At a glance
By Ronelle Richards
As humans, we’ve evolved to continue chasing knowledge and make sense of the unknown. It is part of human nature. It also helps to make us healthier.
Performing activities that stimulate our minds consistently has been repeatedly shown to help reduce the risk of dementia.
Furthermore, dopamine, long thought to be the “feel-good molecule”, is being reclassified by some scientists as the neurotransmitter of exploration.
Exploring “allows us to integrate novel or unexpected events with existing knowledge and experiences, a process necessary for growth,” says the Scientific American.
Dr Narelle Lemon, an associate professor in education at Melbourne’s Swinburne University, has made it her career focus to never stop learning.
“Learning something new, especially when we’re using our curiosity, I think enables us to be really open to finding out new things and seeking out new information,” she tells INTHEBLACK.
“When we engage with curiosity and see it as a strength or superpower it really helps us to get excited about the new topic we’re investigating. We kind of figure out why it’s relevant to me, how it can help me live and apply that knowledge.”
Dr Lemon takes us through eight benefits of learning something new and how those benefits can help us, and our brains, to keep evolving.
1. A catalyst
“When you have gained new knowledge the impact you can have is motivating... inspiring others to switch that knowledge and application, that is so powerful because we’re not only learning to further ourselves but inspiring others to learn more,” says Lemon.
She says that is part of a larger cycle of growth, and to learn and pass on knowledge allows us to continue our personal growth. It also helps release dopamine to keep us motivated while learning new things.
“Research has found that [dopamine] actually controls learning retention, and we develop an appetite for the reward that comes from... feeling energised when we discover something new and extract meaning or knowledge from this.”
2. Inspiring both courage and vulnerability
“Both of them allow us to open up a space to let down our armour, or guard, as they often block us from gaining another perspective,” says Lemon.
“That can totally change our direction... when we open ourselves up to being vulnerable, we overcome those fears of the unknown to be able to shift forward and embrace that newness.”
3. Creating a sense of adventure
A new style of “adventure learning” is being used with school students to engage them in challenges that are both mental and physical to develop determination and drive to succeed.
Activities like rope courses or structure building fosters team-building and problem-solving. Physical activities from exercising, brain activities like crosswords and puzzles or activities that rely heavily on both like painting or playing an instrument Lemon says it’s all about taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones.
“When we step out into that vulnerability of not knowing, that’s where we can really stretch ourselves and grow even further.”
4. Fostering adaptability
“When we're adaptable and being truly tuned into that we’re opening up that opportunity to be true to ourselves and take that little step further out to embrace change and find something new that can help us even further,” says Lemon.
Changing our thoughts or how we do things comes down to engaging and experimenting with new approaches, says Lemon. To take one of her favourite sayings, it’s to “find out what’s right for us right now”, and those findings help as we continue to adapt.
Anything that helps our brains’ neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change its neural networks and rewire itself.
5. Forging connection
Taking part in new and novel experiences helps you learn about yourself and learn from others, or with others, and that is what helps form connections. A significant part of the human experience is how we relate to each other, through our experiences and knowledge.
“The ability to be able to connect with others and embrace – that is absolutely incredible, especially when you find the right people,” says Lemon.
6. Experiencing and giving gratitude
Gratitude is a positive emotion that’s a beneficial side effect of learning new things or putting new knowledge into action says Lemon.
“If someone has shared something new or confronted you with something new, being able to acknowledge that by expressing gratitude for yourself, or that person – even a quick little email or if you see them over the water cooler, expressing ‘you said something about X and it really made me think’ is powerful.”
In a team environment, giving and receiving gratitude strengthens the cohesion of the team and produces positive professional outcomes.
7. Driving innovation
“It’s a wonderful aspect to coming up with new ideas and different approaches and it partners really well with creativity in that we can think beyond what already exists and be quite creative and different,” says Lemon.
When we embrace possibility with our approach, at an individual level and in a collaborative setting that is where ideas, problem-solving and invention succeeds.
8. Pushing us to seek improvement
Learning gives us a feeling of accomplishment and leads us to want that feeling again.
“Think about ways of how we can do things for the better and that can be in relation from working with your team, problem-solving, finding new solutions – but we’re looking for that ‘how can we improve someone else's life?’ – it’s a process, it’s our communication, there's so many different layers to that,” says Lemon.
For Lemon, learning should be a daily intention, but something that we embrace as being a constant surprise.
“It could be something formal like listening to a podcast or you read new literature, it can be conversations with colleagues working in teams to solve that problem or long-term projects where you’ve lost the energy for it, but a new spark has been set that we need to think about how we can progress that further,” says Lemon.
“If we have it as a daily intention, opening up that possibility to learn with and from each other, it really becomes ingrained in how we approach and engage in the world.”