Are your days filled with never-ending to-do lists, too many meetings, and rushed meals eaten in front of screens? Do you find that your weeks are so hectic that you often wonder where the month has gone? When was the last time you slowed down to notice how the fall breeze rustles the leaves on the ground, the animated facial expressions your coworker makes as they tell a story about their weekend, or the way your mouth waters when you think about what you’re having for dinner? If you are like most people in our busy, task-oriented society, stopping to smell the metaphorical roses is not high on your priority list. Do we really want to live like this, though? How much of our lives are just passing us by due to being on autopilot?
Adopting an attitude of curiosity through the practice of mindfulness can help us slow down and notice the world around us. Being mindful involves observing rather than attaching to thoughts and emotions, and being curious takes this a step further by bringing a childlike wonder to your mindfulness practice. When we’re on autopilot and not living with curiosity, we often automatically assign meaning to what is happening in our external and internal worlds, and this often consists of judgments and misperceptions. These conditioned responses tend to be negative and include our expectations of reality rather than observing what is actually there. Curiosity, on the other hand, allows us to genuinely experience what is happening around and within us and to appreciate life’s occurrences for exactly what they are. A curious mind detaches from automatic responses and observes reality with awe and admiration. Embracing curiosity can thus shed negativity and helps us slow down and marvel at our surroundings.
So, how does cultivating curiosity actually look in our daily lives? How can we respond with curiosity instead of our automatic, conditioned responses? Here are some example scenarios:
Scenario 1: You are trying to get some work done during a busy afternoon at your job when a coworker stops by your desk and starts telling you a personal story.
Conditioned response: You frustratingly think, “I don’t have time for this. Can’t they see I’m busy working?” and halfway listen to them as you continue to attend to your work.
Curious response: “I notice I’m feeling frustrated and a tightness in my chest. I wonder why my body is responding this way?” This gives you an opportunity to make a choice: 1. Let go of your worry about getting your work done and listen to your colleague, or 2. Say “I would love to hear about this, but I’m really busy right now. Can I stop by later to talk?”
Scenario 2: Your spouse comes home from work and starts telling you about their day. They start telling a detailed story involving some people you don’t know and work processes you’re unfamiliar with.
Conditioned response: You begin to tune out and start thinking about what you’ll have for dinner and what your schedule looks like for the rest of the evening.
Curious response: You pay close attention to your spouse and notice the way their left eyebrow raises higher than their right eyebrow when they mention something they’re excited about. You smile to yourself and think how funny it is that you never noticed this before.
Scenario 3: You are waiting in the Starbucks drive-thru line that is taking much longer than you anticipated.
Conditioned response: You are annoyed and think “What is taking so long? I have places to be!” as you glare at the drive-thru window three cars in front of you, willing the barista to work faster.
Curious response: You take a deep breath and take in your surroundings, noticing an elderly couple holding hands and walking into the building, a shiny yellow Corvette parked in the parking lot, and the bright blue sky of the crisp autumn afternoon.
Responding with curiosity can bring us joy, acceptance, and perspective. A curious response does not always have to be positive and may not always make us feel better in the moment, but the distance that curiosity provides us from our automatic responses gives us the space we need to slow down and move through our lives mindfully. Cultivating curiosity in this way takes practice and is a skill that improves over time. Start approaching life curiously and observe the benefits week by week. You may just find that you feel more gratitude and appreciation and that you enjoy reflecting on life’s “small” moments!
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, check out the mindfulness courses we offer here at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT. Our next Introduction to Mindfulness course begins on November 1st and will be co-led by Lauren.