Driven by Curiosity

People often ask me what drives me. While there can be many motivations for taking action, I’d say that one of my biggest drivers is curiosity. I love to learn, and I find it most valuable to learn through hands-on direct experience.

In my early years of exploring personal development, I did a combination of reading books and doing experiments on my own. I almost always found direct experimentation to be a better investment. Books were mostly good for stimulating further experimentation. It was rare that I found good ideas from books that I could apply as-is. Most ideas I picked up from books were misaligned, and they often led me astray for a while. I made the mistake of trusting other authors too much and giving them too much credibility. I mistook their confidence as as reason to presume that their ideas were flawless.

Many of my best advancements and cherished experiences started with a spark of curiosity. Then I added fuel to that spark by investing in exploration.

I went vegan 24 years ago because of curiosity. I’m eating raw this year because of curiosity. I became an entrepreneur after college because I was curious about it. I moved to Las Vegas because of curiosity.

I’m especially curious about how different experiences will affect me. I can’t always predict what I like and how I’ll feel about different situations. So my curiosity is often comprised of questions like these:

  • What would it be like to do X for a month?
  • What would that experience do to me?
  • How would it affect me if I permanently added the memory of doing X?
  • What if I could learn to do X? What then?
  • What will happen if I join (or quit) this group?
  • If I eat this way instead of that way, how will it affect me?

Here are some specific versions that I actually implemented:

  • What would it be like to try going vegetarian for a month?
  • What would it be like to exercise every day for a year?
  • What would happen if I blogged every day for a year?
  • Would I enjoy training in martial arts? How would that change me?
  • How would my life change if I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts?
  • What would happen if Rachelle and I spent 30 days in a row going to Disneyland?
  • If I get an idea to travel somewhere, what if I just go there immediately?

While creating positive social ripples often factors into my decisions, the spark of curiosity is usually more personal. I like having an experientially rich life, and I’m very curious about how different experiences will affect me.

I think it’s similar to the motivation that gets people playing video games. You probably want to have fun, and you’re curious about what the game will be like. You know that some games are great, some okay, and others duds, and you’re willing to take the chance on an interesting experience. The more games you play, the more you learn about what you personally like.

In fact, my curiosity about video games when I was younger eventually drove me to become a game developer for 10 years. I wanted to know what it would be like to design and create games. Now I know. It’s a lot of work but can also be very rewarding. People still occasionally email me about games I wrote during the 1990s.

One thing I tend to do differently than most people is that I also use the lack of curiosity to turn down projects. I do my best to decline projects and invitations that don’t spark any curiosity. If the outcome is a foregone conclusion or if the experience doesn’t seem intriguing, what’s the point in having that experience?

When I’m not curious and I try to push myself to take action anyway, I usually fail. I failed at my first attempt at college because I tried to do it like everyone else. It was too predictable and boring. There was no spark of curiosity.

On my second attempt at college, I remedied that. Instead of taking four years, I graduated in three semesters with two degrees by taking about triple the normal course load. I was curious as to what my best effort would look like since I never felt driven to do my best academically up to that point. I was also lucky in finding some good teachers who were themselves curious about their subjects, which uplifted me after the dreadful dial-it-in teachers brought me down.

I learned that I could succeed nicely by following my curiosity, but it was critical to keep that spark of curiosity alive. I couldn’t allow my pursuits to become too dull or predictable. I’m too much of an explorer at heart.

One reason I’m happy in my marriage is that I married a woman that I’m intensely curious about. Even after 11 years together, I’m still rediscovering her anew. She’s very curious and growth-oriented as well, which I think is critical for keeping that spark in our relationship alive. It also helps that we have a lifestyle that keeps bringing in fresh experiences, even during COVID times. We’re both good at embracing the new, so we share a lot of new experiences together. I think we do a great job of balancing the familiar with the fresh, so we’re neither bored nor overwhelmed.

While curiosity can get me into trouble – and it certainly has in the past – I’ve learned to embrace it as a powerful and important form of inner guidance. I see areas of life that I’m not curious about as dead zones where I wouldn’t want to invest. I see areas of life that I’m curious about as being good investments of time and energy.

When I’m exploring a genuine curiosity, I feel like my life flows about 3x faster. I get way more done. I learn more. I’m happier too. I don’t always want to be in this mode 100% of the time, but it sure is fun to ride it while I can sustain that pacing. One thing I love about eating raw this year is that I have more energy to stick with these waves for longer. I don’t need as much downtime for rest and recovery. So that’s a really nice combo that I’m enjoying a lot.

The best areas of investment involve overlapping curiosities. Overlapping curiosities can greatly multiply the motivational effects. And this often adds feelings of deeper meaning and purpose. I’ve noticed that my life becomes very purposeful just by following enough curiosities.

For instance, my curiosity about blogging and personal development led me to create one of the first personal development blogs 16+ years ago, and that turned out pretty well. People come here every day to pick up new insights to help them improve their lives, so the result is very service-oriented. I also wove in many other curiosities along the way, like public speaking and travel.

For many years I’ve been living and working within the overlap of multiple curiosities of mine. I think that’s why I feel so naturally motivated most of the time. I don’t allow my work to become too boring or predictable. This is why I don’t pick a singular niche to cover. I need the flexibility to pursue my curiosity wherever it takes me. I’m also very curious about how to connect the dots throughout many different areas of life, such as how my diet affects my productive, relationships, and emotions. I’m not just curious about one particular niche. Hence my business has to provide me with enough room to explore. If I had a business that got in the way of my curiosity, that business would be in trouble.

When I get invited to new experiences, I try to maintain the standard that they must at least be interesting for me. I have to be curious about them. If I’m not curious, I know I should invest elsewhere.

Here are some specific examples.

Earlier this month I emcee’d the first day of an online event for the Transformational Leadership Council. I’ve been a member for many years, so this is a familiar space for me. I’ve never been an online emcee before, although I have done that role in person. I wanted to do something different by challenging myself to pack in lots of inside jokes about the members of the group by doing setups and punchlines that only the members themselves were likely to understand. I enjoyed playing that role and received lots of positive feedback about it. I was curious to see how that kind of humor would land on a Zoom call, especially when I would only see the people but wouldn’t be able hear any laughter. That had the potential for awkwardness and risk, which made it feel edgier to explore.

I also did a podcast interview about productivity this month. I’ve done a lot of productivity interviews before, so I thought about how to bring some fresh and unusual insights to the experience this time. Could I share some empowering frames on productivity that people aren’t likely to have heard before? With that in mind, I think it was one of my best interviews on the subject. The host and I got into a nice conversational flow about some unusual yet effective ways to be more personally productive. I can share a link to it when it’s published.

And lastly, I also switched web hosts this month and really got into researching the best host for my needs. My old host, Siteground, has been going downhill for a while, so I knew I needed to jump ship before their service and support got any worse. Now we’re up and running on a much faster server with Cloudways. You may notice that this website is speedier and more responsive than it was a few weeks ago. This improvement is especially nice for people going through the courses since the course portals load much more quickly now.

When determining the flow of projects through my life, I mostly like to follow my curiosity. In order to stick with projects and complete them instead of bouncing around too much, I need to find enough curiosity to sustain me through completion. Interesting goals really help since I tend to be more curious about pursuits that lead to worthwhile results. I get curious about the impact of those long-term results.

If I’m not curious enough but I still want a result, then I know I need to change my approach. I have to reframe or refactor the project to include more learning and discovery. Thinking bigger can make a real difference here. When a project becomes too easy and straightforward and there’s no risk involved, it’s really hard to feel motivated to do it. Thinking bigger is a great way to freshen up the risk profile. Edginess and curiosity go hand in hand.

In February we’ll launch and begin a new deep dive course on the topic of creative productivity called Amplify. If you want to be notified when we’re starting, just be sure to join my email list, and I’ll let you know when it’s open for enrollment. The point of this deep dive is to help you discover what really gets you into a sustainable flow of high-quality action. If you know how to get into that flow regularly, it can permanently transform your life for the better. This isn’t just about creating work output – it’s about creating a life you enjoy and appreciate as well.

What gets you into the flow of sustainable action? If you’d like some fresh insights to up-level your flow, I think you’ll really enjoy the Amplify experience next month. 🙂

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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