Ever notice how some people glide through life with the greatest of ease? They know how to work the room, and even their small talk seems big. Their secret? A curiosity mindset. While curiosity is a known predictor of intelligence, creativity and success, it is also the secret sauce that can add instant dimension to even the most boring task or mundane conversation. Even if you don't consider yourself naturally curious, behavioural scientists believe it is possible to 'work' the trait like a muscle, consciously and deliberately building your natural levels of curiosity. Here are a few techniques to get you started, courtesy of Dr. Todd Kashdan, a professor of psychology at George Mason University.
Get better at detecting novelty and complexity in everyone and everything. Adopt the mindset that every individual has an interesting story to tell, and your job is to find out what it is: if you don’t succeed, it’s on you, not them. More than just a mantra, this becomes your intentional approach to engaging with the world. The same principle applies to your daily routines. If you hate a certain household chore, for example, try to find something challenging or rewarding about it. Dr. Kashdan created intrigue around loading the dishwasher by treating it like a game of Tetris, where the goal became to fit as many dishes as possible. “The task takes three times as long as it did before, but now I get great satisfaction from it,” he says.
Skip a few rungs on the intimacy ladder. “Although there are no rules about when you get to talk about deep stuff, people have this lame belief that you have to wait. Everyone abhors small talk, and yet everyone is responsible for it,” says Dr. Kashdan. Test your assumption that going deeper with someone you’ve just met will be awkward and uncomfortable by skipping a few rungs of intimacy and raising topics that are ‘prematurely interesting’. You’ll find that more often than not your fears will be unfounded, and people will be excited to talk about something other than the weather.
Improve your tolerance for uncertainty. Ever wonder why we are so quick to form an opinion or judgement, even in the absence of facts or the full story? It’s because being in a state of uncertainty makes most people anxious. Next time you’re seized with the urge to rant about a hot button topic that’s trending on Twitter, try exposing yourself to the issue slowly, reserving judgement until you understand the situation better. Ditto for blurting out the first thought that pops into your head in a meeting: hold on, hear everybody out, and collect more information before you speak. The ability to tolerate ambiguous situations, says Dr. Kashdan, is what separates the curious from the not.