Never Stop Learning: It Keeps Your Mind Sharp

Thinking creatively takes a sharp mind. And the best way to ensure your mind is and stays as sharp as it can be is to make sure you use it as much and as often as possible. That means leaning new stuff all the time. Not only does it help keep your brain cells active and firing fast, but studying a variety of topics over time also gives you new perspectives and new information that will pop up and be helpful in the most unusual and surprising ways.

Learning a new language will help you recognize and interpret patterns. Opening yourself up to new cultures teaches you that there are many different ways to do things. This in turn helps you think creatively about the problems you’re solving. It helps you think outside the box.

There’s a reason we spent so much time in school at a young age. It’s not really about learning about algebra, geometry, world capitals, and literature of Victorian England. It’s about learning how to make connections, how to think, and how to get good at processing new information.

The key to staying that way and even getting better and better is to take the time to learn something new each month, each week, and each day. The good news is that it’s now easier than ever before to continue learning. Thanks to multimedia and the internet, you have courses, classes, books, lectures, “webinars,” and the likes ready at your fingertips. Let’s run through some examples of how you can continue to learn something new on a regular basis and keep your mind sharp.

Start local. There are lots of fun and interesting continued education classes available through your community library or colleges in your area. You may also find some interesting opportunities through your job. Ask around and see if there are extra classes or courses you can take in your free time. Not only will they keep your mind sharp, they will make you a more valuable team and family member as well.

Reading is a great daily activity to sharpen the mind and learn something new. Challenge yourself to read one new book a month or even a week. Explore material outside of your typical genres. Read a piece of fiction one week, some non-fiction on an interesting topic the next, and then move to a literary classic. Changing it up frequently will sharpen your mind even further, and it does wonders for expanding your horizons. If you find it hard to read or to find the time to read, try audio books. You can listen while you commute or even while you clean up around the house and yard.

No matter how busy you are, you can make time for this. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Spending even 15 to 30 minutes per day on learning something new will do you a lot of good. Don’t think about just the mind either. Learn a new craft or pick up a new skill that will come in handy around the house. Mix it up and keep yourself on your toes.

Sign up for an online class, watch some YouTube videos or Ted Talks, and keep looking for opportunities to sharpen your skills and gain some new ones. Look into anything and everything that seems interesting. Keep learning and keep adding to this vast library of knowledge and experiences that you can draw from when it comes time to think creatively. Not only will it help you there, it will also enrich all areas of your life and keep you young at heart.

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Do What You’re Good At and What Makes You Happy On A Regular Basis

We all have things we want to do and look forward too, and things we dread doing. Roasting a chicken for dinner may be something you enjoy, while cleaning the toilet doesn’t make that list. While it would be fun to only do the things we enjoy, that isn’t feasible. What we can do, is use the things we’re good at, the things we enjoy doing, and the things that make us happy to boost our confidence so we have the energy and will-power to do the things we don’t like as much, but that also need to get done.

It’s very draining when everything we need to do each day are things we don’t enjoy. Our entire attitude is negative and it feels like an uphill battle. We feel defeated from step one. We’ve all had those days, or even times in our lives and it’s not a good feeling. It’s important to make sure you do something regularly that you’re good at, take pride in, and that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be your favorite activity on a daily basis, but it should be something that you can do without too much effort.

For example, you may be good at putting together reports and compiling complicated data into an easy to read and digest format. It may not be your favorite thing in the world to do, but it’s something you know you’re good at. That can be a good daily task that will give you a boost in confidence.

Having a favorite hobby and making time to do that is another great option. Maybe you take a lot of pride in your garden, or love the feeling of finishing a woodworking or knitting project. If that gives you a boost of confidence and makes you happy, carve out some time for it regularly. Maybe you can work on your project for a half an hour before bedtime, or maybe you dedicate an afternoon to it on the weekend.

It’s important to incorporate these tasks and activities because they give you the energy and drive to tackle the stuff you dread (like cleaning the toilet). Start by thinking about what you’re either good at, or what you really love to do. Write it down so you have a short list of activities to work from that will boost your confidence on a regular basis. From there it’s simply a matter of making sure you incorporate at least one of them each day. Get in the habit of doing that and you’ll quickly start to notice a measurable improvement in your attitude and self-confidence. Use that positive energy to carry you through the tasks you don’t enjoy as much.

How to Grab Your Dream of Writing a Book

In 2013, the Huffington Post reported that more than 80% of Americans want to write a book–about 200 million people, just in the US. You can Google to find the details, but I’m intentionally not linking, because the statistic alone is discouraging enough. I could go on to list the reasons they don’t write, even though self-publishing through Amazon and other venues make it easier than ever before. You know why you don’t write, if that’s your dream.

Writing a book seems daunting. All that word-wrangling and how do you come up with a plot and do you have to be drunk and do you have to use a computer and I don’t have a pen name and-and-and-

Whew. Slow down. Take a breath. Here’s some advice on how to make that dream a reality.

What’s Your Superpower?

If you’ve never written much beyond a college paper or high school book report, don’t start out with the “great American novel.” Nonfiction is a great place to begin. It’s not necessarily easier than fiction, but it’s probably closer to what you’ve already written in the past. The first step isn’t to put words on paper, but to think about what you know. Stuck in traffic, scrubbing off in the shower, waiting in the carpool line–seize any moment you’re not actively doing something and rummage around in your head for subjects that you know lots about or in which you’re very interested. No, it doesn’t have to be as huge as “world peace” or “solving the college football playoff issue.” The topics should, however, be broad. In what areas do you give people advice? What seems easy for you that others find challenging? Cooking? Cleaning? Fixing cars? Repairing electronics? Creating web pages? At this point, don’t censor yourself (unless it’s illegal or immoral, but hey, it’s your brain). Let your imagination have free reign. If you’re not sure, ask friends or coworkers or significant others what your superpowers are.

Do not, at any point, go to Amazon and see how many books there already are on the subject. Your future book is the only one written by YOU!

Brainstorm an Outline

Once you’ve settled on a topic, start brainstorming on paper. The purpose of this step is to figure out what subtopics exist within the broader topic you chose. Grab a stack of index cards or pads of sticky notes and your favorite pen. As fast as you can, without stopping to think if it’s good or bad, jot down one idea on each card and rearrange them later. If you can’t think of subtopics, you should back up and choose a larger topic.

Take those cards or sticky notes and arrange them in the order that makes most sense to you. Think of how you would explain your chosen topic to someone new to the subject–because that’s what you’ll be doing! Add notes as you see gaps in the process you’ve outlined. Some areas might be large enough to be broken down further, and that’s okay; in fact, it’s a great thing.

Make a note of areas within that topic you think should be covered, but you don’t know a lot about. Those areas are ripe for research. But don’t get too caught up in the research process. That, too, can take much time away from actually writing. Although it’s a process I love and adore!

Transfer the notes to your favorite word processing program. Don’t worry about the perfect numbering system. A simple 1-2-3 is fine, or go with a more elaborate I-A-1, or whatever works for your brain. You may find that the process of typing the outline reminds you of steps you left out. Add them in at this stage. When you’ve completed the outline, save it as a separate document.

Here’s part of an example outline for a book on creating a webpage with WordPress:

  1. Obtain hosting
    1. Pros and cons of various hosts
  2. Obtain domain name
    1. How to do it
    2. How to choose a great domain name
  3. Install WordPress
    1. vs. self-hosted WordPress
  4. Edit settings

Start Writing!

Start your writing with a copy of your outline, and you won’t have to worry about staring at a blank page. Begin with the first topic of the outline and write about it as if you’re explaining it to someone new to the subject, as I mentioned before. Spend as much or as little time as you feel necessary to cover the topic thoroughly. Don’t worry about using “writerly” prose. Write in a way that feels natural to you. An important part of writing is finding your voice–that is, writing in a way that is unique to you, that allows your personality to come through.

Although I have a hard time following this advice myself, resist the urge to edit yourself as you write this first draft. You don’t have to be perfect the first time through. Naturally you want to do your best work, but that comes through each successive draft. For now, focus on getting that knowledge out of your head and onto the pixels.

Let’s don’t gloss over that phrase “as if you’re explaining it to someone new to the subject.” When I’m writing on a technical subject, like creating a webpage, I have to remind myself over and over to explain terms that are normal to me, but may not be in everyone’s vocabulary. In the outline above, I used the words “hosts” and “hosting.” For the average person, those words means something entirely different than they do in a technical context. Explain terms in a way that makes sense to a reasonably intelligent person who may not know what a domain name is or understand the intricacies of hook size in crochet. Further along in the process you’ll have plenty of chances to fix anything that doesn’t make sense to your chosen audience.

After the First Draft

When the blessed day comes that you’ve written your way through your outline, save the document and set it aside for a day or two. Turn your focus elsewhere. The idea is to gain a bit of distance from your first draft before you start editing it. Never assume your first draft is your last. You will have made mistakes, typos, grammar problems and other issues. That’s no big deal; everyone makes mistakes. Correcting them and strengthening your work on each successive draft is the mark of a professional writer. But celebrate what you’ve done. You’re already farther than almost everyone who aspires to write a book!

That’s all for this post.