3 Reasons The Brain Loves Learning

Jim Kwik
6 min readJan 21, 2022
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

We often associate learning with either an educational experience or when we’re actively acquiring new skills for work. But we learn something new every day. Maybe it’s finding a new route to work, trying a new recipe for dinner, figuring out a new setting on our phone, or picking up a new fun fact from social media.

The fact is, our brain is on a mission from the moment we’re born to learn. It’s actually programmed to actively seek out new information. And we can embrace learning by seeking out new hobbies and skills to keep our brain happy and healthy. Here are three reasons why our brain loves to learn.

It needs a good work-out

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Our brain is designed to do a lot of things. It regulates our physiology, manages our cognitive functionality, translates our sensory functions, and balances our emotions. This all happens without us having to think about it. They’re automatic processes. And the brain loves automation so much, that many—around 40%—of the tasks and activities we do every day become habits.

Habits and routines are the processes our brain relies on to ensure that we can be more productive and efficient as we move through our day. It would be tiring and cumbersome to think about every step involved in brushing our teeth or tying our shoes. Even more for complicated tasks like driving. But our brain is doing more than making our lives easier by creating these routines and habits. It’s freeing the cognitive capacity so it can seek out new information and learn.

In order to keep our brain in tip-top shape, it needs exercise. And learning something new is the best workout we can provide. Habits and routines follow neural pathways that are well-developed and etched deep into our brain. The brain is very good at keeping these pathways maintained, but it also prunes back any pathways that are unused. Again, this is good for efficiency but not for our overall brain health. What we want is to have new neural pathways in development for every pathway that gets cut.

This process is known as neuroplasticity, and this constant pruning and growth keeps our brain active and flexible. Making an effort to always learn new skills, tasks, and hobbies is the best way to maintain this brain flexibility as every new piece of information we acquire will grow new neural pathways that continue to build as we develop that knowledge. This keeps our synapses operating at a high capacity, which helps fight normal cognitive decline that occurs as we age.

Helps manage stress

Photo by Olimpo Ávila Salazar on Unsplash

Stress is one aspect of life that most of us can’t avoid. But stress on its own, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s part of our autonomic nervous system, which was key in keeping us alive in our primitive days. This link with our fight-or-flight system aids in learning by keeping us alert and focused. We get a burst of energy and our decision making speeds up, which is great when assessing threats like how to escape a saber-toothed tiger. The problem with stress is that our brain can misinterpret events, such as taking a test, at the same threat level as that attack. If our brain isn’t assessing stress factors appropriately, it makes it difficult to shift away from this fight-or-flight response and allow our parasympathetic nervous system to calm our body down.

The good news is we can train our brain to manage our stress response. This can allow us to experience the positive benefits of stress without succumbing to the negative effects of chronic or long-term stress. Every time we’re presented with a stress situation, such as taking a test or having to put our new skills to work, our amygdala releases stress hormones and signals to our hippocampus that it needs to activate our fight-or-flight. But by being aware of our nerves, we can practice taking control of our response and calming our body down.

Every time we react to the emotional stress the amygdala detects, it strengthens that response. And it can actually make our amygdala grow. When faced with chronic stress, our brain believes the amygdala needs more resources to handle the stress levels. But all this does is create a feedback loop where it then raises our stress levels by releasing more cortisol each time.

However, when we are able to focus and calm this response, we can shrink the amygdala, which will then reduce the levels of cortisol released, stopping the fight-or-flight cycle when presented with the same or similar situations in the future. Essentially, the more we learn and the more we use those skills, especially in stressful situations, we can train our body to manage our overall stress levels in any situation. Not only do we learn a new skill, we also learn that stress is manageable, that we can control and overcome it, and it stops our stress response from hijacking our system.

Curiosity is evolutionary

Photo by Justin Peterson on Unsplash

Our brain craves novelty. It’s what pushed us forward as a species. Every time we examined our environments, tried new things, and were eager to teach what we learned to our children or those around us, we were able to grow as a species. Learning is so important to us, that information stimulates our brain in the same way as food and sex, and is linked to our reward system.

A 2018 study found that when faced with the prospect of finding new information, our brain triggers what’s known as an incentive salience response. This desire to know can be so strong that it leads us to engage in impulsive behavior in order to find the answer. In our evolutionary history, this drive propelled our ancestors into discovering fire, creating societies, and developing agriculture. However, we can tap into that same need to know in order to learn anything we want simply by tapping into our curiosity.

We can channel curiosity in our lives by asking more questions. What would happen if we did something differently? How far could we get if we did this one thing everyday? Asking questions as often as possible is guaranteed to spark our curiosity, but it also primes your brain’s reticular activating system.

The reticular activating system is the gatekeeper of the brain. It filters the thousands of pieces of information and stimuli around us, deciding what it discards or brings to our attention. When we start asking questions, our reticular activating system starts looking for answers. And once something captures our attention, we’re more likely to remember it.

We can use questions and curiosity to seek out or add novelty to whatever we’re learning. Scrolling new social media feeds can lead to discovering a new hobby we end up being passionate about. Or unlock a new perspective that gives us an entirely different way to study. Studying in new places, attempting new methods, and constantly adding new factors to what we’re learning, are all ways to channel our curiosity and give our brain the learning momentum it craves.


Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Our brain is hard-wired to want to learn. We have systems and processes in place to make sure we have the brain power freed up and ready to actively seek out new information and learn new skills. By finding ways to keep learning interesting and fun, we can tap into the same information drive our ancestors had, pushing us to learn anything we want and unlock our limitless potential.



Jim Kwik

Jim Kwik is the brain trainer to top performers, executives, & celebrities. KwikBrain is designed to help busy people learn anything in a fraction of the time.