Curious? by Todd KashdanThis is the time of year when the temptation to hibernate — physically and mentally — can hit hard. It’s so much easier to stick with familiar and comforting routines, to trundle along in the same old rut.

I asked clinical psychologist and George Mason University scholar Todd Kashdan — author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life (Buy it at AmazonBarnes & NobleBorders, or Indie Bound) — if he’d share some tips for how to refresh our personal and professional outlook.

Here’s Todd’s advice, based on some of the research he’s done in his lab:

“1. Thrive on uncertainty. We rarely look forward to the tension that accompanies uncertainty, but research shows that these feelings lead to the most intense and longest-lasting positive experiences. New and uncertain activities make people happier and create more meaning than familiar routines.  Re-train your brain to benefit from the pleasures of surprise and uncertainty. And do the same for people around you. For instance, every week, give a free lunch away to someone who best embodies a strength valued by the business (Compassion? Leadership? Gratitude? Humor?). Let the person who wins pick a lunchmate whom they don’t know as well as they should. Use the pleasures of uncertainty to build satisfaction and commitment inside your organization.

“2. Find the unfamiliar in the familiar. As soon as we think we’re experts, we stop paying attention and start falling back on scripts, labels, and categories. That’s especially true in the workplace. Yet scientists have discovered the value of attending to what we don’t know about people and how they differ from us — instead of relying on what we already know and how they are similar to us. Encourage your team to make this mindset switch. You’ll develop stronger bonds, squelch prejudice, and help your star players avoid being blinded by their expertise. For instance, when you go out to lunch with colleagues, ask them about something that interests you but that you never talk about. What are their top 5 places to travel to in the world, and why? What movies do they like but are often embarrassed to share? And don’t always spend your time with people you know. Seek out strangers at work who intrigue you, who are different from you, and who expand your horizons.

“3. Be a safe haven for the risks and joys of others. To take risks and experiment with new ways of thinking and acting, we need to feel secure.  If you want workers to be creative, be responsive when they share past explorations or future plans. If they feel uncomfortable, let them know that anxiety is natural when trying new things. Share a story of how the last time you felt anxiety and self-doubt. You might be surprised how comfortable it will make them to take on tough challenges. And respond genuinely when they share what is intriguing and going right in their lives. Don’t just ask, “How was your weekend?” Ask them what their peak moments were on Saturday and Sunday. And when they share, follow-up with questions, ask for details. You might become genuinely interested in their interests and create a safe haven for the sorts of breakthrough thinking that changes companies — and sometimes the world.”

13 Responses to “3 ways to boost your curiosity and refresh your outlook”

  1. Nice post, Dan. One way I’ve found to help me accomplish all three of these is to surround myself with outgoing, creative people. They always push me to approach things in new ways and consider new ideas.

    Always looking for more people to add to that group.

  2. A few years ago I thought it would be good change up the “familiar” with my husband. I decided to give him a kiss every day when we arrived home from work. The game changer part was to kiss with a perspective “curiosity” and “possibility.” Not being attached to an outcome and never knowing where it would lead was fun and full of surprises, laughter, lightness, gratitude, romance, connection and joy.

  3. Alton Reynolds says:

    I think what Deepak Chopra has to say about ambiguity and uncertainty is fascinating. He makes both ambiguity and uncertainty sound very appealing.

  4. Very interesting post. We have included similar ideas in a program we created that develops senior managers into transformational leaders. The core of this program was to identify “positive deviant” leaders in an organization and discover what they were doing that was different from others. These three characteristics were among the more important leadership capabilities that emerged from the positive deviants.

    The greater challenge became teaching others to systematically function this way. We gave people a series of exercises that tended to promote this thinking. For example, they were given an assignment to find and read something that was considered an outlandish idea and draw a connection to their work. This caused them to stretch their thinking, increasing their comfort with risk and ability to find the best in all situations.

    Even though many people were initially skeptical that people could be taught these capabilities, the program was very effective and these characteristics were the key.

  5. Doug Hensch says:

    Dan – Thanks for giving Dr. Kashdan a chance to share his thoughts on your blog. I’m a big fan of his and, once again, he has given us all some practical, science-backed advice. Can’t wait to take this to my clients. Thanks!

  6. Dan,
    This is a great post! It is so easy to get into a rut and only pay attention to the things that are familiar. It is when we get stuck in our routines and don’t step out of our comfort zones that we become very complacent. And, complacency is one of the biggest characteristics of those who fail. Thanks, Brandon

  7. Judy Krings says:

    Kashdan’s research turns the often answer, “I don’t know.” into one of mind-bending, “Isn’t that great!” opportunities. No one mentors better. Todd challenges and offers creative applications that mirror why he is THE positive psychology mover and shaker. He’s guts and pluck and a whole lot more.

  8. You know, I don’t think you were directly intending this advice for what I got out of this post (or maybe you are just THAT good) but as a youth pastor, this was HUGELY beneficial!

    I see how (and have tested first hand) these principles are valuable in not only a youth ministry, but also a family ministry. Our church is striving to become a place where families thrive, and keeping things fresh, new, and unexpected is a vital strategy that takes great intentionality. Thank you again!

  9. Anthony Dina says:

    Love this post! As Masters in Fine Art vagabond in the business world, I have often wondered why creativity and curiosity were so scarce. Great to see discussions like these getting started. It may just be the spark for USA 2.0.

  10. Todd Kashdan says:

    Thank you all for the very kind comments about the post. If you want more information, I give away all of my scientific articles for free on my website at:

    There is a lot of work on how to address strengths in a dynamic way in your business organization or personal life, how curiosity and purpose in life offer us a path toward health and well-being, and when, why, and how social anxiety disrupts our ability to exert self-control and tolerate pain and more importantly, what can we do to change our relationship with anxiety, self-doubt, and other unwanted experiences.

    Feel free to email me for details.

    and Dan, thanks for the platform to share my work. Looking forward to our next collaboration.


    Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor
    Department of Psychology
    Senior Scientist
    Center for Consciousness and Transformation
    George Mason University
    Mail Stop 3F5
    Fairfax, VA 22030
    Office: 703-993-9486
    Fax: 703-993-1359
    Read about my new book, Designing Positive Psychology:

  11. HI Dan:

    I was just a thinking away about Dr. K’s work. [Especially the #2 of your post.] It reminds me a bit of Chris Argyris and Donald Schon’s work, “Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness.”

    I know their theory and research is from a long time ago but it’s a classic and it lingers on and I am not sure (as I’ve not read Dr. K’s book) but I believe it “might” be reflected in Dr. K’s work.

    And I said it my research, “It’s the non-routine problem that get us to pay attention and scratch or heads.” We start to dig in. We want to learn and wa – la it happens and — we learn a new.

    Without non-routine problems, we just keep doing stuff the same way. “The best predictor of future behavior, is past ‘frequent’ behavior.” That is — unless something gets our attention — then we change, then we learn. Argyris called is single-loop and double-loop learning.

    Good post Dan. Now I’m curious to read Dr. K’s book.


  12. Jann Freed says:

    Excellent post and I appreciated the comments, particularly from the author. I ordered the book and went to the website. I stress in my diversity course about being curious over being judgmental. Why not be curious about difference since different=different, not right or wrong. Thanks.

  13. Loved your article. I coach executives and your books and your posts inspire me in my work and in my life. I found the mindset switch in “Find the unfamiliar in the familiar” really great!

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