We are born curious. From birth, babies want to explore their surroundings. The entire industry of baby proofing grows out of an inborn need to touch, see, taste and experience the world around them. As a child’s senses and capabilities develop, their sense of wonder expands too. They venture into the unknown with great interest and an unbridled desire to know and understand more.
But as adults, many of us lose this sense of discovery. We get so busy looking for answers, we forget to ask questions. Out of fear of the unknown or because we don’t want to disrupt the routine or because we are just too busy dealing with our daily lives, curiosity takes a back seat. Playing it safe prevents us from being overwhelmed and creates a predictable and understandable environment but it doesn’t foster the discovery of new things or build the skills of resilience that novel challenges teach us.
By avoiding situations that provoke anxiety, we may be protecting ourselves from discomfort, but we are also missing out on a key aspect of vitality: the joy of learning something new. According to a Gallup survey, learning something new was one of the strongest influences on how much enjoyment a person experienced on a given day.
What is the best way to keep curiosity alive? Make it a habit to ask more questions in your daily life. Two of my favorites are inspired by a speech given by James Ryan, Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education:
(1) Wait, what? When you ask this question, you are expressing interest and a desire to learn more. This question is essential for understanding and clarification. It’s about pressing pause and taking the time to carefully consider what you are doing before making up your mind.
(2) I wonder if/why… This form of inquiry keeps you curious about why things are as they are and exploring different possibilities and scenarios. It enables you to think differently and see a problem with fresh eyes.
The best questions help us rethink what we already know and not to take “what is” for granted. As the old saying goes, “millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”