Jeremy Côté

The Right Touch Of Novelty

We all like new things. It’s exciting to try a new activity, to do something we’ve never done before. It breaks us out from the usual rhythm of our lives. A novel activity ends up looking much more enticing than the regular activities you usually do.

We are wired to respond to novelty. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means we don’t get trapped doing the same things all the time. Instead, we seek to inject some novelty in our lives, because it’s an enjoyable experience. On the other hand, it’s easy to go too far in seeking novelty. Any time we are bored, we will thrash around, looking for a shot of novelty to soothe us.

You can imagine what happens next. Instead of spending most of our time on doing the work that matters to us in the long term, we will turn to anything that gives us a novel stimulus. The latter is much more enjoyable than the grunt work that will only give us satisfaction far in the future. We want to have fun now, and novelty supplies this for us. The cost, however, is only seen in the long term. *Furthermore, it never seems like a big deal in the moment, but it accumulates. If we spend most of our time seeking novelty, by definition we aren’t investing time into getting better at *one thing. This means we can’t achieve long term goals, because we aren’t spending the required time on them.

I’ve put emphasis on long term projects and goals, but I also see this all the time in other scenarios. For example, I’ll talk to some of my fellow students about their studying habits, and they confess to me that they study and do something else at the same time. This could include watching a film, or consuming other media. You can see that the temptation of novelty has taken hold of them.

I’m not trying to say that novelty is bad. In fact, I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. That’s what life is for, in my mind. That being said, it’s critical to realize that if we want to do work that matters, we need to be willing to invest time and energy into doing it. If you can’t get in any sort of concentrated block of time because you’re always switching to something new, you will never get these long term projects done. You’re letting the pull of novelty take away from the other wonderful work you could be doing. The work that takes time, but is worth it.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking novelty, but we need to limit ourselves. Left without any boundaries, it’s too easy to spend hours and hours going from one novel thing to another, never spending any considerable time doing something. If you’ve ever tried to check “just one thing” online, and found yourself an hour later wondering where the time went, that’s an indication of too much novelty. Instead, we want to have novelty in moderation. What we really want is to have blocks of time where we can focus on one thing. That’s how we get to do the work we are satisfied with. We need to put a strict limit on how time we allow ourselves to seek novelty. We also need to be mindful of when we do this. If you can’t ever get in a solid block of time to work on a project because you’re always interrupting yourself with novelty, you won’t get your work done.

Novelty is fine, but we have to be careful in how we let it enter our lives. Be intentional with how you bring in novelty, and then it will be easier to do the work that matters to you.