the most underestimated power source…

By April 8, 2014 9 Comments

As part of my coaching training, one week I was given some odd homework. All of us students were supposed to spend 15 minutes lying on the floor, looking under our kitchen sinks, getting curious about what was there—and sustaining that curiosity for 15 minutes.

The idea was that being a good coach required being incredibly curious—approaching our clients not with interpretations of their problems, but with an intense curiosity that would allow us, with them, to jointly discover solutions to their challenges. By hanging out at the kitchen sink, we’d practice bringing curiosity to something seemingly mundane, strengthening our curiosity muscle, so to speak.

I was traveling at the time, and didn’t have a kitchen sink in our hotel room, so I went to bathroom floor, lay down, opened the cabinet and started looking. After a few minutes of intentionally bringing curiosity to that sink cabinet, I found myself wondering who built it and who installed the sink, and what their lives were like. I wondered about the history of the hotel and its founders, and what ups and downs the business had had over the years. Suddenly, I was incredibly curious to know the behind the scenes story about this place we were staying.

Later that night, I chatted with some staff members of the hotel about those questions. It led to some lovely conversations and brought the place alive for me. And, it got me going on a curiosity kick that continued for days and made our whole trip much more exciting.

Curiosity truly ignites—once sparked, it continues to burn.

At my next coaching class, everyone shared about the sink exercise. Some people had wondered about all the stuff under their sinks. Others found themselves wondering about plumbing, how the whole system worked – where the water went and where it came from. Others thought about water access issues and imagined what life would be like without water flowing from a tap.

The exercise had taught us all a few lessons:

1. You can get curious about anything
2. Curiosity is a muscle; it strengthens when used and needs to be used to stay strong
3. Being curious makes life much more exciting and fun

Last week I wrote about how watching my baby boy makes utterly obvious that we are hard-wired for curiosity. We come into life with an appetite to discover what surrounds us, to look closely and wonder, “what’s that? what’s that?” Curiosity, not indifference or fear, is our natural and original relationship to the world.

But while we might admire or even idealize children’s curiosity, as adults, we can’t imitate it. After all, if you or I peered out the window for as long as my son does, we’d never get out the door. We’d never be able to do our work, care for our loved ones, or get anything done.

Children’s curiosity is more intense than adults’ because childhood is an intense period of growth and of learning.

But that’s the lesson, isn’t it? Curiosity is the fuel for learning. If you want to experience a season of growth and learning in your life, you’d better get curious.

And whatever area of your life you want to experience growth in? Well, that’s an area to meet with curiosity, because

curiosity —> learning —> growth —> change

Let’s say you feel most stuck in the romantic-relationship arena of your life. Then that’s the area of life to bring intensive curiosity to. What does that look like? It means instead of fear leading you (What if I don’t meet the right person?! What if this relationship doesn’t work?! Ack!) or instead of old beliefs leading you (“I’m not good at dating” or “I’m afraid to commit”) you let curious questions lead. Those questions might be, “What do I really want?” or “What is this person before me really like?” or “What if I approach dating in a new way?”

If you are most stuck in your financial life, you can do the same thing. Bring forward your curiosity. Can you ask with pure curiosity, “what is getting me stuck?” “What would help it move?” Inquire into the situation with child-like curiosity—not exasperation or self-hate.

The area of life you feel most stuck and most dissatisfied with is the area that calls for the greatest, purest, curiosity, because it is the area in which you most need to grow.

The  really amazing thing is that curiosity can’t co-exist in you with judgement or fear. Because of that, curiosity is one of the most spiritual, energizing, and generative qualities we can inhabit, though it’s not talked about much. It’s sort of a best kept secret.

What area of your life is ready to  be transformed by curiosity? {Click to tweet}



P.S. I’m delighted to be giving a keynote at the Invent Your Future Conference: Accelerating the Success of Women Leaders  on April 22nd in Silicon Valley. I would love to see you there. As one of my blog subscribers, you can sign up with a special discount by clicking HERE.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Teodora says:

    Hi Tara,
    I really enjoy your posts and I want to let you know I firmly believe staying curious leads to a better life. I believe so profoundly that I started a well-being website devoted to it, please feel free to share with your readers.

  • Carol says:


    As per usual, your posts always make me think… thank you! Yes, I am going to get curious about what is keeping me stuck ~ and then get even more curious about how to push through :-).

  • Pilar says:

    Loved this post. It reminded me of the lessons in
    The French book The Little Prince… A must read
    Lessons we learn from the eyes of a child, a book about
    Human relationships. Talk about curiosity and creativity!
    Thanks for your wisdom

  • Carmen says:

    Great post-thanks Tara! You’re right-no matter how old we are, curiosity is a power source we can continue to tap. Gently asking myself questions seems like a smoother path to inspired action. I also love how your curiosity about something specific and bathroom related ended up opening you up to others & being more present in the place you were in. It probably brightened their day to tell you about the hotel and have an interaction with a guest that was non-transactional but instead, relational.

  • Leslie says:

    I love love love this! I’m thinking about how I can adapt this look under the kitchen sink exercise as a way to challenge my students (here in Chile) to stretch their curiosity muscles. I’m thinking of using art. Thank you for sharing this story.

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