“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”– Albert Einstein
In my previous posts on brain health, I highlighted the importance of staying curious and seeking newness to keep your mind in top shape and reduce the risk of dementia. You can read about it here and here.
Curiosity for mental health
Curiosity is a powerful drive. It spurs you to question, learn, and discover. It lifts you from a place of inertia and brings excitement to your life. Human beings are biologically designed to evolve and change, and curiosity plays a significant role in human evolution.
When you surround yourself with people who are curious, you become curious. When you are curious, you are motivated to learn, and the more you learn, the more curious you become. The more curious you become, the more interested and engaged you are with your surroundings. Chip Conley, American businessman, author and speaker said: “Most people think that the opposite of depression is happiness. But I think it’s curiosity.” I couldn’t agree more.
A neuroscience perspective
When you anticipate and interact positively with new information, you are rewarded with a flood of dopamine – that pleasure inducing chemical that your brain releases. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) tests show that a curious outlook increases the activity in two brain regions associated with reward and motivation – the substantia nigra/ ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbes. However, when you are bored and disinterested, your mind is passive and the activity in these brain regions slows down.
Interestingly, a third area that increases in activity when a person is curious is the hippocampus – the part of the brain involved in memory formation. A high state of curiosity is the fuel that ignites the neural pathways involved in motivation and memory.
Tapping into your curious mind
Your mind is like a muscle that can become stronger or weaker, depending on how curious you are. Whether curiosity originates within us or is a response to the outside world, the theories are unclear. In my opinion, curiosity, that deep and persistent desire to know, is shaped by personality, biology, culture, environment and experience.
As you may have noticed, some people appear to be inherently curious – they just seem to be wired that way. Some are curious in a wide array of topics, and others seem to have a heightened sense of curiosity about specific subjects. However, we all have the ability to lose that desire to learn.
When we venture outside our comfort zone, we risk failure. Anxiety and difficult or traumatic life experiences can stifle curiosity. Not everyone can fully regain their lost sense of curiosity and wonder.
If curiosity has been drummed out of you, how can you get it back? The good news is that curiosity is trainable. There are some simple every day things that you can do to maintain, regain, or develop curiosity. In my next week’s post, I will highlight some helpful tips.