Being Curious

You might be wondering why I am writing about curiosity and what mental health benefits could be related to being curious. If you are, try and connect with that feeling of being curious before you proceed with reading any further.

  • What does being curious feel like to you?
  • How do you know when you are curious about something?
  • Do you notice it anywhere in particular in your body?
  • When was the last time that you experienced curiosity?
  • Were you doing something in particular, somewhere unique and new, or were you with certain people? 

How does Being Curious Benefit us?

Now that we have explored these questions, let’s get into how curiosity can be beneficial for your mental health. What is your reaction when you are feeling anxious? Sad? Angry? Worried? Lonely? What do we tend to do when we experience emotions like these? We tend to want to either avoid these emotions, distract ourselves, or try and get rid of them as quickly as we can. People also tend to be harsh and critical of ourselves when these emotions arise. We attack ourselves with thoughts such as “Why are you feeling anxious?! You shouldn’t be feeling anxious!” or “You should be able to stop being sad and be happy.”

These emotions are happening whether we try to ignore them or get rid of them. In your experience, does trying to get rid of these emotions or avoid them ever help? It may be helpful in the short-term, but a lot of times these emotions can come back and sometimes with vengeance and they can bring some of their friends along too such as guilt, shame, or anxiety about anxiety.  

Changing your experience being Curious

Imagine if you could experience an uncomfortable or unpleasant thought or feeling and shift your relationship with these experiences. What is coming up for you as you imagine this shift? The definition of curiosity from the Webster Dictionary is “the desire to learn or know more about something or someone.” If we are able to become more curious about our internal experiences, including our thoughts and feelings, we can learn to identify and express these internal experiences more effectively. 

With curiosity, we are exploring our experiences without judgment. You may be wondering what I mean by “without judgment.” If you are wondering that, can you acknowledge your curiosity right now? Without judgment means having a genuine desire or interest in learning more about your current experience and not labeling it as either “good,” “bad,” “should,” “shouldn’t,” “right,” or “wrong.” When you think of young children, they tend to be inquisitive and curious about almost everything. A young child is genuinely interested in wanting to explore and learn more about what is happening in the moment and can immerse themselves into their experiences. To connect with that child-like curiosity is to interact with our experiences without judgment and be inquisitive with our current experience as it is unfolding. 

What are these Curious feelings telling you?

Consider if you woke up and were experiencing dread or worry about some of the events of your day. What if you tapped into curiosity at that time, do you think anything would be different? We could explore those feelings of dread or worry and search for what these feelings may be telling you as well as what we may need to do to take care of ourselves as we approach today. What if you connected with curiosity and wondered about other possible ways that the day could progress? You may be able to acknowledge that you are feeling dread or worry about certain aspects of the day, but you may also be able to notice that you are looking forward to other aspects of your day. Or you may be able to learn something new that you were not aware of while you were connecting with your curiosity.  

Staying present

When we struggle with our thoughts and feelings, we tend to get tangled up with them and are now focusing on these internal experiences and are no longer connected with the present moment. When we can be more curious about our internal experiences, we can notice them and let them be present without trying to fight them. What has fighting our internal experiences gotten us? Once again, It may have gotten us some short-term relief, but it does not allow lasting change. 

Here are some more questions to ask yourself regarding curiosity: 

  • When do you notice you are curious?
  • What is different in the experiences where you are curious?
  • Are you more engaged in these moments?
  • Are you asking questions and interested in wanting to know more?
  • Are you trying to rush through these experiences or are you not aware of how much or little time has passed? 

When we can become more curious, we can shift our relationship with our internal thoughts and feelings, especially with difficult and unpleasant ones. 

Written by Lisa Himelstieb, LCPC

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