How To Regain Your Childlike Curiosity
With the wisdom of an adult
I have no special gift. I am only passionately curious — Albert Einstein
If you were like most kids growing up, you were curious about everything. You hungered for new knowledge and experiences. But that insatiable thirst for experience often led to trouble.
Your childhood curiosity might have encouraged you to do something foolish.
You became more guarded and careful as a result.
Your childhood curiosity might have resulted in you doing something embarrassing.
You became more fearful the next time that situation occurred.
My curiosity waned as unfortunate outcomes piled up. I still recall my embarrassment from this experience.
When I was eleven-years-old, I had some spare cash from doing extra chores. My mother suggested I buy a gift for my grandfather’s birthday. I wanted to experience the gift-buying process, so I agreed.
I was into cologne back then and decided to buy my grandfather a bottle for his birthday. I didn’t have enough money for that, so I bought him a stick of deodorant with the same scent. You could imagine my embarrassment when my mother explained the inappropriateness of gifting someone deodorant.
Experiences like those bring us wisdom but also dampen our hunger to try new things. It doesn’t happen overnight. Like a sculptor working with a piece of stone, we chip away at it bit by bit. But unlike a block of stone, we can regain our childlike curiosity.
What is curiosity, and how do you grow it?
You can find many definitions, but this one states it best.
Curiosity — The gap between what you know and what you desire to know.
It’s the single most powerful driver of learning, discovery, and achievement.
Curiosity fuels a hunger to discover answers, unearth secrets, and explore the unknown. The feeling inspires us to search, discover, explore, experiment, and risk.
Curiosity cures ignorance. If we feel a burning desire to know something, we will walk through fire to find the answers.
Life is never boring when you’re curious. You cannot experience both feelings at the same time.
During my Copywriting apprenticeship, my mentor told me that the ability to manufacture insatiable curiosity is the single greatest skill you can possess. If your reader is curious about what comes next, they’ll keep reading.
But nobody teaches it in schools. A limited selection of books exist on the subject, and they never reach the top of the charts. Perhaps it seems too basic to sound compelling. Perhaps it seems too mysterious to explain. Or perhaps some folks believe you either have it or you don’t.
Curiosity is a muscle
If you exercise it regularly, it strengthens. If you neglect it, you’ll find it withers like a flower starved of water and light.
You don’t need to find extra time to nurture your curiosity. You only need to work it into your routine. In time, you will develop and strengthen it back to its peak childhood vitality.
When I first started in Copywriting and learned of its importance, it got me interested in nurturing my desire to experience and discover the unknown, since I had struggled with that as I aged.
I’ve experimented with several exercises and techniques to develop my spirit of interest. Each of these six methods has its advantages depending on your circumstances.
1) Ask yourself the right questions
Circumstances sometimes dictate where you spend your time, and it may not mesh with your interests. These questions will help spark curiosity in situations where you don’t feel it.
What could be interesting about this?
What kind of answer would make this interesting?
What are three unusual things I could do if I knew the answer?
Could and would are underutilized tools when you feel indifferent towards an activity or subject.
We are drawn to things that are unusual or out of place. Forcing yourself to think of something unusual stretches your creativity and sparks intense interest.
2) Open new doors
Ever hear that trite expression, variety is the spice of life? I hate it too. Don’t think variety. Think experimentation. Turn everything into an experiment. Put yourself in a mindset that makes you curious but unattached to the results.
Instead of saying, I’m going to try doing [xyz], say I’m going to experiment…
That small change in verbiage transforms a chore into an adventure.
Approaching your life as a series of experiments makes you more open to experiencing new things. It makes you curious rather than anxious about the outcome.
Just about every article on curiosity recommends that you read books to generate curiosity. That’s good advice, but incomplete.
Dedicate a set amount of your current reading time to subjects which you previously had no interest and little familiarity. I will typically read one book each month about something outside my sphere of knowledge.
Don’t hesitate to quit if the subject fails to spark an interest. This exercise is a process of discovery. If it fails to generate curiosity, move on to something else.
4) Rewrite an ending
Do you have a favorite book, show or podcast? One of my favorite activities is to create alternate endings to television shows and chapter endings in books. I always start the exercise by asking, “What if?”
What if Annie had hit her attacker first? What would have happened next?
What if Jim never asked out Sarah? What would have happened next?
The words what if generate insatiable curiosity and stimulate your creativity. Authors like Stephen King have written (in his book On Writing) about the power of asking what if to generate ideas.
5) Always have a side project
Almost everyone has a side project. For too many of us, it’s wasting time on social media or watching television. Siphon off some of that time and put it into a passion.
A side project does not need to make you money. It should be something that interests you and stokes your passion. There are no limitations. True, you can’t wake up one day and decide to become a brain surgeon, but you can research it, write about it, or interview people about it.
6) Active Observation
This creative exercise accounts for many of my story ideas. If you enjoy people-watching, you’ll love this activity. Here’s how it works.
- Go to a coffee shop or any area where people congregate that allows you to go unnoticed.
- Fix your focus on a target, preferably someone (or a group) close to you so you can listen in on their conversation. Peek out of the corner of your eye to notice body language and mannerisms. Jot down anything interesting or unusual.
- Ask yourself these questions. What did you learn from it? What was interesting about it? What emotions did you notice? Joy, sadness, indifference? What’s the backstory of the person or people you spied on? Of course, you cannot really know their backstory, but this is a curiosity exercise, so use your imagination.