Exercises to Make Life More Titillating

Exercises to Make Life More *Titillating*

Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.

~Claude Bernard

Did the word titillating perk up your curious little ears? Good! That’s what this post is about.

Anyone who has spent even five minutes with a small child knows how curious they are. “Why does that lady have freckles?” “Is that squirrel a girl or a boy?” “Do squirrels make good pets?” “Why not?” “Are we there yet?” “Why is the sky blue?”

I am not patient enough for these shenanigans, hence, no children. But, lest I feel tempted to strangle someone else’s child, I remind myself that we are born curious. For the first few years of our life, most of our experiences are new—and delightful because of their novelty. (And some of them—like peas—suck big time, but stay with me here). Everything from the tireless questioning of our elders to putting nickles in our mouths is driven by an innate urge to investigate the world.

By the time we reach first grade, however, all of that has changed. Beginning at age six and continuing until graduation, the average student asks only one question per one-hour class per month.

(Wait, WHAT?! I didn’t want you to lose your entire lust for life, child! Maybe just not ask me for the 97th time if we’re there yet).

Incidentally, I was one of those kids, except I raised my hand, like, once a semester.

So what’s the deal?

Where Has All the Curiosity Gone?

I speculate that somewhere between having our hundredth question met with irritation and getting our request to explore that dark crawl space denied because it might be dangerous/dirty/filled with poisonous spiders, we learn that curiosity isn’t always appreciated and can even be downright harmful. “Because I said so” and “because it’s dangerous” and other seemingly innocuous statements tamp down our inquisitive impulses until there are very few of them left.

Furthermore, what drives our curiosity over time becomes more complex and begins to depend on outside factors such as upbringing and genetics. As the tapestry of our personalities is knit from the beliefs and judgments of our family, friends and teachers, we begin to accept certain “truths” about our reality and stop probing the world for what could be.

It must have been an exhausted parent or a frustrated teacher who coined the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” (Little did they know that cats have nine lives, so all the cats were like, “bring it.”) But what this exhausted parent-slash-adage inventor also didn’t realize was that this inherently advocates a life full of curiosity’s opposite—indifference.

Indifference settles for what’s already known, agreed upon or perceived. Indifference closes doors to opportunity, limits our ability to relate to and empathize with other people, and numbs us to the excitement of possibility.

Indifference is—in a word—boring. And you, my dears, are anything but.

Why You Should Resurrect Your Curiosity

We know an inquiring mind is central to innovation and creativity. Without curiosity, we’d never have had a Renaissance, never sent a man to the moon and never have known the extraordinary innovations of Steve Jobs or Nikola Tesla.

But there’s so so so much more power in curiosity, even if you don’t aspire to be Steve Jobs or Nikola Tesla. And if you do, let me just echo the cats and say, “BRING IT.” Here are the highlights.

Curiosity is a survival mechanism.

Sure, we’re no longer evading saber-toothed tigers, but nevertheless, our environment is constantly changing. As we explore the world around us, we learn how to be vigilant and adaptable; in essence, how to thrive. While the act of questioning teaches us lessons about danger, it holds the power to encourage perseverance to find new and better ways of doing things.

Curiosity feels good.

Scientists have discovered that the brain releases dopamine when it makes new discoveries, which results in higher levels of positive emotions, lower anxiety and increased personal fulfillment. This is the juice that gives us the warm and fuzzies and triggers our motivation to keep exploring.

Curiosity fosters self-awareness.

Actively thinking about what you don’t know and what inspires you requires you to question your individual value system and motivations. Doing this suspends your convictions and opens your eyes to new pathways. It’s often said that the questions that make you uncomfortable are the most necessary.

Admitting what you don’t know or that you might be wrong takes humility. Curious people care more about learning than they do about looking smart. In the workplace, this means looking at a broader array of options for innovation, marketing angles and solutions to problems. A team lodged in “being right” will stagnate.

Curiosity enhances social bonding.

Curious people connect with others—including strangers—on a far deeper level. They ask questions and actively listen instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. As a result, they are more empathetic and better able to understand and accept different viewpoints.

This study assigned participants the task of asking and answering personal and emotional questions of increasing depth. The participants whose partners listened with genuine curiosity reported the greatest degree of closeness and attraction to their counterparts.

Furthermore, curious people are more inclined to listen without judgment. And this makes them more approachable, natch. They also tend to be fully present (read: not on their cell phones).

Curious people learn better.

Curious people are hungry for knowledge which naturally broadens their horizons. But research shows they also retain information better. If your curiosity is engaged, you will not only better remember the subject of your inquiry, you’ll also absorb significantly more peripheral information without even being conscious of it. Bonus points.

Curiosity boosts achievement.

Not surprisingly, this ability to retain information enhances academic achievement and work performance. This study suggests that while intelligence is a predictor of performance, curiosity (paired with work ethic) can be just as influential in achieving success.

Titillate Yourself

So here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. The answer to well, what do I do now that I know my curiosity has been beaten within an inch of its life and its survival is crucial to my humanity?

I got you, babe.

In fact, I got you two times over. Each exercise has a slightly different focus, so pick the one that most resonates with where you are in your life at this moment.

Excavating Passion

Do this exercise if you’ve been humming along just fine—it’s all good, bruh—but want to know what meaningful thing you could be doing instead of well, this same old song and dance. Maybe you’re in between jobs or feeling uninspired or have some nagging voice telling you that you need to get a life hobby.

This one comes from Steven Kotler, Director of Research for the Flow Genome Project, an organization dedicated to decoding the science of ultimate human performance. It’s fun and it will make you a better human. I promise.

Step 1: Make a list of 25 things you’re curious about. Be as specific as possible. For example, I would list wilderness survival, hip hop choreography, and how to make awesome gluten-free pizza, rather than simply writing camping, dancing and food.

Step 2: Now hunt for intersections. My list also includes dietary heavy-metal detoxes, nutrients that support mental health, and cheese-making. Lump those in with gluten-free pizza and it’s pretty easy to see I’m passionate about things I put into my mouthhealthy living through better eating.

If you can spot the overlap between multiple items on your list that creates motivational energy. It’s brain science, people. Human beings love pattern recognition, which is the linking of ideas together. This causes the release of that yummy dopamine that makes you excited and helps you focus. Dopamine is key to cultivating passion and—more bonus points—it causes good ideas to link to even more good ideas to create a creative snowball effect.

Five Imaginary Lives

Do this exercise if you just want a happiness infusion (and so you won’t be on your death bed croaking to the sky, I wish I’d gone skinny dipping just once!).

Curiosity goes hand-in-hand with creativity. And no one knows how to tease your creativity genie into action quite like Julia Cameron. In her book The Artist’s Way, she poses this question. If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? How much money you need to lead these lives doesn’t matter, your parents telling you to be serious because dragon tamers aren’t a thing doesn’t matter. It’s just you and your wildest imagination. Don’t overthink it. Write down the first five things that come to mind. Make them fun.

Then go back to your list and pick one thing from one of those lives that you can do this week. Want to be a singer? Find a karaoke bar. A cowgirl? Book a horseback riding lesson. Seriously, if dragons are your thing, find a fencing class and learn some dragon-slaying moves. (And please write to me and tell me all about it. I might seriously join you. For real).

Now GO!

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