I’ve mentioned in a recent blog post that I’d been experiencing some heightened anxiety. Nothing too intense but enough to make me wish it would just go away! I also mentioned, though, how important it is to sit with all of our feelings, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. Pushing them away—or trying to—often compounds anxiety. I know. I’ve tried!
But what if … instead of trying to push difficult feelings away … what if we became curious?
My daughter-in-law sent me an article she happened upon called “Why Curiosity is the Key to Unwinding Your Anxiety.”
I always get a lot from the articles Melissa sends me—useful, interesting information, new strategies to try, but this one piqued my interest in an unusual way. How, I wondered, did curiosity relieve anxiety? I was, in a word, curious—and anxious to find out!
The article introduced me to Dr. Judson Brewer—or Dr. Jud, as he refers to himself on his website, Neuroscientist, associate professor of Psychiatry at Brown University, author of Unwinding Anxiety and TEDTalk-er extraordinaire. In the article, Brewer talked about a 7-day silent meditation retreat for the US Women’s Olympic water-polo team he led with Dr. Robin Boudette. At the top of an overlook—I guess the retreat included hiking—Brewer and Boudette began to chant Hmmm (the sound we associate with curiosity as opposed to the ohm chant). The team joined in and the sound of Hmmm “reverberated across the rooftops of the world.” (What an image!)
Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm.
Hmmm. Try it now—you don’t have to be outdoors in the mountains or on your roof. Just stop reading for a minute, wherever you are and chant Hmmm for just 5 or 10 seconds. What happened when you did that? (I’m assuming you did that) How did it feel?
When difficult feelings rear their oh-so-difficult heads, they often trigger a habitual response—maybe it’s anxiety, anger or fear; we may experience frustration or self-judgments—we all have our favorite negative mantras we repeat over and over to ourselves. Well maybe not all of us … but …
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could cut through the “habit loop” (Brewer’s term for the habitual negative thought patters) and stop them before they run wild in our brains?
We can stop the runaway train—just by saying Hmmm. It’s not the sound—exactly—that makes us flip the switch, but the sound acts as a new trigger—a trigger that moves us towards curiosity. The wonder we feel when we’re curious stops us from going down that rabbit hole. It takes us instead into our bodies. Into the moment. The now.
There’s little room for judgement when curiosity is present. And I’d take curiosity over judgment any day of the week. Hmmm. Wouldn’t you?
Curiosity Is A Superpower!
Curiosity is truly a superpower, according to Brewer. But “not all curiosity is created equal.” According to psychologist Jordan Litman, there are two main types of curiosity: the I-curiosity (the “I” standing for interest) and the D-curiosity (the “D” for depravation).
When we look to add to our knowledge because we hunger for that knowledge, the same way children hunger to learn about things, we become full of wonder. That type of curiosity is joyful! But searching for information to fill in a gap (like most of our internet searches) is like feeding a hungry ghost. It will never be satisfied.
Interest or deprivation? I know which curiosity I’m going to do my best to cultivate! (To learn more about these differences, I recommend reading a longer article by Dr. Brewer “Curiostiy: Our Superpower.” It’s truly fascinating.)
I, for one, am going to make a commitment to incorporating many more Hmmm’s in my life. I may just write Hmmm on my hand, place Hmmm sticky-notes around the house; make Hmmm my go-to way of approaching the world.
About a year ago—or maybe just a few months (I’ve lost any meaningful sense of time during the pandemic)—I read on Austin Kleon’s blog (OMG! It’s so wonderful—I highly recommend you sign up!) a short review for Rob Walker’s book The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday. In his introduction, Walker quotes the economist Herb Simon’s warning issued way back in 1971: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Wow. How prescient. We are a society “rich” with information, but our spirits too often feel impoverished.
Are You In?
Attention and curiosity are two concepts inextricably linked. Walker’s book provides 131 different exercises requiring us to pay attention, to be curious, to reconnect with the wonders around us: “Every day is filled with opportunities to be amused, surprised, enthralled. … To stay eager. To be, in a word, alive.”
I am eager!
So … in that vein, I am committing to paying greater attention, to noticing the world around me with different eyes. I am challenging myself to practice the exercises in Walker’s book—at least one every week. I will also be leaning on two other wonderful books of wonder: Jacqueline Susin’s Every Day is A Poem and the amazing Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights.
I would love to have you join this curiosity/attention challenge. I plan on posting the challenge on Wednesday mornings on Instagram and Facebook.
Please follow me—I will need the support! And please join me—I would love the company!
I will post the first challenge Wednesday morning. Check it out on @DianeGotAuthor. Tag me with pictures or descriptions of what you notice! Let me know where your attention goes and what your curiosity brings!
Please feel free to share on social media.
And if you know another amazing woman (or person of any gender!) who might like to join us at WomanPause, please forward this link: WomanPause