With curiosity. It’s quite simple, so bear with me – I’m going to start with a story.
In 2015, I moved into a house with 3 roommates and I drew the short straw. I ended up in a room in a walk out basement in a Seattle neighborhood. The 1970s wood paneling seemed like the scariest part of this story, but if you’re familiar with Seattle homes, you might guess that it’s actually the (unbelievable) amount of spiders that make their way indoors come fall.
I wouldn’t have considered myself an arachnophobe, but I didn’t love the idea of these lil creatures making their way into my room while I was sleeping. And the basement living room. And the shower. And the hallways. Okay, you get it…
Leaning into some vulnerability, I will comfortably admit that I was unsettled by being confronted daily by the presence of these arachnids. Some I killed (sorry), others I spastically relocated outdoors, and some I did my best to ignore until they found some other hidden location to hang out and watch me sleep.
At this time LOGICALLY, I knew my fear made no sense – I knew that there were only 2 species of poisonous spider in Washington state and I knew that none of them were living off of 24th. Still, I had some subconscious programming that was driving a catabolic (flight or fight) response.
After about 2 weeks into the rainy season, I remember a moment of clarity thinking, “this is not sustainable”. I knew I couldn’t be happy in this house if I was unsettled in my space.
So I had a choice to make. How do I cohabitate with this slice of pacific northwest nature? Their presence had nothing to do with me, so it was on me to figure it out. I tried on curiosity, and you better believe that it WORKED.
I started by googling, “what kind of spiders live in Seattle?”. Boom – information. I found a list of species with photos and I decided I would identify the ones that decided to visit. This meant I had to 1. put my face close enough to find identifying features, 2. look at online photos of the options, and 3. spend enough time sitting with them to be sure I was correct.
Once I had the ID, I had access to tons of information – habitat range, seasonal behavior, diet (it turns out they actually DO eat mosquitos), and danger to humans (… they weren’t).
After I identified the first handful, I began to notice that the pit in my stomach when I saw one was gone! It felt like magic. I overcame this fear simply by being curious about a situation.
Now I have tried this approach in other situations dozens and dozens of times since living in this house. Someone makes a frustrating comment? Get curious – what are they reacting to? What did they mean? How sure am I that that’s true?
Someone does something “wrong”? Get curious – what were my expectations? How come? What were they trying to do?
I know phobias are complicated, and can come with very real trauma, but I offer curiosity as a tool to consider using.
All sorts of research tells us that curiosity is huge for happiness, effective communication, and leadership. Consider this your invitation to try it out:
Curiosity often shows up in my work with clients. If you have something you’re having trouble getting curious about, reach out and let’s explore together.
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