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Declan Wilson

5 Ways to Grow From Your Avid Curiosity

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Declan Wilson
Declan Wilson
Photo by Vinicius Amano on Unsplash

If you are a fan of Jeopardy, this past month was a dream for you.

The unarguably best Jeopardy contestants — Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer — squared off against each other for an epic Greatest of All Time Jeopardy challenge.

With a treasure trove of trivia knowledge, Jennings, Rutter, and Holzhauer represent the best-case scenario for someone with an insatiable curiosity.

For the rest of us plebeians, we’re left with an appetite for knowledge that’s never satisfied.

If you’re like me, we need to know things. Why type of things? Nothing specific, just things that pique our interest.

Take my recent experience at the library for example.

As I perused a collection of books, something caught my attention — a book about rats.

Interesting… I don’t know much about rats. Why don’t I know things about rats? I need to know about rats!

At the time I was knee-deep into Ron Chernow’s epic biography of Alexander Hamilton.

I’m not a fast reader, so Hamilton would give me at least another week of reading pleasure.

But I couldn’t help myself. I whisked the book off the shelf and checked it out.

Who in their right mind would do such a thing?

Me. I did. A person who needs to know things.

A person with an insatiable curiosity — and a very large stack of overdue library books because of it.

People like us love to learn, which poses some problems…

I wouldn’t consider having an insatiable curiosity a problem, rather a condition.

I have zero qualms with learning, except when it gets in the way of actually doing something worthwhile.

In other words, what exactly should we do with all this random knowledge we’ve accumulated?

Curiosity can easily spiral us into an endless black hole searching for answers.

For generalists like myself, this problem compounds when our curiosity ends up leading to more learning tangents.

(I’m currently reading a book about the history of English migrations because of one question I had about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Don’t ask why.)

This is the main problem with too much curiosity:

When we spend all our time discovering new things, we ignore opportunities to put into practice things we already know.

To harness your full potential, you need to re-direct your efforts towards something more constructive. Like your well-being for example.

Your curiosity can and should have a direct and positive impact on your life and those around you.

Let’s take a look at specific steps you can take to accomplish that.

1. Be intentional, focus your tangents

This is the great paradox of learning:

The more you know, the more questions you’ll have

When you stumble across something that interests you, write down questions. Keep a journal if need be. Instead of meandering, try focusing your studies around a specific area.

This is the first step towards becoming more intentional with your curiosity.

Going back to your well-being as an example. Maybe you suffer from bouts of anxiety and stress.

How would you approach learning more about your mind and how it works? What books would you read? What experts would you listen to?

Let’s say you recently finished reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. These are some potential follow up questions you might explore:

  • What types of “trivial shit” (Manson’s words) do I care too much about?
  • What important things am I indifferent towards?
  • Why do I care so much about what others think of me?

Each question might require reading another book to help answer, but at least this time you are being intentional with your curiosity (instead of picking up a rat book that’ll have little impact on your life).

2. Find overlapping interests

The step above is all about focusing on learning tangents around certain subjects.

However, we’re all human. Just because we’re interested in history or psychology or economics doesn’t mean we want to spend all our time thinking and learning about these things.

Instead, we can combine different interests and find overlaps to our advantage.

I love statistics. I am also a father of two young boys. This means I approach parenting a bit differently than most parents.

Take pajamas for example.

Children’s sleepwear is required by law to be fire-resistant. I never heard about this until after I became a father.

Some parents take this as conventional wisdom. But before passing judgment myself, I wanted to see some numbers.

Here’s where my curiosity about statistics came into play and what I uncovered:

As a parent, I want to keep my kids safe. However, as a logical human with an understanding of statistics, I know the general likelihood of my kids receiving a burn injury because they aren’t wearing proper sleepwear is low.

I can sleep soundly at night knowing my kids are in the other room wearing shirts and sweatpants rather than CPSC approved pajamas.

3. Push your boundaries

We tend to hide behind our ignorance instead of pushing ourselves to learn more.

For me, money has been something that stressed me out. I’ve always avoided learning more about it.

Thanks to my ignorance, my wife and I found ourselves in a bit of credit card trouble this past year.

Instead of pushing ourselves to learn more about budgeting, finance, and self-control, we racked up debt.

When the reality of the situation hit, I decided to push my boundaries and use my curiosity to pull ourselves out of this mess.

I eventually stumbled across You Need a Budget and their 4 rules to budgeting. Now we have a plan to eliminate our debt within a year.

When a new subject seems overwhelming, attack it slow:

  • Start with a big question (How do I get out of credit card debt?)
  • Focus on one specific area at a time (What is envelope-based budgeting?)
  • Test your new knowledge (Can I pay this debt off in 13 months with $400 payments?)

By pushing your curiosity boundaries you’ll be able to master new areas you otherwise would have neglected.

4. Re-examine what you already know

Instead of exploring new subjects, use your curiosity to ask questions about things you’ve already accepted as common knowledge.

Think everything you believe is true? Allow me to pop your paradigm bubble:

  • In the past 20 years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has halved.
  • There are currently 2 billion children in the world today, in the year 2100 there will still be 2 billion children.
  • Out of all the world’s 1-year-old children, 80% have been vaccinated.

The facts above represent a subset of facts I learned in Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. (A fantastic book and one I highly recommend.)

Friends, family, and media all shape how we see the world. Like sponges we absorb other people’s biases, clouding our understanding of the world.

Before I read Factfulness, I thought the majority of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty and weren’t vaccinated nor educated.

Now I’ve developed a healthy skepticism.

When we allow ourselves to open up and re-examine what we think we already know, we elevate ourselves to a higher level of learning.

Even when we think we know it all, our curiosity shows us we don’t.

5. When in doubt, share your findings

There’s a reason I write every day.

It helps me to learn.

As you can already see, I’ve peppered this article with bits of lessons and facts I’ve learned from books this past year.

Sharing your knowledge with others does a couple of things:

  • It helps to reinforce what you’ve learned
  • It improves your ability to explain concepts
  • It opens up opportunities to connect and learn from others
  • It boosts your confidence

You don’t need to be an expert or even a writer for that matter to share what you’ve learned.

Social media has opened up more and more avenues to get creative with knowledge-sharing.

Whatever avenue you choose, be fearless. Share what you’ve learned.

Go make a difference

I hope your curiosity got the best of you and you ended up learning something here.

Now it’s time for you to take action, harness your insatiable curiosity, and put it to good use.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if I learned anything from that rat book, I did.

Rats are excellent swimmers.