Cultivate Your Inner Explorer to Build Intellectual Wellness

The opportunity to flex your creativity, explore growing interests and learn new skills can be just as important to an overall wellness strategy as eating well, building social connections and exercising. “Intellectual wellness” is about giving your brain the stimulation it craves, coupled with periods of rest and free-flow wandering.
Especially in a work context, what employees often want most is the freedom to exercise intellectual curiosity and to feel the excitement and potential of new ideas and mastering additional skills. There are ways you can proactively make room for intellectual growth on your own career path and for members of your team.  
Brains love novelty
Novelty is something the brain seeks out and even needs to be healthy, according neuroscience research. “The human brain is wired to seek out novel images, sounds and words,” according to Meg Jordan, Ph.D., at California Institute of Integral Studies. “There seems to be a straightforward motivational boost to explore our environments, to take risks and learn something new, in search of rewards.”
Other research has shown that new experiences are beneficial for brain development, actually help our sense of time slow down in a good way and may be connected to greater happiness. Neuroscientist at Stanford University and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, David Eagleman, Ph.D., says the most important thing you can do for your brain is to, “always put it in novel situations, give it novel challenges. When you’re confronting novelty all the time, you’re building new pathways and bridges and roadways in there.”
Help your brain help you
One way to give your brain more of what it wants and develop greater intellectual wellness is to become an explorer. The author of Hello, Fears and creator of the project 100 Days Without Fear, Michelle Poler, calls that tapping into white space on a personal level. Although the term “white space” was first used in advertising to refer to unprinted areas in graphic design, Poler calls personal white space, “the future waiting to take shape.”
That’s where she encourages people to go, digging deep into their own courage and authenticity, to explore untapped territory. “It’s what no one else is doing —either because they’re too worried about fitting in, or because they’d rather play it safe and stick to what’s proven.” Poler will be back at the 2023 WFF Leadership Conference Limitless You in person in Dallas and live virtually March 12-14, 2023 as a breakout session speaker.
Find the novelty
Poler and others offer these suggestions for treating your brain to more novelty, renewing your sense of personal creativity, and learning how to use your unique gifts to drive innovation for yourself, your team and your organization.
  • Try something you haven’t done before. This is the obvious first step, but sometimes a scary one. For her 100 Days Without Fear, Poler rode a mechanical bull, went skydiving, danced in Times Square, held a snake and shared negative comments she had received aloud and online. What you try doesn’t have to be that scary, but it’s okay if it makes you a bit uncomfortable. Push through for the reward of newness itself.
You can help team members find newness in their work as well by encouraging them to tackle a new project or enroll in skill-building workshops, and by sharing responsibilities such as who will organize an off-site team-building exercise, help orient a new employee or represent the department at a community event.
  • Read. Well, how different will that be? That’s up to you, but the folks at BrainHQ, a brain-training program designed by a team of neuroscientists, suggest, “Anything that expands your mindset, your views, your experiences and your knowledge.” Try reading from a field that’s unfamiliar to you or an author who has a perspective you will likely disagree with, or someone whose life experience is very different from your own. You might encourage your team or colleagues to read the same book and meet to discuss it.
  • Be curious. Although you may often wonder about something, here’s your permission to take that a step further. “Just find something you’re curious about, explore that thing, and activate your brain!” BrainHQ urges. Curious how a colleague got into finance or marketing? Ask her. Want to know what your best friend loves about pickleball? Or why your sister is now vegan? Look for things you want to understand a little better and actually explore.  
  • Look inward. Stepping back to reflect on your recent thoughts and behaviors, or even decisions you made years ago, can provide new perspectives, enable you to challenge your own assumptions and help you better understand your own character and motives while engaging your brain in one of its favorite topics — you.
Providing opportunities for your brain to learn new things, meet new people and engage in new experiences are critical components of intellectual wellness. An experience that checks all those boxes is the WFF Leadership Conference. REGISTER today to learn, grow and connect with colleagues, mentors and role models across the Food Industry.

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