Another term for “keeping your interests fresh” is “novelty seeking.”
I read an interesting book back in 2006 about novelty seeking called “Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty, and the Science of Finding True Fulfillment.” It was an intriguing read (that I clearly still remember). In the book, the author Gregory Berns delves into psychology, brain science, and biology to investigate how dopamine (the “pleasure” hormone) interacts with cortisol (the “stress” hormone) to produce the feelings that people associate with satisfaction.
His conclusion is simple and compelling: people are wired for novel experience, and when we seek it out, we are satisfied. This will be a highly satisfying read for anyone interested in what gets us out of bed in the morning day after day.
— Publisher’s Weekly
More recently, I read an article about how novelty seeking can aid our learning and memory. But before getting into the practical application for our lives, let’s take a closer look at the two brain chemicals addressed earlier (dopamine and cortisol).
- This is the “celebrity” of brain chemicals
- Commonly referred to as the “pleasure” hormone
- Regulates the pleasure and reward centers of the brain
- Also a key chemical in motivation, cognition, arousal, and motor control
- Activated by food, sex, success, other stimuli
- Thought to play a major role in addictions
- When applied medically increases heart rate and blood pressure
- Commonly used to treat Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and schizophrenia
- Low dopamine levels are also sometimes associated with depression
- This is your “fight or flight” hormone
- Commonly referred to as the “stress” hormone
- A natural steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands
- Regulates blood pressure, insulin release, glucose metabolism, and immune function
- Small increases: give energy, reduce pain, improve memory, increase immunity
- Long-term (chronic stress): lowered immunity, blood sugar imbalances, increases belly fat
- Too much also decreases muscle, bone density, thyroid and brain functions
- Can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue (when your adrenal glands basically shut down from overuse)
Too much or too little
As we’ve seen, too much or too little of either of these brain chemicals can have very negative consequences. The key then, is getting them to work in unity with one another.
- Too much dopamine: addiction
- Too little dopamine: depression
- Too much cortisol: adrenal fatigue
- Too little cortisol: physical fatigue
Getting the measure Just right
However, we’ve also seen that both chemicals can have benefits in our brains for both memory and learning.
- Just enough dopamine: satisfaction
- Just enough cortisol: improves ability
Novelty Seeking Actually Increases our Brain’s Plasticity
This is pretty interesting stuff:
…animal studies [have shown] that the plasticity of the hippocampus (the ability to create new connections between neurons) was increased by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterwards.
Increased brain plasticity = increased ability to make new brain connections and learn new concepts, facts, vocabulary, or grammar.
Additionally, novelty increases memory by up to 19%:
After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information was boosted by 19 per centif it had been mixed with new facts during learning sessions.
What does this mean for us?
Newness (novelty) increases:
- Learning Potential (brain plasticity)
Learning something NEW (brain stress) increases:
Newness + Stress actually doubly increases your brain’s memory potential! (Is it any wonder then that we tend to learn the much more from Life’s Challenges than from books?)
How I’m Putting this Into Practice
Lifehacker.com has a number of good suggestions for increasing memory and learning potential:
- Add something new
- Change you environment
- Learn after doing something new
But for me, I’m simply changing up my study interests. I’ve noticed quite an increase in motivation since the beginning of the year due to my new interests.
Previously, I was more interested in:
- Discovering Korean rock and indie music (NOT KPop)
- Korean TV shows like Running Man (NOT KDramas)
But those have become somewhat familiar to me. They’ve lost their initial novelty and, though still satisfying, no longer carry with them the deep motivation and satisfaction that investigation and discovery bring. Now, I’m discovering the novelty of:
- Korean heroes
- Hanja (Chinese writing) (Blog posts coming soon)
- Korean expressions
You know, this “keeping things fresh” isn’t really a new concept. People talk about it all the time with regard to:
- Relationships (especially married relationships)
You know the old expression: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Well, how are you “keeping things fresh” in your study of Korean?