3 Ways Curiosity Can Help Calm Reactivity

Ways Curiosity Can Help Calm Reactivity

1. Curiosity of emotions helps you shift your vantage point so that you are observing from a more neutral place rather than being caught in reactivity.

Suggestions to do this:

  • Be curious about what emotions are present (name them) and notice how they show up in your body as physical sensations.
  • Bring some curiosity to see if there are any other hidden emotions present.
  • Wonder to yourself if these emotions are tied specifically to this situation, or if they remind you of other times you felt this way that may not have to do entirely with this situation.
  • Ask yourself what this emotion might want or need if it could talk.

In order to illustrate this, imagine a situation in which you ask a family member to do an important thing for you, and you discover that they didn’t do what you asked. Here is how you might bring curiosity to your emotions:

I notice anger and irritation are present. I’m really upset that this thing wasn’t done as I asked and I can feel a lot of tension in my body, especially my chest. Hmm, this is interesting — as I pay attention to this anger I can sense hurt underneath. It reminds me of a current situation at work I’m dealing with where I feel that my needs have been overlooked and dismissed. I think I just want to feel listened to and have my voice heard.

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2. Curiosity of thoughts interrupts automatic and ruminating thinking and helps you notice thoughts rather than get entangled in your own thinking.

Suggestions to do this:

  • Imagine you could watch thoughts in your mind the way you might observe moving vehicles of different colors, shapes and sizes passing by.
  • Be interested in any ways your mind is concocting a story or interpretation about what is happening.
  • Notice that the facts of a present moment situation may be different from the interpretations the mind creates.

Continuing with the example from above, here is how you might bring curiosity to your thoughts:

I notice that I’m thinking to myself that I can’t believe that you didn’t do this for me and I’m clearly unimportant. I see that there is a narrative in my mind that “you never do what I ask and you obviously don’t care about me or my needs.” Hmm… I can see this really isn’t true. There might be many reasons why you didn’t do this thing I asked of you and there are many times you try to be helpful.

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3. Curiosity of behaviors interrupts automatic reactivity and creates a space between the reacting self and the observing self so that you can see greater choices available to you.

Suggestions to do this:

  • Bring curiosity to how you are inclined to act in this moment.
  • Trying not to judge yourself, just notice with curiosity and kind attention how this behavior might make you feel. Be curious about the consequences of a particular behavior versus other behaviors that might be available.

Once again, using the above example, here is how you might bring curiosity to your behavior choices:

I notice that I am ready to yell and scream and start a fight. When I do that, it gets me more agitated and usually doesn’t end up helping me feel any better. It also isn’t the best way to have my voice heard. I wonder what would happen if I told you how I was feeling instead, after I am a little calmer.

If you want to practice strengthening your curiosity muscle to help you with reactivity, look for times during the day when you feel moments of irritation, frustration, or upset (take care not to pick anything too emotionally charged, especially if you are new to this).

Use the suggestions above to guide you to bring greater curiosity to your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in the moment. Doing this, especially in combination with practicing mindfulness meditation, can help to begin to loosen the grip of automatic reactivity and create the space for greater choices.


Written by: Beth Kurland, Ph.D
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today 
Republished with permission
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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