The Blog.

Certainty vs curiosity: which are you craving?

6 Jun 2016 | Being Human, Mind monkeys

I’m just coming to the end of another week of school holidays and it always surprises me how after a while, my kids start craving certainty.

At the beginning of the holidays, they’re excited about taking a break from school and relishing the freedom from routine and structure. Towards the end, they’re getting restless, bored with the freedom, tired of coming up with ideas and craving the certainty of being told what to do. In fact I noticed them perk up the other day when my mum set up Chinese school at the dining table, gave them exercise books and had them writing lines!

As human beings we need both certainty and curiosity.

We need a degree of certainty – we want to know where we stand, what we’re dealing with, and what the heck we’re here to do.

But when everything’s certain, it becomes boring and arduous. We also need a degree of uncertainty. We want to explore the unknown, discover new things, be surprised, have a sense of adventure and wonder. We crave curiosity.

Both certainty and curiosity can be triggers for procrastination.

When there’s too much certainty, when my day becomes too predictable and I feel like I’m stuck doing the same thing again, I crave the novelty of reading something new, playing with a new bit of tech, or chasing a shiny idea down a cyber rabbit hole.

When there’s too much uncertainty, when I’m designing a new talk or staring at a blank page, I’m distracted by the pile of filing that needs doing, the emails that need replying to, that Facebook post I can easily comment on. Anything where I know exactly what to do, so I can get that little dopamine rush of accomplishment without having to ‘figure it out’ first.

And the world is full of distractions that can offer me both curiosity and certainty, and leave me with a nagging procrastination hangover and a more pressing deadline at the end of it.

But knowing which one I’m craving can help me to change the way I frame the work.

Need certainty = inject definition

If I need more certainty, I can give the task at hand more definition by writing some clear instructions:

“Get the file out”
“Call John to clarify brief”
“Brain dump for 10 minutes”
“Choose stock image”
“Outline bullet points”
“Choose x or y”

Need curiosity = inject discovery

If I need more curiosity, I can reframe the task with questions to send me into discovery mode:

“I wonder how much I can pay myself next month?” (get invoicing)
“I wonder which blog post has been most popular?” (dig into those web analytics)
“I wonder how many creative ways I could come up with to say ‘no’?” (start writing)
“I wonder what lessons I could learn from this?”
“I wonder how many of these I can get done and dusted in the next 57 minutes?”
“I wonder how I could make this quick, easy or irresistible?”

Changing the way we frame a task changes how we experience it – from something that deprives us of what we need, to something that satisfies our needs.

What do you need to inject more of into your work today – definition to create certainty or discovery to satisfy your curiosity?

Let me know…


  1. Vishal Kataria

    “I wonder what lessons I could learn from this?”

    The yearning to discover and learn more every day keeps me going, Grace. The boredom due to certainty made me quit my corporate job and take the plunge into entrepreneurship. I’m not making a lot of money now, not raising series of funding either… but I’ve learned so much about myself in the last 2 years (and continue to do so), that I won’t give it up for anything else.

    • Grace Marshall

      Sounds like a rich and fruitful couple of years Vishal. May there be plenty more ahead.

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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