Curiosity as a Driver of Focus

I don’t love doing my taxes. Does anyone? But whenever I finally find the gumption to sit down and get cracking, I realize there are many interesting lessons to be discovered in the process. How much did I make that year? How much did I spend on groceries? What about the total tax bill? Is there any way I can optimize it?

In her book Wa — The Art of Balance, my friend Kaki Okumura recommends curiosity as a natural, more elegant way of finding focus than trying to force ourselves. “Playfulness helps us let go of our anxieties,” Kaki writes. “While it is difficult to pay attention to activities that stress or bore us, activities that we are curious about can quickly draw us in and captivate us for long periods of time.” Who says doing your taxes can’t be such an activity? Or folding laundry? Or running an errand?

Lower the bar, enter experimentation mode, and prepare to play. Who else does that on a regular basis? Children. Kaki first felt inspired to stress less about writing her book after watching her three-year-old cousin build sand castles, play make-believe on a swing, and tempt ants with sugar cubes — just to see what might happen. Why couldn’t she bring the same attitude to her creative work? As it turns out, she could.

Chores, adulting, even the things we do for fun or relaxation can sometimes feel “like trying to grab at falling flower petals,” Kaki suggests: “The more desperately we try to snatch them, the more quickly they whoosh out of reach.” When we reset our disposition with “a child-like mindset of playfulness,” worrying neither about end results nor excellence, we can “let things be” — and chances are, we’ll find the flower petals naturally floating down into our hands.

You might never love some of your tasks, but you can love the process of learning more about anything. Choose curiosity, and let it carry you into a natural, effortless kind of focus. Once you do, you might even have fun doing your taxes.