How learning helped me and can help you increase motivation and retention

Last month I decided to launch an ambitious campaign at Rubbabu which would use social media as it's main vehicle, and focus on special needs, and drive traffic to our website. Ever since then I've been insanely motivated, full of ideas, and full of energy. What's funny about this is that these three areas - social media, special needs, and our website are the ones I usually avoid, screw up, or just endlessly procrastinate. So why am I suddenly so full of energy? How did the procrastination and fear of failure just melt away? How did this new task make me so motivated? 

I found a couple of reasons. This is why I highly recommend learning something completely new to get yourself out of a rut or just to bring more positivity and energy into your life. 

We know that the brain forms new connections when we learn a new task. Doing something new requires a lot of focused attention. This effect will fade soon as you get more familiar with it, but at the beginning, you have got your brain paying attention. If you were having difficulty focusing on your everyday routine tasks like I was, this will be a welcome feeling - complete focus! All you need is something new.  

Where did the motivation and energy come from? Research has shown that our brains respond to novelty by releasing dopamine. Yup, the same dopamine that's implicated in addiction, pleasure, depression, love, the list goes on. Anyway, dopamine is a neurotransmitter with many complexities but one of the cool things it does is motivate us to seek rewards. So when you go to a new place, the dopamine surge makes you want to explore it to seek out further rewards. As you explore and find more new things, they again increase your motivation to keep seeking. This explains it - when I suddenly discovered the Shopify App page and how easily I can install these apps, I got some really useful dopamine-inspired motivation to keep going! Perhaps this 'seeking reward' is what also social media companies use to keep us hooked, and we know how well that works already. 

It gets more interesting. For this response to occur, the situation or stimulus needs to be COMPLETELY new. Something that's relatively novel, but similar to what you're used to doesn't have this effect unfortunately. That means, that the first time you approach a new subject, a new place, a new idea, a new skill, your brain will give you this big push to keep you going. That's definitely something I want to use in the future, I'm not sure yet how.

Now that I'm on this subject, I have one more reason for you to learn something new. We know that as we practice something new, the neural connections get stronger, making us better at it. One of the reasons for this may be an increase in myelination. Myelin is the white matter in the brain, a fatty tissue that covers part of our neurons and increases the speed and strength of the nerve impluses. The more we practice, the more myelin, the better our performance, is what scientists currently believe. We know that loss of myelin occurs in neurodegenerative diseases, so that attests to the importance of myelin. If learning and practice increase myelin, this is a damn good reason in my book. 

Not done yet. I saved the best for last. During the time we are exposed to something new and 15-20 minutes after that, there is an increase in plasticity in the hippocampal region of the brain. That means we have a higher-than-normal ability to learn and remember. That's one of the reasons why working in a new environment lets us learn and retain better. So change your environment, seek out new ideas, and use those 20 minutes wisely!

 

References: 

The Science of Practice: What Happens When You Learn a New Skill by Jason Shen, 5/29/2013, https://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-practice-what-happens-when-you-learn-a-510255025

Novelty and the Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good by Belle Beth Cooper, 5/21/13, https://lifehacker.com/novelty-and-the-brain-why-new-things-make-us-feel-so-g-508983802