Staying curious is not possible for everyone. In fact, some people grew up in settings where they could never safely develop curiosity.
Neurodivergent people are said to have interest-driven brains which implies we are fueled by curiosity. You may have limited the scope of your wondering to a safe slice of life, but chances are it is a natural instinct for you to question things. For those who can embrace curiosity, it is fun and makes things interesting. It's also connected to creativity and growth for many people.
In many cases femmes have been conditioned to placate and not rock the boat, curiosity can be used in a manipulative/passive-aggressive manner to secure safety and power. Posing "innocent questions" in the spirit of curiosity in order to make a point or challenge something is a common result of that upbringing.
People on the receiving end of our curiosity can interpret it as intrusive, imposing, nosy, disrespectful, aggressive, and a waste of time. In essence, curiosity is childish unless it's advancing society or making money.
These dynamics create barriers to curiosity as they surface in social norms, while other personal experiences that involved stress, fear, shame, and trauma equally shut down this neuro-pathway.
Experimenting with Curiosity
As we become comfortable with people, places, and systems, we tend to let go of curiosity. This is somewhat necessary to make space for other things in our brains. At the same time, it can create conflict if we're too quick to draw conclusions and make assumptions about a person or situation.
Not everyone has the privilege or opportunity to entertain curious questioning. In some cases, this was intentionally restricted and can trigger feelings of unsafety. When curiosity feels scary, we can practice how we listen to others. Nothing squelches belonging faster than someone who "knows" everything about your situation.
In coaching, there is a skill called "managing the expert." This principle means the coach believes their client is the expert on the client.*
I knew I could be forceful with my ideas and suggestions, but I didn't know what to do instead until coach training. What will people do if I don't tell them my opinion?
There is magic to behold when someone finds the right next thing within themselves. This is especially transformative for anyone who has been marginalized or stigmatized and made to feel like how they operate is wrong. The key to managing the expert is to stay open and curious toward others. Rather than jumping to a response, ask an open-ended question to elicit greater understanding for them (and for you!).
For example, perhaps my sister is planning a special occasion meal for a family gathering. When she talks to me about it I could easily jump into planning mode and offer menu ideas. If I ask a question first, though, it gives her a chance to better understand what she really wants. Me: How do you want to feel that day while we're gathered for the meal? Her: Relaxed and able to enjoy everyone Me: What menu would enable you to reach that goal? If I meal planned with her and we got all worked up about some complicated menu, we likely would get to the day of and it would be draining and frustrating. By being curious, I not only get to know her a little at that moment, but we also get to design a plan that will support her needs. (hot tip: this works especially well in arguments)
How does this apply to self-coaching?
When a client comes up with something to try to make their life easier, I usually ask what will get in their way. A majority of people will immediately say, "I will. I'll forget or screw it up." The assumption we'll screw things up is a sign we lack a sense of wonder toward ourselves. Self-trust grows out of noticing yourself, what you feel, think, and believe, and being curious about how it influences your life.
A note about pushing for change: If you have been through a lot of hard things, even just internally figuring out life with your "quirks," you may carry pain from never being encouraged to trust your instincts for curiosity.
When you try to force yourself to 'stay curious,' chances are you will send your nervous system further into a defensive mode. Your brain is likely looking for danger all the time It's critical that you go slowly and be gentle when you approach yourself with things you want to change.
My sensorimotor psychotherapist often invites me to work through a progression of questions rather than jumping to a bold assertion, like "be curious!" She guides me to gently ask myself the following questions. I repeat each a few times before moving to the next one.
What if it was safe to be curious?
I'd like to be safe to be curious.
Maybe it is safe to be curious.
I think I am safe to be curious.
By approaching gently with a spirit of invitation rather than demand, we can stay out of the stress cycle and actually consider the possibility of change.
Our relationship with a concept like curiosity is peppered with stories and experiences. It may be best for you to explore these things with a guide, like a therapist, coach, or trusted friend. I invite you to trust your nervous system to tell you if you feel safe and be gentle in your response to your discomfort.
Feel free to share any thoughts or questions of your own in the comments!
What's your relationship to curiosity? Is it safe for you to embrace it? Is it out of reach?
How could curiosity impact your relationships with others?
How could curiosity impact your relationship with yourself?
When is it hard to be curious? How do you know you're struggling?
Resources https://hbr.org/2018/09/the-business-case-for-curiosity Creativity Does Not Have to Be High Art by Julia Cameron of The Artist's Way Remembering Why Curiosity Should be Boundless via Scientific American