Our brain likes novelty and variety. The more we get exposed to new experiences, it will reward you by working more efficiently on the complicated stuff which you need to do in your work life. We will explore how we can use this principle for double advantage in our life – learning trivial stuff and thus being more prepared to learn more complicated stuff.
Most of our modern world addictions like social media or video games are designed around this behavior. In our hyper-distracted and hyper-connected world, the new experiences or the novel stimuli can come from various sources like playing video games, social media feeds, dating applications, watching movies and so on. In his bestseller book titled Hooked, author Nir Eyal reveals how successful companies create products people can’t resist by exploiting our love for novelty and variety. It’s a must read if you wish to build irresistible products.
Novelty can also come from meeting new people, travelling, age old adventures like trekking, hiking, camping, diving and so on. Most importantly the urge of novelty can be satisfied by regularly learning new things.
Get Novelty by Learning New Things
Learning simple new things keeps our mind stimulated and energized. Its impact on the brain is similar to what light exercise has on our body. In both cases we become better prepared for more challenging tasks ahead.
There is a “novelty center” (scientific name being substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area or SN/VTA) of the brain, which responds to novel stimuli. This area is closely linked to areas of the brain called the hippocampus and the amygdala, both of which play large roles in learning and memory. You can read in detail about Novelty and the Brain here.
Knowledge Illusion prevents us from genuinely being open to new learning. The collective knowledge of humans has increased beyond all limits. As a human race, we know so much more than our ancestors about everything from the expanse of our universe to the immense power of the smallest atom.
However at an individual level we seem to be going backwards. Our ancestors, right from the hunter gatherers to the more recent ones, knew so much more about basic survival skills which helped them sail through their life. Progress in technology has made our life easier and we don’t have to learn doing many chores which were essential a few centuries back.
Personally we understand too little about the technology being used all around us. We wrongly believe the collective knowledge as our own knowledge and we never make an effort to learn trivial stuff like cooking or stitching. If you wish to delve deeper into this concept you can read the book titled – The Knowledge Illusion: The myth of individual thought and the power of collective wisdom by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.
I’m not saying that these activities are crucial in our kind of hyper-served times. What I’m saying is, the advantage of frequently learning new and simple stuff goes beyond the obvious.
What to Learn?
For the purpose of using learning to satisfy the urge of novelty, we should keep it restricted to intellectually less demanding stuff. If we start learning complicated stuff, which is equivalent to heavy weight lifting for our brain, it can prove counterproductive. Our will power and our capacity to concentrate are limited and these also deplete very fast. Thus keeping our learning light and fun, will serve the desired purpose of enrich ing our mind with what it needs – novelty and giving us back what we need – more brain power for complicated stuff we need to tackle in our professional life.
We can start developing basic skills in the most ubiquitous technology around us like electric equipment, computers, automobiles and so on. This will give us more power in case of emergencies.
There are some slightly advanced skills like cooking or knitting or driving or swimming, which can be tackled in small chunks everyday. Cook one item a week, take driving lessons every alternate day and so on. Take it easy. Don’t start more than one learning at a time. Once you’re comfortable with one, take up another. Go low on the earlier one and high on the new one. However, if you feel like mastering any stuff which you picked up, it moves out of our consideration for this purpose. It becomes part of your more intellectually or physically demanding learning regime.
Other Advantages of Learning Trivial Stuff
In the process of learning new simple stuff, Who knows you might be developing new and interesting hobbies like doodling, cooking, pottery, gardening and many more.
Trivial, intellectually less demanding stuff gives you a much needed break from monotony of daily life.
You’re better equipped to handle emergencies at home or outside like fixing a fan to fixing a car. Learning first-aid techniques, home-remedies, CPR, handling of fire equipment and similar other easy to garner skills can help you fight emergencies and save yourself and people around you.
You’re better prepared to live life on your own if you know basic survival skills like cooking, driving, story-telling and so on.
The most obvious place to start with is being more focused, being more interested in things around. Be inquisitive. Be a learner.