though you might be very familiar with the room and you might have spent thousands of hours in it, you never paid conscious attention to the red colored objects until now.
While you look and focus on this screen, your brain is constantly receiving all this information about the things around you, but you were not paying attention to them until I mentioned them. Why? Because your brain was deleting the information that you were not FOCUSING on. When I mentioned all those things, you brought your attention and focus towards them.
Similarly, when we don’t focus on the important things of life, we miss the great opportunities, ideas, wisdom and distinctions that are present all around us which can shape our character and our lives an empowering way.
Whatever we focus on, our mind spends more and more energy and resources towards it. Anything that we invest our energy and resources towards, will expand. Hence the saying, “Whatever you Focus on, expands”.
We will discuss this in further detail some other day In-Shaa-Allah, but for now, it’s important to know that curiosity maximizes our focus and attention towards a particular thing. When we are really curious about something, we draw our focus towards it, and hence more of our mental and physical resources are spent in that direction.
If curiosity is towards a positive thing, then that positivity will expand in our life. If it is towards a negative or useless thing, you can guess its consequences.
Curiosity brings excitement in life
As curiosity opens up the gateways to new possibilities and keeps us growing constantly, it creates a constant excitement of trying, learning, discovering something new. It makes our minds a colorful playground full of possibilities and creative ways of thinking, while constantly seeking to grow and becoming better each day.
As we learned to ask good, empowering questions in the article “What Questions Do Leaders Ask?”, let’s ask some more quality questions here as well:
How to develop Curiosity?
Well, this can be a genuine concern for some people:
“How do I really get curious?”
First of all, Curiosity and Questioning go hand in hand. If you’re curious, you’ll ask good questions. When you ask good questions, you get more curious and possibly get good answers. So if you really want to develop and exercise your curiosity, learn to ask quality questions as we discussed in another article.
Let’s take an example:
If I know a certain people who are successful in producing certain results, and I want success in that same area, a good question would be,
“How can I produce similar results?”
Before I know how to produce similar results, I must first look into…
“How are they producing those results/success?”
This is a critical point in our thinking process. Many people answer this question in a disempowering way by telling themselves that the person who is successful is more privileged than them, or has certain advantages or skills that we don’t have.
This is totally far from the truth.
The empowering answer lies in having a strong belief that Allah has given us all opportunities in different ways.
Whatever is humanly possible, is possible for us as well. Skills can be developed. Knowledge can be acquired. Experience can be gained. There is always a way if we focus on the possibility and become persistent, curious and creative enough.
And to do that, we must continue to ask good questions. So the next questions would be…
“What is their STRATEGY?”
“How do they THINK in term of this particular thing?”
“How do they HANDLE certain situations?”
“What internal CHARACTER QUALITIES do they have, that I need to develop?
Do I need to be more honest or hardworking or disciplined? Do I need to develop more compassion and genuine care in my heart for people?”
“What powerful and positive habits do those people have that I need to develop to excel?”
“What kind of people do I need to surround myself with?”
(Influence is one of the major keys. Who we spend the most time with will heavily influence who we become as a person and hence the quality of our life.)
“What skills do I need to develop or polish?”
“What actions do I need to take to develop these qualities and skills? What is my action plan?”
“When will I start to make a change? Will I start today or will I wait for someday? (which will probably never come)
These are the kind of honest questions you would want to ask. As you can see how the train of thought goes when we ask positive, growth-oriented questions.
The better questions we ask, the more curious we get. The more curious we get, the more specific questions we further ask, and the more precise answers we come up with.
How to develop Interest?
Now some of you might be thinking, “But Faraz, there are certain things that I know are important in my life and I know I should be curious about them but I don’t seem to have any interest in them and I just keep avoiding them.”
Again the answer lies in good quality questions!
Take a few seconds on each of these, really ask yourself and ponder,
What difference will it make if I learn and develop a deeper understanding of the thing I’m concerned about?
What positive effects will that have on my life?
Will addressing this issue and curiously seeking answers, ideas, and solutions, enable me to take charge and make good decisions?
What distinctions and positive changes will I be able to make in my life with that?
What positive effects will it have on my personal and professional life?
What positive effects will I experience mentally?
Will it bring me mental peace and satisfaction in the long run?
What negative effects will it have on my life if I don’t take it seriously and address this thing right NOW?
How will it affect my personal and professional life if I don’t take interest in this?
What will I lose if I don’t take action towards it?
Is Curiosity always good?
I can sense that some of you would be thinking, “Is curiosity always good?”
The answer, plain and simple, NO. In fact, curiosity in the wrong direction can be destructive and an utter waste of time and mental energy. It can be toxic.
It’s important to understand the difference between:
1) Beneficial/productive curiosity
2) Non-beneficial/useless curiosity
Beneficial curiosity will increase you in wisdom and beneficial knowledge which you can use to improve yourself, your relations, your work and hence the overall quality of your life. You can take the example that we discussed above.
Non-beneficial curiosity (which can at times be toxic and harmful to you or someone else) is the one, where people poke into someone else’s matters and personal life. Have you seen people who are always gossiping, discussing other people’s lives, who are curious about what others are doing, what others are eating or wearing? Yep, that’s the kind of harmful/toxic curiosity I’m talking about. I really hope you’re not one of them.
“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption.
Indeed, some assumption is sin.
And do not spy (out of curiosity to find negative faults in other) nor backbite each other.
Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would detest it.
And fear Allah, indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and most Merciful.”
This kind of curiosity and interest is very unhealthy for the human mind. It takes up precious mind space and diverts most of our focus and energies towards things that are of no real benefit to us.
In fact, it has much potential to do harm and pollute our hearts by developing negative assumption about other people. As said clearly in the Quran that certain assumptions are a sin.
We must choose wisely where to direct our focus and spend our mental energy so that it results in some real benefit to us and other people.
Do all curious people get extraordinary results or become extraordinary achievers?
Finally, the question arises, “do all positively-curious people achieve extraordinary results?”
The answer, yet again, is NO.
Curiosity is a means to develop deeper understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. But knowledge and wisdom without Action don’t mean anything. It’s common sense. If you have all the knowledge and understanding, but you don’t take action, you won’t get results. It’s a no-brainer.
We see people all around us, who have knowledge and understanding of so many things. We hear people saying all the time, “oh I already know that”, then WHY are they still miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled? Why is their life still so out of balance? Why aren’t they producing the results they’re seeking with all that knowledge and experience?
That’s right, the reason is lack of proper implementation, and being too afraid to make decisions or go against norms or taking leaps of faith.
Now some people do actually try to implement their knowledge into their lives but they still don’t produce the quality of results they want. The reason? They probably aren’t being creative and dynamic enough in their application. Most are blindly ditto copying others, rather than learning the concepts and principles and giving it their own touch.
I think, at some point, we all have fallen into the trap of not taking action or not thinking outside the box. I think we all have experienced a stuck state of mind. I know I did, many times! That’s why I’m here to share my learnings with you.
We don’t need to be perfect. Perfection must not be our destination. Constantly learning, improving and growing is what we must look towards.
Lastly, the Grace of God is the most important thing of all. So how about developing curiosity about what Allah has sent down for us, The Quran? The Book which has Allah’s Words, Who is the Creator of the universe.
Why not develop a curiosity to know what Allah has said in the Ultimate Guide for humanity?
Why not develop a deep curiosity to know and study the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who is considered as the most successful man to have ever walked on earth, and produced the greatest results ever! How’s that for curiosity!
Think. Ponder. Reflect.
Take care. Talk to you in the next one.