Curiosity and Motivation: Life-Long Partnership
19 January, 2018

While getting a degree takes 3 to 7 years depending on the field and level, it’s more than obvious that almost every field requires further learning and self-education. We live in a fast-changing world and knowledge base is changing almost every day. Nonetheless, it is pretty hard to make yourself learn after you get a degree, especially considering the fact many struggles with motivation even while acquiring a degree.

So in this article, we would like to focus on both defining curiosity and motivation, as well as establishing the relationship between those two. We will also give some practical advice on how to arouse your curiosity and convert it into a great source of motivation.

Definition of Curiosity

Today I’d like to define the concept of curiosity. One of the greatest definitions I’ve ever met is ‘curiosity is a mental need of new experience, even if it means bending or breaking the rules in order to establish certain connections or gain new knowledge.’ In other words, it is a passion for experimenting and knowledge brought up by your subconscious mind. It’s a search for an explanation of inexplicable and mental thirst for knowledge.

There two basic types of curiosity humans can express:

  • emotional response to something new, often accompanied by anxiety or fear. Simple example: have you ever seen your pet exploring an unknown object? Going back and force, not knowing whether it is safe in order to gain some knowledge about the world around them and have a reason to decide on how to act further (play, attack, or leave as it is).
  • intellectual curiosity, provoked by a gap in knowledge or inconsistency between known facts. It is similar to how talented musician responds to discord in a music piece.

Basically, curiosity is a cognitive process with a dopamine reward and emotional boost at the finish line, meaning you derive pleasure from the process of exploring.

Why curiosity is important?

It helps you have fun with the learning process itself!

Definition of Motivation

As we’ve figured out what curiosity is, let’s focus on the second concept. Motivation, simply put, is a desire that stimulates certain actions or response. It’s a complex combination of reward evaluation, individual expectations, and current situation. There are tons of books about motivation, finding a carrot on the end of the stick, and exporting it to the very depth.

However, there are two basic approaches to motivation. First one is based on whether this motivation is inner or forced onto a human being, while the second one is based on content vs. process motivation.

  • natural vs. rational motivation. Is it your need or desire that drives you or is it implied wishing the works you have to do/responsibilities you have?
  • content vs. process motivation. This approach focuses on either what motivates this human being or how this motivates them.

Why is motivation important?

Though it seems like a simple question, very few people think about their own motivation and what really drives them. Let me cite an example. Many people believe money is good motivation.

However, very few realize that they are indeed interested in what money bring along: status, fame, expensive things, and more ample opportunities.

The same thing is applied to motivation in education: what is it you are the most interested in?

How can your studying help you achieve it?

Relationship between Curiosity and Motivation

Many studies have shown that there is a strong relation between curiosity and motivation. Dr. R. Alison Adcock in her series of studies has noticed that people respond to different rewards in all sorts of ways.

For example, being offered a monetary reward for doing a simple task, such as solving a puzzle, some people were frightened as if they were threatened, while other displayed certain level of pleasure.

What is even more interesting about this experiment is the fact that despite the primary reason (being it either fear of failure or performance anxiety) people were stressed more than motivated.  The importance of motivation can be highlighted by the fact people tend to have different reactions to the same stimuli.

What does it mean? To cut a long story short, the external rewards are not the strongest motive for successful performance.  In the early twenties, scholars believed that curiosity is one of the main driving forces (along with sex, thirst, and hunger).

So if we talk about education, we can certainly say that curiosity is the strongest factor in motivation here.

Curiosity as a key component of life-long motivation for learning

Now that we’ve established the connection between curiosity and motivation, let’s break it down into certain factors and learn how we can exploit them to get your curiosity to be your motivation.

I would say that these factors will be working for different types of learners (or humans in general). I will be covering motivation for life-long learning, but I have a feeling this will work well for college and university education as well.

  • Complexity. Some people find it fascinating to deal with a hard task. If you belong to this group, your best option is to set a great goal and break it down into smaller chunks that will help you deal with a bigger mystery ahead of you.
  • Novelty. The second factor contributing to evoking curiosity and turning it into a motivational factor is a need to learn something new by exploring the certain subject.
  • Uncertainty. We all know people who are driven crazy by the slightest moments of uncertainty or ambiguity. Such individuals are well-motivated to establish the truth.
  • Conflict. It is vital to remember that factors can be external as well, and having a conflict of any nature can be a great curiosity-awakening factor. Have a bet with someone and do your best to win it.

Have you ever asked yourself how to become more curious? If you are interested in pushing the boundaries and turning your curiosity into something that will drive you, here is a small piece of advice:

  1. focus on what is needed, set the task, and spend some time thinking about it;
  2. get out of your comfort zone. If you have a new skill to master, find someone to teach you, get a field trip;
  3. make sure you are always clear about the tasks you have to deal with (for college students, take advantage of those office hours you professor keep telling you);
  4. challenge yourself by setting tasks that will help you expand your knowledge;
  5. find for yourself a meaning behind every task you have to deal with by highlighting value of every assignment.

So by aiming high and getting our curiosity to guide us, we can achieve much better results than by being driven by any external rewards. Good luck with your studies and let us know if you have any other tricks regarding curiosity and motivation.

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