“Following your passion” is often a trip of misguided hope. Instead, the truth is you need curiosity and consistency for success in life.
You’ve been told to follow your passion. But what if your pursuit of passion isn’t a bridge to your desired destination in life? What if you need to pursue something entirely different to feel happy and fulfilled?
What if you discover that curiosity – the deep childlike drive to understand and learn new things – works better for success? What if, instead of spending sleepless hours pondering what motivates you, you simply explored everything with a sense of awe and curiosity?
Definition And Types
The American Psychological Association (APA) dictionary defines curiosity as:
The impulse or desire to investigate, observe, or gather information, particularly when the material is novel or interesting. This drive appears spontaneously in nonhuman animals and in young children, who use sensory exploration and motor manipulation to inspect, bite, handle, taste, or smell practically everything in the immediate environment.
There are two main types of curiosity:
- Perceptual curiosity
- Epistemic curiosity
We need both types to have a happy and productive life.
1. Perceptual Curiosity
This is the type that we have when we feel the need to fill the gaps in our knowledge, or immediately solve some problem that catches us off-guard. As finding out what’s on the other side of a hole in a wall, or who the culprit is in a murder mystery.
Perceptual curiosity is primitive in nature and often co-exists with anxiety and fear, and results in satisfaction.
2. Epistemic Curiosity
This is the type that comes from a place of desire and purpose. This drives the inventors and innovators to reach brilliant solutions. It involves satisfying curiosity for the pleasure of mastering a subject.
It’s closely linked to the anticipation of a reward, but not necessarily any financial gain.
But why do we say that curiosity is important for achieving your goals and is a key component of success and happiness?
Why Is Curiosity Important To Succeed?
According to the APA, one of the most powerful human assets to facilitate learning is curiosity. This asset may be seen in young children, who use sensory exploration and motor manipulation to study and learn about their surroundings.
Curiosity has a stronger effect than passion when it comes to achieving academic success. Research on curiosity shows, as children get older, it can help them succeed in studying better and achieving higher academic goals.
A study by the University of Michigan investigated over 6,000 kindergarten kids to find the correlation between curiosity and academic performance. The study discovered that children from low-income homes who approached their studies with a high level of curiosity did academically equally well as children from high-income families.
The study suggests that promoting curiosity may be a valuable approach to fostering early academic achievement, particularly for children in poverty.
The study authors wrote:
I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious. — Albert Einstein Click To Tweet
Children with lower socioeconomic status generally have lower achievements than peers, but those who were characterized as curious performed similarly on math and reading assessments as children from higher income families.
Why Is Our Brain So Hooked On Curiosity?
Our brain needs its own type of reward, completely different from financial or any other kind of accomplishment.
Neuroscience explains novelty-seeking reflexes have a substantial impact on the brain’s reward system. There are parts of the brain — caudate nucleus and inferior frontal gyrus — responsible for self-reported curiosity. Whenever we feel curious, we boost hippocampal activity in the midbrain.
All these difficult notions mean the same — we have curiosity built into our brains. This also means, when we’re driven by curiosity, it can change our behavior patterns and mindset.
In 2016, a group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a series of experiments that proved curiosity could even positively affect people’s choices.
When given a choice between something they already know and something unfamiliar to them, people chose to learn something new, and it made them feel more confident and accomplished.
As you see, all the research from psychology and neuroscience speaks in favor of curiosity and its positive effects on achieving goals.
So, the question is, why don’t people use it?
Why We Lose Curiosity As We Grow Up?
We already mentioned curiosity is an inborn instinct that helps us investigate the world around us and learn from it in the early stages of life. However, this instinct seems to fade with time.
A look at some of the studies from psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, presumes several reasons for that:
Curiosity is an essential instinct at the beginning, where there is no other tool to learn about the surrounding world. But as the child grows, so does the brain, and it acquires new learning mechanisms.
As we age, our perception mechanisms change. Children often accept new information at its face value, while adults acquire a more critical way of thinking.
Society affects how we learn and act. As we grow and become more mature, we get socialized, and the process of socialization inevitably impacts how we make decisions.
As a result, the change in the biology of our brain and socialization process makes us question every choice instead of exploring them and learning from them. It mutes down our curiosity, and it’s hard to bring it back when you’re an adult.
However, curiosity can be brought back as a character trait, and there are some things you can do to train it.
3 Exercises To Build & Grow Your Curiosity
Here are some changes to your lifestyle that can bring back curiosity in your life. You’ll feel the effects of these changes in the long run, as you start noticing how approaching everything with curiosity will help you succeed and achieve your goals.
1. Reanimate Curiosity With Travel
Close your eyes and imagine the following:
You are getting on the plane and going to a strange place somewhere you’ve never been to before. How does it make you feel? Are you excited about exploring?
This is your hunger of curiosity reminding you of itself.
We all know traveling makes us happy. But it’s not always the long-desired opportunity to lie on the beach and have a rest from work. It’s about exploration. And exploration is what curiosity is about.
So, if you feel that you’ve run out of curiosity, take a trip. It doesn’t have to be abroad, but it should be a place where you’ve never been before. You can go to a local museum you’ve never visited, and learn as much as you can about the exhibit items there.
Find a destination you’ve always been curious about but never had a chance to visit. It will bring back your hunger for exploration. And as you do it more often, you’ll start applying this attitude to everything else you do.
2. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone Everyday
While we cannot go and discover a new place every day, we can still train our curiosity muscle by leaving our comfort zone on a daily basis.
It doesn’t mean that you have to spend tons of money on new things to discover every day. Even the simplest daily actions can bring back curiosity:
- Take a different route to work. On your way, memorize the names of the streets, explore the architecture of the building surrounding you. Try to observe every detail on your way.
- Change your workspace. If you’ve been sitting near the door for a long time, if you can, try to switch for a work desk near the window. This simple change can bring a spark of energy that you can put in your work.
- Try a different coffee drink. Are you drinking Americano every day? Try something different, a Cappuccino or Mocha coffee. As you explore new sensations, it will awaken your curiosity and make you more open-minded to trying new things.
We’re creatures of habit and go through the same set of actions every day. This is one of the big factors that kills curiosity. Getting out of your comfort zone daily can be an effective exercise to make you more curious and open to new experiences.
• If you’d want a free PDF of how to get into Mindfulness, and start to live every moment with curiosity and non-judgment, it’s here.
3. Keep On Learning New Things
This change, although it seems easy, is very hard in practice.
We may acknowledge the importance of continuous learning for success, but we are all guilty of ignoring our natural hunger for learning.
Meanwhile, the relentless pursuit of knowledge is the key factor that helps us approach everything we do with curiosity.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time learning new things. Even spending 20 minutes a day learning a new language or reading a book can be an easy and yet effective exercise to develop your curiosity.
Curiosity-Driven Journey: A Real-Life Story
During one of Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday sessions, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the famous bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, revealed something surprising.
For a long time, Elizabeth Gilbert has been traveling around the world motivating people to find their passion. In her life, she has always been dedicated to what motivated her since childhood, which was writing and journalism. But, to her surprise, after several years of touring and motivating people, she found not everybody can achieve a passion-driven life.
After one of her performances in Australia, she received a message on Facebook from a woman who attended Elizabeth’s event that night. To her surprise, that woman wasn’t there to thank her for the motivation.
She was there to condemn Elizabeth’s beliefs about passion-driven life.
The woman told her how she spent years looking for her passion and never found any, and how emotionally drained she felt after Elizabeth’s speech that made her feel like a complete failure.
This made Elizabeth Gilbert completely rethink the value of passion in our lives. She started looking for something that brings more confidence and motivation and sparks a higher sense of purpose.
She found all that in curiosity.
The secret of curiosity is in having no expectations.
Our biggest mistake, perhaps, is that we have a ton of expectations for every action we take. Even if you have a passion, you will feel drained if you find that it doesn’t leave up to what you expect from it.
This is the reason why curiosity is stronger than passion. We explore things because we strive for knowledge, not because we want to profit from them on the first go.
Thus, by approaching everything with curiosity, we make a shift in our mindset that eventually helps us achieve our goals and succeed in life.
• • •
• • •
Author Bio: Ryan Pell is a passionate writer who likes sharing his thoughts and experiences with readers. He wrote an earlier, smaller version of this article.
Rewriter/Editor Bio: Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of The Happiness Blog.
• Our story: Happiness Project
√ If you enjoyed this, please share it on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn.