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Curiosity Killed the Cat and Information Made Him Fat. 8 Reasons Why Scientists Disagree With This Cliché.

Curiosity Killed the Cat and Information Made Him Fat.  8 Reasons Why Scientists Disagree With This Cliché.

We have all heard the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” and most of us can finish this statement by adding “And information made him fat”. It is likely that we heard this statement as youngsters because we were asking too many questions and the adults around us were just too busy to address them. While this might have been a useful time saving device for our parents, this was not a helpful or even a truthful piece of advice – at least not according to the latest science. We now know that curiosity is good for us on a number of levels. Curiosity actually stimulates our intellectual functioning and benefits our brain health. Some experts in the field of psychology have also posited that a healthy dose of curiosity may be the key to leading a happier, more meaningful and fulfilled life.

So what do people think when they hear the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat”?  Do we assume that it warns us of the consequences of asking too many questions? Or does it point to the limited capacity of a brain that can malfunction if it works too hard to understand the world in which we live? Of course, scientists now know that our brain cannot malfunction due to “excessive curiosity”. Here are the reasons why.

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    1. Your brain is a work-horse, not a store house.

    The more you exercise it, the healthier and more efficient it will be. In fact, if you want to really train your brain and increase your intellectual ability, stoking your curiosity about the world is one of the best ways to achieve that.

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    brain as computer

      2. Your brain is not a computer.

      In the 70s, the cognitive branch of psychology was dominant and scientists saw all of human development in terms of a computer-based metaphor of a brain as information processor. The information processing approach (see Woolfolk, Hughes & Walkup, 2008) saw the mind as a machine that takes in information, performs operations to change its form and content, stores the information, retrieves it when needed, and generates responses to it. So learning, remembering and thinking involve gathering information, encoding, storage and retrieval. This is a useful analogy in many ways and it makes it easy for people to understand how information might be processed by the brain. The problem with it is that people then assume that the brain actually is a computer, with only as much memory storage or capacity as is available on the hard drive. If the hard drive doesn’t have enough capacity, then you need a new one that is bigger, better or faster.  This is a very limiting view of our brain’s capabilities and some have called it a form of “negative psychology”.

      girl studying

        3. We don’t know the limits of human learning.

        We may never know them. Thankfully, many psychologists have eschewed the notion that our brain has limited storage capacity which is great news for the whole field of education as well as for the curious natured individual. A nice illustration of this can be seen in Psychologist Steve Hayes’ (1993) discussion of Lerner’s (1993) epigenetic approach to human development. Lerner argued that there may exist predetermined genetic limits to human development. But Hayes explained that because we know that stimulating environments can help to make us smarter, there are no limits to our intellectual development until they have been reached. These limits can only be reached through exhaustive attempts to create ever more exceptionally stimulating environments.

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        In Hayes’ (1993) words; “Lerner seems too quick to say how high pygmies can grow or how well a person with Down syndrome can do. There presumably are such limits, but we cannot know them when we have reached them”.

        scientist

          4. Scientists have learned a lot by being curious.

          We used to think that persons with Down Syndrome would never present with measured IQ scores of more than 60, but now many persons with this genetic condition have received excellent intervention and high standards of teaching in enriched environments and are now capable of attending college. Thirty years ago the only outcome for persons presenting with Down Syndrome when, for example, their families could no longer care for them was to be institutionalised in a state care facility. Now many are living completely independently while others enjoy various levels of assisted or partially independent living and working environments. This only happened because the so called “limits” were pushed by psychologist that did not believe that curiosity can kill a cat.

          In order to develop the range of powerful educational methods that have enriched the lives of those with Down syndrome, scientists themselves needed to be curious about what might happen if you continually enriched the educational environment of someone with a developmental difficulty. Isn’t this the way all great scientific breakthroughs occur? In the latter example, the curiosity of psychologists about the intellectual “limits” of someone with Down Syndrome actually improved people’s lives. Thankfully those psychologists had not believed the old feline cliché when they were young.

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          brain scan photo

            5. Neurogenesis.

            Neurogenesis is the stimulation of brain growth. It is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. Most of this neural activity happens during pre-natal development, but we also know that it continues to happen throughout the lifespan. It is now a well-established phenomenon and we often hear about it in the context of brain training software used for older adults who may be experiencing some level of cognitive decline or for anyone who simply wants to increase their IQ. Indeed there is much evidence supporting the efficacy of brain training interventions in studies examining its effects on stroke recovery and management of dementia in the elderly (e.g., Smith et al., 2009).  Some of the intellectual skills improved by such training are very important foundational skills like memory and attention that had perhaps been quite well developed at an earlier time in the person’s life (see also Ball et al. 2002). The important point here is that the stimulation of specific brain regions through brain training supports ongoing growth and development in areas of the brain which are important for intellectual pursuits.

            6. Brain Training has been shown to improve intelligence.

            In a groundbreaking 2011 study conducted at the University of Michigan, and widely reported in the media, Susan Jaeggi, John Jonides and colleagues reported improvements in one aspect of intelligence known as fluid intelligence that the researchers achieved for their research volunteers by having them engage regularly in a brain training task known as the n-back procedure. Another research study conducted in Ireland (Cassidy, Roche & Hayes, 2011) reported significant IQ rises as a result of an intensive computerized “relational skills” brain training program. These large IQ increases were maintained 4 years later without any further intervention (see Roche, Cassidy & Stewart, 2013). Both of these studies moved people’s intellectual ability well beyond its assumed limits- without any disastrous consequences for anyone!  (For more research in this area visit this site). So it appears that there may indeed be no real limit to our ability to develop our minds. This kind of research pushes the boundaries of what many experimental psychologists and brain scientists thought were the limits of learning.

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            woman cheering with happiness

              7. Curiosity can help us to lead more fulfilling lives.

              Our brain is naturally curious and as I have argued, it cannot fill up because it is infinitely “malleable” or “plastic”, like play dough. Learning never stops, and we continue to learn and develop across the whole lifespan. One of the key ingredients to keeping that development on an upward trajectory is to nurture your native curiosity. The Psychologist Todd Kashdan wrote a whole book on the topic called The Curiosity Advantage, in which he presents the evidence that our brains are infinitely expandable, and that curious people lead more fulfilling lives. Kashdan is not talking merely about healthy cognitive development, but extols the virtues of curiosity for our mental health and our emotional well-being, too. And here is an important paradox he outlined. Too many of us have been sold on the idea that enjoying ourselves and being happy is the only, or most important, goal in life. But, instead of chasing happiness, Kashdan outlines the evidence that we should focus on trying to create a rich and meaningful life, guided by core values and interests. We can do this by chasing up the things that make us curious in every area of life.

              According to Kashdan, “The greatest advantage of curiosity is that by spending time with the new, increased neurological connections are made possible. Facts and experiences are synthesised into a web, paving the way for greater intelligence and wisdom. We become more efficient when making future decisions. We become better at visualising the relativity of seemingly disparate ideas, paving the way for greater creativity.  It is the neurological equivalent of personal growth. New pathways in the brain are inevitable when you seek out new information and experiences and integrate them into the previously known.”  (p. 57).

              8. Being curious increases our “flow”.

              Kashdan’s ideas fit perfectly with what neuroscientists have been telling us about keeping our environments “stimulating”.  But Kashdan adds the important advice that by being fully engaged with life, we also derive more happiness from it – as a pleasant by-product. Positive psychologists call this state of total immersion in whatever fulfils you “flow”. The concept of flow was the brainchild of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, (1990) who used it to refer to a genuinely satisfying state of consciousness, which is the optimal human experience. You are in a state of “flow” when you are so deeply and effortlessly involved in what you are doing that you forget all else. Flow activities challenge you and engage you with all your senses and all your being. Flow activities are not necessarily enjoyable when you are doing them (e.g., competing in a swimming competition or staying up all night studying) because they really and truly push you to your limits, but the sense of accomplishment you gain from doing them is what leads to you feeling so happy and so positive about the experience in the aftermath.

              mother and child deeply engaged in learning task

                So being curious is about being engaged with your environment in a deep and meaningful way. It is about chasing the things that interest and stimulate us. It is about doing these things to the best of our abilities. Being curious is not about being nosy or getting involved in other people’s business. Being curious is about increasing our quality of life in all domains. Being curious is a good thing. In fact, it is a great thing.

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                Published on January 16, 2019

                How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

                You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

                You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

                That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

                Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

                1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

                Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

                We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

                To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

                At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

                The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

                2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

                Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

                The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

                In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

                It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

                It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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                So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

                • Are you a great strategist?
                • Are you an effective planner?
                • Is Project Management your strength?
                • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
                • Are you the ideas person?
                • Is Implementation your strength?

                Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

                3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

                One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

                Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

                Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

                Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

                4. Take Time for Planning

                “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

                One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

                You can take the time to think about:

                • What’s the purpose of the project?
                • How Important is it?
                • When does it need to be delivered by?
                • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
                • What are the KPIs?
                • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
                • Who is working on this project?
                • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
                • What tolerances can I add in?
                • What are the review stages?
                • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

                Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

                5. Focus on Priorities

                Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

                Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

                One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

                1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
                2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
                3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
                4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

                James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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                  The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

                  If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

                  If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

                  6. Take Time Out

                  To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

                  If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

                  Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

                  In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

                  Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

                  7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

                  Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

                  I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

                  Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

                  If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

                  8. Stop Multitasking

                  Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

                  So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

                  When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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                  If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

                  9. Work in Blocks of Time

                  To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

                  I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

                  Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

                  Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

                  Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

                  Then take another 10-minute break.

                  Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

                  By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

                  10. Get Rid of Distractions

                  Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

                  “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

                  Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

                  If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

                  11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

                  You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

                  Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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                  Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

                  12. Take a Time Audit

                  Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

                  Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

                  You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

                  Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

                  Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

                  At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

                  If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

                  13. Protect Your Confidence

                  It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

                  When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

                  Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

                  When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

                  Final Words

                  A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

                  The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

                  If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

                  Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

                  Reference

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