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A Systematic Approach to Curiosity : The Art of Asking Questions for a Better Life

Curiosity is the strong desire to know or learn something. It is all about asking questions and seeking answers. Some people are born more curious than others, while some people develop it later on in life.

There are people who were curious as kids, but eventually stop asking questions as they grew older.

Some forget to ask questions - they might be too busy living their life, completely unaware that they have stopped being curious, passively going with the flow.

Some are scared to ask questions, fearing the answers, suppressing their thoughts.

Some are lazy to ask questions and confront their issues as it takes too much effort to work through.

Some do it occasionally, but do not make it a consistent habit.

Wherever you place yourself on this curiosity spectrum, it’s important to remember that curiosity is a trait that can be cultivated and developed - and it should be - as it is the one trait that can help us overcome obstacles and challenges easier. 
The trick is to ask the right questions, to arrive to the right answers, that will enable us to move forward. So how do we do that?

Let’s begin with the basics of why curiosity is the most valuable trait to have.

In life there will always be ups and downs. Bad things happen to all of us, no matter our wealth, health, race, religion and location.
Life is filled with uncertainty, and most things are out of our power. To survive, we must learn how to quickly adapt.
To adapt, we have to be willing to open our minds and accept that we might not know all the answers. We must strategize our way out.

As a start, we need to first identify a set of questions to ask ourselves.

Be curious, dig in.

Why am I facing this challenge in the first place?
What have I done to get here?
What can I change about myself to prevent this from happening again?
What are the experiences of other people who have gone through it? 
What can I do to solve this issue?

These few questions are so simple, yet the truth is, not everyone will go through this thought process, especially when it involves questioning oneself and one’s actions.

Although some questions may be difficult to process, the result of going through that pain of confrontation and questioning can lead to a clearer picture of the situation.

Here are some other questions you can ask yourself :

  • Why am I feeling this way? Is it reasonable to feel this way?

  • What happened in my life for me to have this belief about X?

  • Can I change my belief / attitude about X?

  • What do I really want, and how do I get there?

  • Why did this happen to me, what did I do to get myself into this situation?

  • Why do I keep doing X when I actually want X?

  • Am I doing this for myself, or am I doing this for another reason?

  • Will this benefit me in the long run?

  • Am I self sabotaging?

These simple questions to ask yourself may lead you to surprising answers.

In hardships, when we feel stuck and helpless, the simple act of sitting down, with a piece of paper and pen, writing down questions and answers, can lead you to more insight than having the thoughts all jumbled in your head.

We need to interrogate ourselves to find the answer, but we need to be systematic about our interrogation in order to have clear answers.

There are times when asking questions won’t help. We can’t seem to answer these questions. We are in conflict, and we go back and forth over them. A great way to manage this is journaling.

Journaling is the easiest method to document and analyze your life. We may think we feel a certain way about something, yet when it is written down, it could take a 180 turn. Think of it as objective information gathering. Journaling helps you gather actual data of your life.

For example, you keep facing the same problems again and again. You dont know what you’re doing that leads you down this path. By keeping a journal, you may read about it, read your patterns, analyze your habits, and make a more informed decision the next time you’re about to face the same problem. Most times, we are not aware that we are in a vicious cycle, whatever it may be, so journaling helps keep us in check. There are also various apps out there that can track your habits and behaviour. All you need to do is key in the data, and the app can extrapolate the data into charts and diagrams for your reference. Your life chart, all in an app!

Curiosity about oneself is about discovering who you really are, and not who you say you are.

Once you are clearer about how you feel and what you want, the next step is to start questioning your external world. You must now be curious about the problem itself.

Here are some questions to start with :

  • What is this problem really about? What are the cause and effects?

  • When did it start? Has it happened before? Is this a pattern?

  • Why now, what’s changed?

  • Who else has experience dealing with it? What do they do about about it?

  • What are the best ways for me to deal with it?

The easiest and most accesible solution for problem solving is to google your questions and problems. Through google, you can find more information about how others are dealing with it, you can read books about the issue and watch videos about it. Reddit threads give great insight! Self help books can help too. 
Its good to keep an open mind and be curious about other people's experiences and advice. You may never know what you may stumble upon.

For example, you are self-employed and own your own business. Business is not going too well, and you feel stuck in a rut. Reading autobiographies and memoirs of successful entrepreneurs may help you gain perspective, as you will learn all the trials and tribulations they had to endure to reach their goals. You may use their knowledge and experience to strategise your own business goals. Knowing how other people manage their hardships, whatever it may be, is a great start to getting out of your rut.

Most successful CEO’s, entrepreneurs, public figures, even celebrities, read consistently in order to improve themselves and their work.

Alternatively, you can also seek therapy and reach out to your friends. There are times we can’t seem to envision the big picture, thus we will need the help of others to spot us. By having enough data on the problem as a whole, only then you can make an informed decision on how to move forward. There is no shame in therapy or seeking professional help!

Some people have told me that this method of asking questions may not work for all, that life is not as easy as answering a series of questions and moving forward with the most logical solution. Most of the time its more complicated than that. Thats true, each challenge we face will need to be dealt with in different ways.

However, we have nothing to lose by merely asking questions and gathering information.

Staying ignorant will get you nowhere.

In this case, the best questions would be :

Would you rather stay miserable and be a victim all your life, or would you take control and start seeking ways out of your misery?

Do you really want to improve your life? Or do you want to only whine, complain about it and allow it to happen to you?

By the end of the day, it is up to you. The more questions you ask, the closer you will get to reaching whatever state you desire. 

I've touched on ways to use curiosity in overcoming adversity, but how about being curious in general? How would that benefit us in life?

Curiosity lies with awareness. Awareness of the unknown. If you think you know everything, you will stop asking questions. The trick is to remember one can never know everything, and there is always something new to learn.

Maybe you don't know know what you want in life, you don't know what makes you happy. Be curious about life, start looking around, try new things. Make a list of all the topics you’re interested in and go through them one by one.

You can start with always asking questions that feed your curiosity. Be it asking about yourself, or asking about the world. Every time you have a question, dig deeper into it.

How do I manage toxic friends? Google it.
Maybe you’re curious about Evolution? Watch a video about it.

Take a few hours of your week to learn something new. You might be surprised where your questions can take you. You may find out something new about yourself too.

In certain societies, we can be taught to fear certain questions as it may shake our beliefs and our faith. Thus, we stay ignorant in fear of the answers and the truth. This not only affects our openness to new ideas and concepts, it also leads us to be more judgmental of others who do not share our views. We make preconceived notions about people, instead of genuinely being curious about who they actually are. We judge, even before we take the time to understand. We make conclusions, even before we ask questions and get answers.
We do not have to agree about everything with everyone, but we must always give a chance to understand another person's point of view.

People behave the way they do and have certain beliefs because of their upbringing and environment. Try to understand where they come from.

For example, a new foreign neighbour moves in next door. You don't understand their culture or customs. They dress differently, and they speak a language you don’t understand. They cook food you don’t eat. Learn about them. Learn about their culture. Make an effort to understand and be curious. You might have more things in common than you think.

Another good way to learn something new, is to read a book about a topic you don't agree with. Not one, but many books. This is the best way to develop compassion and understanding in others who do not necessarily agree with your beliefs or opinion. It helps to keep an open mind, gather as much information as possible, before we form an opinion about something. If you dislike reading and don't have the attention span for books, there are also other ways to learn : podcasts, audio books, videos, museums, galleries, traveling, meeting people you normally won't hang out with.

There is a saying by author Malcolm Gladwell  “It’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don't contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you're not thinking.”

Curiosity is a trait that can be cultivated by practice. It starts with being aware of your own actions, changing your habits, being open minded about self discovery, and putting in the initial effort to get the momentum going.

You can begin this journey with these simple questions :

Be honest with yourself, how many hours in a week do you spend on learning about a new topic or idea unrelated to work and school?

How many hours in a week do you spend on reflecting on yourself & making changes to improve your life?

By answering these initial questions, you may now plan ahead to include learning and reflection sessions in your schedule!

Stay curious, stay informed! Good luck!

Written by : Miriam Omar



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