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It has been suggested that the human brain is perhaps the most complex structure in the universe. Neuroscience has progressed dramatically in recent decades, especially with emerging technologies that have allowed us to “peek inside” and observe the hidden workings of our brain in real time. As scientists have started to observe and track a tiny portion of the billions of neurons and hundreds of trillions of interactions among them that take place in our brain minute by minute, day in and day out, we are coming to a fuller realization of just how accurate that claim is. The complexity is staggering.
But despite being at the very primitive beginning of a new science, our understanding of the brain’s inner workings is progressing steadily and is gaining both breadth and depth. One insight that neuroscience has provided us is how difficult (perhaps even impossible) it is for our brain to be both curious and highly anxious at the same time. Our brain performs an incalculable number of tasks simultaneously, but it seems that the circuitry involved in being curious and the circuitry involved in being anxious work to defeat one another’s ability to dominate our mood/consciousness at any given moment.
Another insight that neuroscience has given us is what is called “neuroplasticity”, which one dictionary defines as “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience”. It appears that from birth to death, our brain is constantly laying down new neural pathways, making new connections based on previous learning and ongoing experience. Research has proven that focused attention and persistent practice are two keys to this capacity of the brain to “rewire” itself to build new knowledge, skills and behaviors.
- Key Take Away: The more we deliberately work at strengthening our brain’s curiosity muscle, it appears, the better we get at calming our anxious selves.
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