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Alcohol and Mental Health

The Science of Novelty (and How To Cultivate It)

December 13, 2023
22 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 13, 2023
22 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 13, 2023
22 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 13, 2023
22 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 13, 2023
22 min read

In the words of Lebo Grand, “We all seek novelty whether we realize it or not.”

When was the last time you tried something new? Whether it's a new route to work or a hobby you picked up, novelty isn't just fun — it's good for your brain. Let’s dive deep into the enticing world of novelty and why it's essential. Even better, we'll serve up a tantalizing menu of seven delightful ways you can sprinkle more newness into your everyday life! And if you’re on a journey to quit or cut back on alcohol, cultivating novelty can work wonders by helping you get back in the driver’s seat and actively create an authentic, new life full of meaning and joy.

“Novelty Seeking” Definition

First, a quick definition of novelty (and novel experiences in particular). Novelty is the quality of some experiences (whether external or internal) that appear or feel new, original, or unusual. These experiences can range from exploring a new cuisine, visiting a new city, meeting your new neighbor across the hall, meeting the love of your life, starting a new career, or moving across the country. It doesn’t matter how big or small the experience is — novelty is anything that sparks our imagination and curiosity in a new way, gets us out of our comfort zone (in a good way), or breaks up our usual routine.

And who needs novelty? In fact, we all do. To find out why that’s the case, let’s start by looking at how novelty affects the human brain.

Why Do We Need Novelty?

Our brains are sophisticated and complex, and they’re often compared to computers. Yet unlike machines, our brains have an innate hunger for new experiences. Novelty stimulates the brain, and there are a few reasons why.

  • Release of dopamine. When we encounter something new, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in motivation and pleasure. This “happy hormone” makes us feel good, and this is why we often feel elated when trying something new.
  • Strengthening neural pathways. Novel experiences compel our brains to forge new neural pathways. Think of it as creating a new trail in a dense forest. The more we walk on this new path, the clearer and more established it becomes. Similarly, when we experience novelty, our brain strengthens its connections, enhancing cognitive functions.
  • Enhanced learning and memory. Novel experiences serve as a catalyst for learning. When something is fresh and exciting, it becomes more memorable. Our brain associates novelty with survival; therefore, it pays more attention to new experiences, ensuring we remember them.

Why Novelty Matters

Beyond the jolt of excitement and the dopamine release, cultivating novelty offers long-term benefits:

  • Boosting mental agility. Regularly introducing new experiences helps keep our minds sharp and agile.
  • Eliminating boredom. Novelty is an antidote to monotony. When things become predictable, they often lead to feelings of boredom and stagnation. Novelty brings zest to life.
  • Fostering creativity. When we expose ourselves to new experiences, we gather more information and gain new perspectives, which can boost our creativity.

Let’s explore each of these three benefits and the science behind them in more detail.

Benefit #1: Increasing Mental Agility

Mental agility might sound like a term reserved for quiz masters or codebreakers, but in reality, it’s an essential cognitive attribute beneficial for all of us. So what exactly is it, and why should we care?

Mental agility refers to the brain's ability to think quickly, adapt to new situations, and find solutions to problems with flexibility and creativity. It's not just about raw intelligence or memorization skills. Instead, it's the nimbleness of thought that allows us to pivot and adjust to ever-changing scenarios without missing a beat.

Just how does mental agility help us?

  • Enhanced problem-solving. Those with keen mental agility can approach challenges from various angles, making it easier to find effective solutions.
  • Effective decision making. Rapidly changing situations demand quick decisions. A mentally agile brain can evaluate options swiftly and make informed decisions even under pressure.
  • Increased adaptability. In a world that's constantly evolving, the ability to adapt is invaluable. Mental agility ensures that individuals can comfortably navigate and thrive in unfamiliar or unexpected situations.
  • Improved creativity. A flexible mind often sees connections that a rigid mindset might overlook, leading to bursts of creativity and innovation.

Here are some tips for cultivating mental agility:

  1. Continuous learning. Regularly exposing yourself to new information and skills keeps the brain active and adaptable.

  2. Brain games. Puzzles, games, and exercises that challenge the brain can improve its agility. Think sudoku, chess, or even certain mobile apps designed for cognitive training.

  3. Stay curious. Asking questions and seeking to understand the “why” and “how” behind things can sharpen the mind. Curiosity leads to a broader range of knowledge and a more flexible mindset.

  4. Physical activity. Regular exercise, especially activities that require coordination like dance or martial arts, can boost cognitive function and mental agility.

Mental agility is a cornerstone of a responsive and robust cognitive framework. As our surroundings become more dynamic and unpredictable, this ability to swiftly adjust, learn, and grow becomes even more paramount. By investing in our mental agility, we’re ensuring our brain is ready to face any challenge!

Benefit #2: Breaking the Chains of Boredom

Boredom is a state we’ve all been familiar with at some point or another. It’s that frustrating feeling of being disengaged, restless, and uninterested. But what causes it, why is it a concern, and most importantly, how can we combat it?

More than the absence of excitement or stimulation, boredom is a complex emotional state that can be triggered by various factors, including repetitive tasks, lack of interest, or feeling disconnected from one's surroundings or purpose.

How does boredom hurt us?

  • Mental health impact. Prolonged boredom can contribute to feelings of frustration, anxiety, or even depression. It can also lead to unhealthy habits, such as overeating or excessive screen time, as we seek ways to fill the void.
  • Productivity and motivation. Boredom can reduce our drive to achieve our goals. When bored, we often lack the energy or motivation to tackle tasks, which can hinder productivity and personal growth.
  • Reduced learning and creativity. A bored mind isn't an engaged mind. When we're uninterested, our ability to learn, think creatively, and solve problems can be stymied.

Some strategies to combat boredom include the following:

  1. Seek novelty. As mentioned earlier, new experiences stimulate the brain, providing the freshness that can counteract boredom. Whether it's taking up a new hobby, reading a different genre of novel, or exploring a new place, the unfamiliar can rekindle interest and passion.
  2. Set small goals. Sometimes, the sheer enormity of a task can be overwhelming, leading to boredom. Breaking tasks into manageable chunks and setting achievable goals can keep things engaging.
  3. Mindful engagement. Mindfulness practices (such as meditation or simply being present in the moment) can make routine tasks more meaningful. By focusing on the “now,” we can find depth even in mundane activities.
  4. Physical movement. From a brisk walk to a rigorous workout, physical activity can provide a change of pace. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosters, making us feel more energized and less bored.
  5. Social connections. Engaging in social activities or even casual conversations can break the cycle of boredom. Human interactions often bring up unexpected topics, humor, and a sense of connection, making the world feel a bit more vibrant.

To wrap up, while bouts of boredom are natural, they don’t have to define our days. With a proactive approach, we can keep our minds engaged, our spirits lifted, and our days filled with purpose and passion.

Ways To Cultivate Novelty

Benefit #3: Fostering a Creative Mind

Creativity is the playground of mind — it’s a hotspot of ideas, insights, and self-expression. Rather than being confined to the world of artists or writers, creativity is a universal trait waiting to be harnessed in everyday life. It’s the capability to conceive original ideas, link seemingly unrelated concepts, and devise innovative solutions to problems. It encompasses a vast realm, from artistic endeavors to problem-solving to groundbreaking scientific research.

Why do we need creativity?

  • Innovative problem solving. A creative mind can view challenges from multiple perspectives, leading to unique and effective solutions.
  • Enhanced well-being. Engaging in creative activities has been linked to increased happiness and a reduction in stress and anxiety. It provides an avenue for self-expression and emotional release.
  • Personal and professional growth. Creativity boosts adaptability, a crucial skill in today's ever-evolving world. In professional scenarios, a creative individual can bring fresh ideas, leading to growth and advancement.
  • Enriched relationships. Creativity often fuels empathy and understanding, helping individuals comprehend and appreciate diverse viewpoints and experiences.

Here are some ways to amplify creativity:

  1. Limit distractions. In our digital age, numerous notifications and interruptions can stifle creative thinking. Set aside dedicated quiet time, free from distractions, to allow creative ideas to flourish.
  2. Surround yourself with diversity. Engaging with a variety of cultures, experiences, and viewpoints can expand one's mental horizons, leading to richer creative thought.
  3. Journal regularly. Putting thoughts to paper can declutter the mind and make room for innovative ideas. It also provides a space for reflection and conceptual linkage.
  4. Seek feedback. Constructive feedback can open new avenues of thought and refine existing ideas. Engaging in brainstorming sessions or seeking opinions can be invaluable.
  5. Practice mindfulness. Activities like meditation help in grounding one's thoughts. A centered mind is often more receptive to creative ideas and can approach problems with enhanced clarity. (The Reframe app can help get you started!)
  6. Embrace failure. Instead of viewing mistakes as setbacks, see them as lessons. Often, the most creative solutions arise from past failures.

In the grand scheme of things, creativity adds vibrant strokes, nuances, and depth to the way we approach the world. It’s something we all have, and it’s waiting to be nurtured and celebrated. Embrace it, and watch as the world transforms into a playground of possibilities!

Novelty and the Alcohol Journey

Embarking on the path of reducing or eliminating alcohol is a significant commitment. It's a personal journey that requires dedication, resilience, and a shift in lifestyle. Here's where the magic of novelty comes into play. Integrating novel experiences into this transformative phase can amplify motivation, cultivate healthier habits, and pave the way for sustained success.

Here’s why novelty matters on this journey:

  • Breaking routines. Many people associate alcohol with specific routines or activities — be it a glass of wine after work, beers at a weekend barbecue, or cocktails during a night out. Introducing novel activities can disrupt these associations, replacing them with fresh, alcohol-free experiences.
  • Dopamine release. One of the reasons alcohol is consumed is the dopamine "reward" it triggers. Novel experiences, as we’ve learned, can also stimulate dopamine production, providing a natural high without the need for alcohol.
  • Building new associations. By seeking out and embracing new experiences, we can create positive memories that aren't linked to alcohol. Over time, these memories and associations can redefine our idea of fun, relaxation, and socializing.

Integrating Novelty Into Our Alcohol Journey

  • Take up a new hobby. Whether it's painting, rock climbing, or learning a musical instrument, immersing yourself in a new hobby can be both a distraction and a source of fulfillment.
  • Explore alcohol-free social activities. Join a book club, sign up for a dance class, or participate in community service. Group activities can redefine social interactions, moving them away from alcohol-centric environments.
  • Travel locally. Rediscover your city or locality. Visit parks, museums, or new eateries. Even if you've been living in the same place for years, there's always something new to discover.
  • Experiment with non-alcoholic beverages. The market for non-alcoholic drinks has expanded tremendously. From alcohol-free spirits to mocktails, experimenting with these can satiate the craving for a fancy drink without the alcohol content.
  • Engage in physical activities. Trying a new sport or fitness routine promotes physical well-being, which can be crucial during the alcohol reduction journey.
  • Educate yourself. Attend workshops or seminars about the impacts of alcohol. Knowledge can be empowering and can reinforce the commitment to change.
  • Connect with support groups. Engaging with individuals on a similar journey can be both enlightening and motivating. Sharing experiences, challenges, and victories can bring about a sense of community and novelty.

Incorporating novelty into the alcohol journey isn't about mere distraction. It's about reshaping our lifestyle, finding joy in fresh avenues, and building resilience against old habits. With each new experience, the path away from alcohol dependency becomes clearer and more rewarding.

Ways To Cultivate Novelty

Now, let's jazz up your routine with these action steps to make novelty a part of your daily routine!

  • Take a different route. Next time you're headed to work or the grocery store, take a different path. This small change can offer a fresh perspective and maybe even introduce you to sights you've never seen before!
  • Learn a new skill. Always wanted to play the ukulele or master the art of French cooking? Now’s the time! Engaging in a new skill can be incredibly rewarding and stimulate your brain in unique ways.
  • Read outside your genre. If you're a die-hard romance fan, pick up a science fiction novel. Broadening your reading horizons can introduce you to new worlds and ideas, challenging your brain to think differently.
  • Attend a random workshop. Check out local community events or workshops. Opt for something you know nothing about. Who knows — you might discover a new passion!
  • Switch up your playlist. Listen to a music genre you’ve never tried before. From K-pop to country, there's a world of rhythms and beats waiting for you. Let the unfamiliar tunes carry you away.
  • Dabble in foreign films. Instead of the usual Hollywood blockbusters, watch a foreign film. The different cultural nuances, storytelling techniques, and even subtitles can provide an invigorating change of pace.
  • Chat with a stranger. We're not saying spill to your life's story, but striking up a conversation with someone at the park or coffee shop can offer fresh perspectives and stories you might never have heard otherwise. Just stay safe.

Building a Better Life

Novelty isn't just the spice of life; it's a power-packed nutrient for your brain. So go ahead and dabble in the unknown. Take that leap. Embrace the unfamiliar. Not only will you reap immediate rewards like excitement and pleasure, but you'll also be gifting your brain with long-term benefits. It's time to make every day an adventure!

Moreover, by embracing novelty, we allow ourselves to enrich our worlds, adding new elements that make our lives more fulfilling and nuanced. As Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”

Summary FAQs

1. Why is novelty important for the brain?

Novelty stimulates the brain in several ways. It prompts the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, strengthens neural pathways, and enhances learning and memory by making new experiences more memorable.

2. How does novelty benefit long-term mental health?

Regularly seeking out new experiences enhances mental agility, combats feelings of boredom, and fosters creativity by introducing a diverse range of perspectives and information to our cognitive processes.

3. I'm always taking the same route to work. How might changing this up benefit me?

Taking a different route can introduce you to new sights and landmarks. It can be a small yet refreshing deviation from the routine, possibly revealing hidden gems in your locality and stimulating your brain with fresh stimuli.

4. How can reading outside of my favorite genre enhance novelty?

By diving into unfamiliar literary landscapes, you expose your brain to diverse worlds, characters, and ideas. This not only challenges and expands your thinking but also deepens your cognitive breadth.

5. I’m not musically inclined. How does switching up my playlist help in cultivating novelty?

Different genres of music evoke varied emotional responses. By introducing yourself to unfamiliar melodies and rhythms, you provide a fresh, sensory-rich experience for your brain, which can be both rejuvenating and mentally stimulating.

6. How can foreign films contribute to the novelty factor?

Foreign films immerse you in different cultural nuances, storytelling techniques, and sometimes a new language. This offers a refreshing break from the familiar, pushing your brain to process and appreciate varied cinematic experiences.

7. How can chatting with a stranger introduce novelty into my day?

Engaging with someone outside your usual circle can lead to the discovery of new viewpoints, cultures, or intriguing tales. It's a way of broadening your horizons and enriching your understanding of diverse human experiences.

Ready To Embrace a New Life With Less (Or No) Alcohol? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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