The Curious Tale of Curiosity

When was the last time you gave your curiosity free rein?

I mean really, just let it take the lead and followed it wherever it wanted to go?

My guess – probably not all that often.

But how often do you feel the tug, the wanting to go somewhere, do something, learn something, out of pure and simple interest? The spark that lights you up inside and gets you excited about possibilities?

If you’re anything like me, pretty often.

This struck me recently as I was reading one of my favourite magazines, how so often we might feel that curious instinct, but we repress it out of time pressure, fear, expectation…

As I was reading, I became more conscious of the fact that at the end of each article there is a by-line about the writer, and more often than not, a link to their website, another article, perhaps a book, a course or event. And I could hear myself saying in my head – I must remember to look that up later, it sounds really interesting.

So did I? No, I finished the rest of the magazine, and added it to the pile that I’ll sort out later for recycling or tearing words and pictures out for vision boards.

How many fascinating, thought-provoking, knowledge enhancing, or emotionally resonant things might I have missed out on over the months or years? If I had followed even a handful of those links, what might I have discovered?

Curiosity is one of my core values

It's one of the key feelings that I want to invite into my life, and one of the things that drives and motivates me. So how can I be turning down the opportunity to indulge it so much more?

Perhaps ‘indulge’ is the problematic word in that last sentence. It has connotations that we’re doing something on a whim, for selfish reasons, to excess, as a luxury. And in our society, that kind of impulse is generally frowned upon, expected that we don’t pander to very often, and possibly even feel guilty about afterwards.

That’s certainly how I can feel sometimes – if I allow myself some time to catch up on blog posts I’ve been saving, or browse a few of my favourite online shops, follow a trail of links through Pinterest and disappear down a curious rabbit hole for a while – when I then pause and realise how much time has passed, the guilt piles on as I think of how I’ve wasted it when I could have been doing something more productive.

But I believe this is where curiosity joins up with creativity. When we follow our curiosity, we are opening up to inspiration, building connections between knowledge gained and different experiences, assimilating what we see and hear and feel, letting it all simmer away happily to eventually be served up in an expression unique to us. And that could be years in the future, in some very small way, or sooner as the jumping off point for a new big project.

Part of the problem I think, is that as we grow up we are taught to curb our curious impulses – it’s rude to keep asking “why?” – to accept things as we are told they are, and often, to plan for particular outcomes.

Think of it in terms of booking a holiday. Most people will spend a great deal of time researching different destinations before choosing one that meets a certain set of criteria, they will book accommodation based on reviews and recommendations, then arrange their travel plans to ensure the least amount of hassle and ensure they arrive when they want to. Then there will be the daily itineraries – what you plan to do and when, where you will go, what you will see, where you will eat. There will be contingencies built in for bad weather days, back-up plans in case your flights are delayed, a deck of cards packed because then at least if you get desperate you can all play.

I’m not saying this is a bad way to live your life – and I for one love a plan. But what if you could free things up and have just an outline? Yes, choose your destination, but leave deciding what you’re going to do there until you walk out of the hotel on the first morning. Maybe even forgo booking a hotel until you arrive and choose one that takes your fancy.

How much more exciting does this approach sound?

More spontaneous and free? The delicious anticipation of endless possibilities?

But also how scary?

How lacking in the control many of us like to maintain over our lives? How much like stepping into the unknown, leaping from the edge, jumping without a parachute?

This I think is what holds us back a lot of the time, particularly with the bigger curious impulses. The unknown is scary, that’s why it’s called the unknown, because we don’t know what’s there.

The thing is, what’s out there, most likely, is actually amazing. Something you’ll enjoy, want to do again, or even just learn something useful from. I’ve had experiences like that, where what seemed exciting didn’t quite work out as I might have hoped, but once the disappointment, embarrassment, or fear had worn off I could see that it had taught me something about myself, it hadn’t killed me, and I had another entry in my inner encyclopaedia.

So how can we give our curiosity more freedom?

Well I guess that depends whether you are more of a small steps or giant leaps sort of person.

  • Perhaps a curiosity break to look up that link at the end of a magazine article.
  • Maybe choosing a book to read based purely on your response to the cover.
  • Trying a new hobby or learning a new skill to see if you enjoy it.
  • Picking a different recipe to cook for yourself or your family – there will always be something else in the cupboard if you really don’t like it.
  • Asking a new friend something about themselves.
  • Getting in the car, choosing a distance, driving until you get there, then exploring wherever you find yourself.
  • Walking into a large library or bookshop, lifting the first book on the first shelf, and then following the references in the bibliography to see what links the authors make. (This is one of my personal dreams, I could quite happily get lost in a library for days.)
  • Turning up at the airport with your passport and a bag, and getting on the next flight that has a free seat.
  • Roaming the London Underground and getting off at all the stations that begin with…whatever letter you choose.
  • Walking a different route home from work.
  • Choosing a different TV channel or a programme to watch because you admire the presenter, or loved the subject at school.
  • Arriving in a new city and instead of looking at a map, just wandering where your feet take you. I rate Venice as a wonderful city for trying this – the network of narrow alleys and twisting canals is so complex, the maps aren’t accurate anyway! (The photo at the top of this post is a view across Venice's rooftops)

What does curiosity look like for you? What does it feel like?

It should be a sense of excitement, anticipation, interest and openness, but close to the knife-edge of fear. Not enough to stop you, but just enough to heighten your senses, and get a bit of a flutter going in your belly.

When I’ve given my curiosity its head, allowed it full flight, the feeling of exhilaration can be intoxicating, like being completely aware of everything the world has to offer, and wanting to soak up every last drop that I possibly can. It can be a genuine high, like the kind you’d get after a gallop at full tilt with the wind in your face (I'm imagining this of course, I've never ridden a horse!).

But for me, it also beings a sense of right-ness – a certainty in my core, a knowing that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to me, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing in that moment. The serene centre at the eye of the storm, but that storm is beautiful!

Can you begin to make friends with your curiosity today?

Allow it some freedom to inspire or excite you? Even if you need to put a time limit on it because of other commitments (hey, life happens), then at least make a commitment to being completely present as you follow where your instincts want to take you, without worrying about the voice of fear or ‘should’ in the background. Think of this as active mindfulness – a chance to focus utterly on what is calling to you, and be fully immersed in the experience, allowing it to fill you with whatever is of interest in this moment.

Perhaps I’ll go and dig out that magazine again…