Brains need novelty to thrive and grow

Novelty is good for us. It excites our brains and helps them grow stronger and more resilient.

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Brains respond to exercise and mental activity by generating more brain cells and more connections between them. This process goes on into old age, as long as we go on learning and enjoying novelty.

Until the middle of the last century, people believed that the brain was a static organ. Scientists thought that experiences were stamped into the fabric of the brain in some way, and that memories and new information were permanently filed.

We now know that as we experience novelty or learn and remember, the nervous system changes. Synaptic connections between sensory and motor neurons strengthen and give off more powerful signals.

The way our brains work still needs more study and scientists from many different disciplines apply themselves to different aspects of the work. The following quote gives a glimpse of one way the brain can be viewed.

The brain…is not an inanimate vessel that we fill. Rather it is more like a living creature with an appetite, one that can grow and change itself with proper nourishment and exercise.   Norman Doidge

I really love that image of a creature for which I am responsible, and which I can influence by my actions and care.

During the last century, researchers identified a condition that they call neophilia, the desire for novel experiences.

Benefits of seeking novelty

Scientists believe that neophilia strongly predicts longevity.  People who seek
novelty tend to live longer, and they are also happier and healthier.

  • Doing, learning, seeing, exploring and using new things keep our brains active.
  • Memory and learning skills are maintained and strengthened.
  • Novelty stimulates our imaginations and creativity.
  • It prevents boredom and helps prevent depression.
  • Even small new experiences are beneficial.
  • It’s fun.

What happens as we grow older?

  • Sadly, as we get older, we also begin to prefer our routines and our usual ways of doing and thinking about things.
  • Unless we actively seek novelty and act on inspiration, the desire for newness becomes less important.
  • There is often less money for major experiences like extensive travel.
  • Health and mobility issues get in the way
  • Motivation and energy may be in short supply.
  • Other people’s (often ageist) opinions can stop us from exploring new ideas and ventures.
  • Perhaps we don’t want to embarrass ourselves by failing at a new venture.
  • We might be scared of hurting ourselves.
  • Fear of looking foolish haunts some of us. At our age! As if that matters!

Age should not be a barrier to novelty. It may just take more ingenuity and wisdom to find and embrace it.

How to find novelty every day

Novelty doesn’t have to be big deal, although the idea of a journey to some far flung country or a caravan trip around Australia or a new lover might be very appealing.

We can find new experiences wherever we are. Here are a few simple ideas.

  • Take Julia Cameron’s idea of an artist’s date every week. So simple. Just go somewhere, all by yourself, to a new place, or do something entirely different at home. A local park you have never seen; a district you have never visited; a shop you have never been in…The trick is to make it seem like a date with your very precious self, an outing that takes a couple of hours.
  • Do everything with your non-dominant hand for half-an-hour.
  • Have a breakfast picnic, enjoy the lovely autumn weather.
  • Take your work to a coffee shop or a park bench.
  • Walk a different route to the shops and shop where you don’t usually go.
  • If you usually reverse into your car space or garage, try driving in front first (or vice versa).
  • Eat food you have never tried. It won’t kill you, and you might just acquire a taste for it.
  • Enjoy lifelong learning experiences.

I’d love to hear the things that my readers think are novelty. Let us know as a comment.

6 thoughts on “Brains need novelty to thrive and grow

    • I think of you as person who embraces novelty and change. You are always on the go – and often on a plane – and you seem to delight in new challenges, new learning and novelty. Thanks for your comment on my blog.

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm, Fiona. I think we should all keep reminding, supporting and encouraging each other to look for novelty, innovation etc. every day.

  1. A thought provoking and inspiring post, Maureen.
    It’s too easy to let the essence of life slip by.
    A great reminder to forge on ahead and take even small risks in new ventures.

    • Glad you enjoyed this, Susan. I guess I need to keep reminding myself about the things I once knew very well.

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