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Are You Addicted To Change?: 9 Signs That You Need To Slow Down

Posted: 01/16/12 07:46 AM ET

The moment when the novelty of holiday parties and stacks of brightly wrapped gifts gives way to sober resolutions to become somehow better in the new year ahead offers a great opportunity to consider how well we handle one of life's most important challenges: dealing with new things and changes.

To understand your own response to new things, you first need to know a little about Homo sapiens's unique "neophilia"--an affinity for engaging with novelty and adapting to change that distinguishes us from all other species.

In the extraordinarily volatile African environment where we evolved, in which great monsoons alternated with catastrophic droughts, human beings survived by developing a genius for coping with change and engaging with, learning about, and creating new things. This neophilia has fueled our progress from hunter-gatherers through the agricultural and industrial eras into our own information age.

Most of us are moderate neophiles, but to survive and prosper, a population also needs some individuals who react to novelty in more extreme ways that either protect us from danger or increase our resources. About 15 per cent of us are neophobes, whose hyper-sensitivity to the risks inherent in new things can shield them and us from harm and loss. Another 15 per cent of us, however, are adventurous neophiliacs who, like the late Steve Jobs and maybe you, Oprah Winfrey, see novelty and change mostly as sources of potential rewards. Their drive to explore, create, and experiment excites them and often benefits us, too, but their restlessness and low boredom threshold can also addict them to the next big thing and threaten their safety, temperance, fidelity, and other good behavior.

Here are some signs, as outlined in my new book, "New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change" (The Penguin Press, 2012, $25.95), that you might have neophiliac tendencies and the potential to get hooked on novelty and change. These might also suggest some New Year's resolutions that could work well for you:

It runs in the family
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Genes account for about 50 percent of the differences in our obvious and enduring attitudes toward newness and change--particularly those involved with the brain chemical dopamine, which makes you want things, especially new or pleasurable ones. Whenever you encounter something that's enjoyable, like a glass of wine, or intriguingly novel, like a glamorous stranger at a party, a spritz of dopamine jacks up your level of arousal, focuses you on that target, and mobilizes your explorative, go-for-it response. That's especially true for neophiliacs, who are likelier to carry variants of dopamine genes that strongly incline them to pursue novelty and rewards.
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