What if curiosity never really killed the cat? And, instead, it is a superpower that can transform the quality of our lives, relationships and resilience to stress?
I shared some tea with Maureen Levy, an integrative counselling psychotherapist with a strong background in creativity having studied Fine Art and taught improvisation, to discuss its benefits.
The benefits of a curious mind
Being curious is how we discover new things, adapt in uncertain times and remain open to alternative points of view. In her client work, Maureen encounters the challenges people often face. She says: "Life happens to people, that's an inevitability. You could be living your best life and you could be dealt a complete blow which can throw you off track.
"One of the most helpful things I’ve come to learn is, if you can be more flexible in your thinking and learn to roll with the waves, your life is a lot easier than if you’re a very rigid black and white thinker. What can often help us roll with the waves is allowing more curiosity to be more present and functioning and play with ideas more".
The 'what if' game?
Curiosity supports us to soften that inner voice or narrative of how we should be living and what we should be doing. Our mind likes to play the 'what if' game a lot, however, its default is to only play its negative side, which fuels worry.
Maureen has found "lots of people are afraid of appearing silly, being judged or seen in a certain way", and being accepted within our social groups is one of our biggest concerns.
However, we can also bring a sense of curiosity to the positive aspects of the 'what if' game. What if I try this and I learn something? What if it’s a funny story? What if something amazing happens? Maureen encourages people in her workshops to "allow your mind to go on an adventure, you start to develop a muscle that opens the drop-down menu, not of all the bad things that could happen but of all the curious or interesting things that could happen".
The antidote to a too-quiet life
As we age our relationships with occupations change, as we are shaped by environments with rules, grades and expectations, so we blend in and close off an aspect of our creative self. Making art, using your imagination and playing games is reserved for children. Any dreams of being an astronaut are silly, so work hard, conform and become your career or status instead.
Maureen feels we need to reconnect to this part of ourselves. "I always think as adults, we are just large children in big grown-up suits. We forget that part of our inner child. We have to get in touch with this part of ourselves. It can be lifesaving to learn how to play and if you didn’t have that experience as a child, or it can be really liberating to do so as an adult".
One of the underpinning tenets of Occupational Therapy is the importance of finding balance in our lives, between work, rest and play. This sustains our wellbeing, roles, and functioning. However, this balance isn’t just about time in our week, it’s having a different attitude, approach and experience in the different occupations we do.
As adults, we need to counter the trap of 'how I do one thing is how I do everything'. Curiosity is the starting point in reconnecting to our creative and playful self and bring that approach into the occupations that we do.
Starting to be curious.
Time to get curious? Try new things, Maureen suggests. "That could be joining an improv class. I highly recommend it, not to perform but to discover who you are and push your own boundaries a bit". If that’s too scary, start by varying aspects of your routine, experiment with different activities, even create a curiosity bucket list.
What did you enjoy growing up, can you reconnect with it? Visit new and familiar places, sit there and observe, what do you notice? You can be curious anywhere, park your screens of seduction and bring a beginner’s mind to what’s around you.
Curiosity at its best is empathetic, not knowing, awakening and seeking to understand. Yes, it makes for more hiccups, awkward conversations but also adds more flexibility, serendipitous moments and beauty to our lives.