Have you ever observed a child on a walk, or a child moving through their day? How does it look different than the way you move through the world? I often notice that a child takes much more time to move from Point A to Point B. He/she is not usually moving in a straight, focused line, but are guided more so by interest and wonder. When a child comes across something new or unfamiliar, they often approach it with curiosity- questions about what something it, or what it does, or why it is there. Many adults, on the other hand, often move through the world with an intent focus- an eye on the destination. This has benefits, for sure, but it also often comes at the sacrifice of curiosity and interest at the people and things in the immediate moment.
Over the years, curiosity is replaced with assumptions, judgments, and a sense of already knowing everything you need to know. You develop a set of lenses through which you observe the world, and anything that does not align with those lenses is missed or dismissed. You might miss out on pieces of others’ experiences and pieces of your own experiences. Rather than approaching a new or unfamiliar experiences with a sense of wonder and exploration, you find yourself approaching it with a sense of judgment and suspicion.
Keeping a sense of curiosity in response to your own internal experience and in your approach to the world can help increase your understanding, support learning and growth, and help build relationships.
1. Get curious about your feelings
It is very common to respond to an internal feeling state with judgment. You find yourself feeling sad or anxious or disappointed and tell yourself “You shouldn’t feel this way. This is ridiculous. Snap out of it.” Anyone relate to this? I don’t know if I have ever found this approach to be effective in processing and working through an emotional experience. For one, telling yourself that you “shouldn’t” be having an emotion does not negate the fact that you are, actually, having that feeling. Secondly, experiencing a decrease in the intensity of a feeling as a result of dismissing your experience does not necessarily mean you have processed that feeling- it may very well pop up later, and continue to do so. The feeling is saying “hey, look at me, look at me!”
So what might a curious approach to a feeling look like? First, observe and identify your feeling. Take into consideration your internal experience, physical sensations, thoughts, and environment. Once you have identified your feeling state, be curious rather than judgmental. Gently wonder what may have triggered or contributed to this feeling. Next, validate your experience of this feeling- acknowledge that this feeling is here, whether you like it or not. Validating does not mean that you have to pretend you like this feeling, or are comfortable with this emotional state- it is accepting that this is the emotion that you are currently experiencing. From here, you can move forward with appropriate coping skills.
2. Get curious about others
So many people have become experts in the thoughts, motivations, and feelings of others. Its as though, overtime, everyone has suddenly become a mind reader. You don’t need your partner, or colleague, or stranger on the street to give you insight into their internal experience- you already know what they’re thinking or feeling, you already know who they are.
Now, this isn’t to say that there may be people in your life that, through years of shared experiences and a close bond, you know like the back of your hand. Your assumptions about what they are thinking or feeling may very often be right. BUT, they’re probably not right 100% of the time. Even the people you know best can go through change and growth- their thoughts, ideas, feelings, wants, needs, etc., etc. may evolve.
When you find yourself labeling or making an assumption about what another person must be thinking or feeling or needing or wanting, try to slow yourself down. Ask yourself how you reached this conclusion. Ask yourself if it is possible that there is another conclusion. Give yourself permission to be curious about what this person is experiencing, rather than deciding their experience in your own mind. This curiosity can foster conversations that may have gone unspoken, can foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding, and can convey a sense of interest and care to those around you.
3. Get curious about the world
Give yourself a challenge of going on a walk or interacting with the world like a child for a certain period of time. Rather than rushing through an experience, take your time. Use all of your senses to have a fuller, more present experience. Use your senses to observe things that you may have forgotten, or never even known, were part of an experience. Practice taking off those lenses through which you see the world, and get curious about what you may have been missing.
To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.
Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.