How Curiosity Changes Your Brain

You probably know that curiosity is an important trait that can bring you meaning and fulfillment in life. But did you know it can actually change how your brain is wired?

Curiosity is the desire to know more. We’re born naturally curious, but we often lose this sense of curiosity over time. We’re trained to stop asking so many questions. Sometimes this is helpful. But in human relationships, it often comes at the expense of empathy and understanding.

As we lose curiosity, we start to make assumptions and jump to conclusions.

Strengthening your sense of curiosity can change a lot for how you interact with the people around you. Curiosity is a precursor to empathy: It helps you imagine the possible thoughts going through another person’s mind, and it helps you to feel what they may feel.

Because curiosity helps us empathize, it is our key to healthy relationships.

Curiosity is a habit we have to nurture.

We form new habits through repetition. Automatic behaviors happen through neural pathways we’ve developed over time. Neural pathways are the way the brain carries information from one neuron to another; we have billions of these pathways, and we’re creating more of them all the time.

Previous theories of neuroscience told us that the structure of our brains determined how we think and what we do, and that once brain cells die, they’re gone forever. Now, with the science of neuroplasticity, we know that the brain continues to grow and change throughout our lives. So much of what we do changes the brain. Mindfulness practice, for example, can even change how we perceive pain.

Learning to think differently can have longstanding effects on your brain. Imagine a thought not only as a sensation of your mind but also as a physical, chemical event taking place. Each time a thought enters your mind, neurons fire. As we learn ways of thinking and experiencing emotion, we create neural pathways. These pathways can stay in place, with reinforcement, or change.

As you learn new skills, portions of your brain actually become larger. In the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, you create new cells throughout your life. And, as you associate certain thoughts with certain feelings, connections develop throughout the brain and become stronger.

Thanks to neuroplasticity, you have an incredible capacity to change into the best possible version of yourself. Being mindful of your brain health, and of the habits you want to form and change, is an important part of self-care.

You can change your brain one action at a time.

Do you find yourself often feeling guilty, even when you haven’t done anything wrong? Form new ways of thinking, and you can become more confident. Are you dealing with a problem like anxiety or depression? Recovery is possible. Curiosity is an important practice that can help you reach these goals.

Try these four tips to increase your sense of curiosity, and see what benefits you experience:

  1. Notice when you have judgmental thoughts, and replace them with non-judgmental observations. What gets in the way of curiosity is anger. And each time we experience anger, we strengthen its neural pathways. By switching from angry and judgmental thoughts to curious and non-judgmental ones, you reinforce a calmer and more grounded way of being.
  2. Work on tolerating uncertainty. We often tell ourselves that we “need” to know the answer to something. But, if you can embrace the unknown, you can have experiences you didn’t know were possible. Don’t limit yourself to how you already think and what you already know. Be open to more.
  3. Challenge yourself to notice things you hadn’t seen before, even in what’s familiar to you. Try out some experiments, like walking outdoors and noticing everything you can about your surroundings. Eat a meal and see how many observations you can make about the taste and texture of the food. Make mindful observation a habit by setting it as a regular practice.
  4. Even if your old habits come back, don’t give up. Changing the brain doesn’t happen overnight. The key is to make your desired change over and over again. The creation of neural pathways takes ongoing reinforcement. Every time you act with curiosity rather than make assumptions, every time you empathize rather than jump to anger, you create new neural pathways, which will support you as you become your best possible self.
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