3 Ways Curiosity Can Help Calm Reactivity

Ways Curiosity Can Help Calm Reactivity

If you are highly reactive and don’t know how to calm down, then it’s time to nurture curiosity. This essential element of mindfulness can help break unhelpful patterns. Read on to know why and how curiosity can help calm reactivity.


  • Curiosity is an important element of mindfulness that can help people take a half-step back to observe what is unfolding from a neutral place.
  • Bringing curiosity to thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can help people step out of reactivity and have greater choice over their responses.
  • Curiosity can be cultivated and it can be practiced throughout the day during moments of irritation, frustration, or upset.

Why you need to embrace curiosity?

On a recent night, I was just starting to drift off into that sweet, relaxed, beautiful place of letting go deeply into sleep, when some unexpected series of sounds (coming from my husband’s phone) jolted me from my sleep, causing my heart to race. I knew my husband didn’t mean to wake me up, but nonetheless, reactivity started getting the best of me as I tried to fall back to sleep.

I became irritated, frustrated and started spinning narratives in my head about how I had gotten disturbed out of my sleep and now I may not get the sleep I needed, and now I can’t fall back to sleep, and what if I feel exhausted tomorrow, and… Of course, all of these thoughts caused my heart to beat more quickly and kept me more alert and awake.

And then I remembered about curiosity. This is a quality I have been cultivating in my meditation practice, (but one you can strengthen even if you don’t formally meditate). The observing part of my mind started getting curious about what was going on. “Isn’t this interesting that my body has this built-in alarm (my fight or flight response, wired in from evolution) that responds to unfamiliar noises to try and protect me from harm.

Read Why Your Emotions Are Not “Things” In Your Brain

Isn’t this interesting that my mind is making up a whole story about this brief moment of my racing heart, and how each thought tumbles into the next, getting me increasingly agitated. How curious that my heart rate increases when I think these thoughts, and these mental constructs themselves keep my ‘fight or flight response,’ my alarm system going.”

Do Not Chase Another Human Being. Instead, Chase Your Curiosity.
3 Ways Curiosity Can Help Calm Reactivity

By just getting curious I was able to take a half-step back from what was happening. Instead of being caught in my own thoughts and reactivity, I started to notice them from a slightly different vantage point. From this place, I had a bit more space to choose — in this case, to calm myself by reminding myself this was a “false alarm,” not a real threat (put hand on heart, slow exhalations, tell myself “safe to relax”), and to focus on how supportive my husband is (rather than to be frustrated at him for waking me accidentally).

Curiosity is a key element of mindfulness meditation practice that allows for the nonjudgmental, observing self to notice with open attention and awareness what is arising. Curiosity allows us to turn toward experiences as if we are taking a half-step back and looking with friendly eyes at what is unfolding in the moment so that we are neither pushing it away nor getting swept away by it.

The good news is, whether you meditate or not, we already know how to be curious. This is a natural quality that is wired into our biology, and one you can observe even in young babies as they explore the environment at their fingertips. As you strengthen curiosity as you move through your day (think of strengthening muscles when you lift weights repeatedly and consistently), it becomes a helpful inner resource that you can increasingly draw on.

Read How to Stop Taking Things Personally: 8 Steps

How curiosity can help with reactivity

Here are three ways curiosity can help you. Note that you can bring curiosity to feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and each of these can help unhook from automatic reactivity.

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Beth Kurland

Beth Kurland, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, and public speaker with over 20 years of experience. With a passion for and expertise in mindfulness and mind-body strategies, she helps people across the lifespan to achieve whole-person health and wellness. Her newest book is Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life. She is also the author of the award-winning books The Transformative Power of Ten Minutes: An Eight Week Guide to Reducing Stress and Cultivating Well-Being (Finalist in the Health and Wellness category by Next Generation Indie Book Awards) and Gifts of the Rain Puddle: Poems, Meditations, and Reflections for the Mindful Soul (Winner in Gift/Novelty book category by Next Generation Indie Book Awards). Drawing on research and practices from mindfulness, neuroscience, positive psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, she teaches people how to grow the inner resources for resiliency and well-being. On her website, BethKurland.com, she offers many short, free meditation audios and videos that people can incorporate into their day.View Author posts

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