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How to Become a Modern Day Polymath

How to Become a Modern Day Polymath

You may have met people that have shown polymath tendencies in the past, who brought new meaning to the term “well-rounded”. This may be the class valedictorian who, in additional to outstanding grades, is also a gifted violinist, competitive swimmer and helps run experiments at the nearby university.  It may be the girl you met while volunteering at the hospital who has won several national math competitions, speaks multiple languages and runs a small business on the side.

A polymath is a person who excels across a diverse range of areas. Also known as “renaissance men”, the term was used to refer to the numerous great thinkers that lived during that time period and boasted achievements in intellectual, social, artistic and physical pursuits. Notable examples throughout history include Benjamin Franklin (writer, politician, inventor, scientist), Imhotep (chancellor, architect, physician) and Leonardo da Vinci (scientist, artist, philosopher, writer, inventor).

Nowadays, it is difficult to find polymaths in the wild after university. As we make our way through school, we’re told constantly to specialize. Eventually, we get to the point where we are considered ‘experts’ in our field. In fact, a running joke is that a PhD thesis will be read by you, your advisor and the examining committee – because nobody else will understand it! A lot of career advice these days focus on specialization and finding your niche. Being a jack-of-all-trades is frowned upon as are those who can’t seem to stick to an area of focus. So how do we bring back that individual who wants to divide their efforts and accomplishments over many fields?

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1. Be Curious and Open to Learning

Polymaths aren’t motivated by fame or the need to impress. They simply want to learn about everything that interests them. This also has a positive effect on improving our brains – in fact, many have compared the brain to a muscle in that we need to either “use it or lose it”. Multiple studies have shown that increasing mental stimulation (ie. by continuing to form new connections through active learning) helps with memory retention and decreases the risks of cognitive decline.

It’s never too late to pick up a new area to add to your repertoire of skills and careers. By all accounts, Leonardo da Vinci originally trained as an artist under the tutelage of Andrea del Verrocchio during which he first acquired a number of artistic (painting, sculpting, drawing) and technical (carpentry, mechanics, drafting, metalwork) skills that would serve as the foundation for his later innovations in engineering and contributions to the fields of anatomy and biomechanics.

2. Cultivate Multiple Passions and Interests

Unlike specialists who will happily live and breathe their area for years on end, polymaths will have many different areas they are interested in exploring further. Think back to your childhood? Did you enjoy drawing? Building? What were your hobbies when you were in middle school? Young children are fascinated with the world around them and possess an inclination to explore and try out different things. As we progress through the structured educational systems in place, much of our natural curiosity gets stamped out in the process.

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To regain it, you have to explore outside your usual areas. All growth and learning occurs outside your comfort zone. There might even be a common thread linking through your interests. Many polymaths including Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes have made a number of significant contributions towards in mathematics and physics. Yet many of them were also philosophers who wrote at length about their efforts to make better sense of the world around them.

3. Don’t Worry About Being Perfect

Malcolm Gladwell may have popularized the 10,000 hours rule, but want to know a secret? You don’t need to be the top in your field to be a polymath. You just have to be better than average. That’s it. If one of your interests is tennis, do you think it really matters whether you’re ranked 45th or 128th in the world? The fact that you’re ranked means that you’re already heads and shoulders above the crowd. So while it’s good to strive for excellence in all fields, it’s also equally important to remember that we only have a finite amount of time and energy.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to know everything in your field in order to be an expert. For example, a person who can recognize the 1000 most common Chinese characters already has a 90% understanding of the Chinese language. When this is increased to 2000 characters, their knowledge of Chinese increases to 97%. Think about it – learning an extra 1000 characters for a mere 7% boost in knowledge! It’s the same with any other field, not just languages.

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4. Reject Gatekeepers

Despite the aspiring polymath’s willingness to learn, they may still run up against numerous gatekeepers in their quest for knowledge. These can run the gamut from admission committees to managers at work to literary agents to subject prerequisites. When Benjamin Franklin’s brother refused to publish his writing, he made up a pseudonym – Mrs Silence Dogood and submitted his pieces under that name instead. Those letters soon became the talk of the town, such were their popularity.

Is there an interest that you’ve been putting off because you felt that you weren’t qualified? The rise of the internet has made it easier than ever to pick up a skill and learn from experienced teachers. Youtube alone boasts thousands of educational and DIY video tutorials. Previously exclusive university courses are now available to anyone with a working internet connection through platforms such as Coursera and edX.

Part of Gottfried Liebniz’s success can be attributed to the vast library he inherited from his university professor father at age 6 after the latter passed away. It enabled him access to a number of advanced texts that otherwise wouldn’t have been available until he began college. The large number of Latin texts he read also resulted in him being proficient in Latin by age 12.

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5. Set Realistic Goals and Follow Through.

Every single polymath in history had one thing one in common: all of them were very hardworking with extraordinary levels of productivity. Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule reveals how he was able to accomplish so much over his lifetime. Every day, he has specific blocks of time set aside for deep work as well as time to unwind and for reflection. As well, at the beginning of each day, he would ask himself what his goal was for the day and then evaluating this prior to sleeping.

Remember, the term ‘Polymath’ has never been synonymous with the term ‘overnight success’. Indeed, history can show that every single polymath’s success was the result of years of dedication to their craft and studies. This is why their names still live on to this day. What is one small step that you could be taking towards your goal today?

Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory/Stokpic via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

Creating your productivity ritual — a routine that helps you to maintain a peak level of energy can get you the best out of your days.

Part of creating your productivity routine involves removing activities that drain you (what I call “kryptonites”), and that includes your bad habits.

Like it or not, bad habits are bad for you — mentally, physically, emotionally and even socially in some cases. While some bad habits are harder to quit than others, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to get rid of them. Here are 13 bad habits to quit right away:

1. Stress Eating

I used to be a serious stress eater. I would eat whenever I felt unhappy, stressed, disappointed, anxious, or even… happy! My eating had nothing to do with being hungry, and everything to do with using food to fill my emotional voids.

While eating would comfort me, this feeling was momentary and would disappear right after I was done eating. Instead, what I had left would be the same emotional void that triggered me to eat in the first place (be it unhappiness or stress), a 2,000 excess calorie intake over what I should have eaten for the day, and anger at myself for having stress ate.

I’ve since overcome stress eating. I have healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food today where I no longer use food as a tool to fill my emotions.

If you are a stress eater, don’t fret — here’s how to manage your stress better:

How to Manage Stress (A Step-by-Step Guide to Turn Stress Into Success)

2. Nail Biting

Not only is nail biting unhygienic, it is also socially repelling, leads to dental problems like malocclusion of the anterior teeth,[1] potentially cause stomach problems,[2] and lead to severely deformed fingernails in the long run.

People who bite their nails tend to have shorter nails than the average person; their nail plates also experience scarring and may eventually become absent.[3]

Understand what triggers your nail biting behavior and replace it with another neutral to positive habit. Make habits to break habits.

For example, if you bite your nails when you are stressed, go for a walk or listen to music instead the next time you feel stressed.

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3. Hanging out with Naysayers

We all know these people — people who play devil’s advocate to every idea you have and every goal you want to pursue. We are already our greatest self-critics, so it doesn’t help when there’s someone beside us, ever ready to pounce on what we say and tear it down.

Hang out less with these naysayers and spend more time with supportive people who share constructive feedback instead. You will be much happier this way.

Learn how to get rid of naysayers with these 10 Ways to Ignore the Naysayers and Achieve Your Dreams.

4. Being with People Who Don’t Appreciate You

Haven’t all of us been in this situation before? Trying to please people who don’t appreciate us? Bending over backwards to be there for people when they are never there for us?

While we give without expectations of return, we need to draw a line with people who don’t value us because these people damage our souls.

Stop spending time with people who don’t appreciate you, and spend more time with people who do instead.

Unsure who you should get rid of? Learn about it here: 5 Kinds of Toxic People That You Need to Get Rid of Now

5. Smoking

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death globally.[4]

In just the United States alone, about 500,000 deaths are attributed to smoking-related diseases annually. A recent study estimated that as much as one-third of China’s male population will have significantly shortened life-spans due to smoking! Gender-wise, male and female smokers lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life respectively — that’s over a decade of life right there.[5]

Not only that, smoking causes pre-mature skin aging (i.e. wrinkles), yellowing of teeth, bad breath, and worse of all — jeopardy of the health of people around you, including your loved ones. Studies have shown that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk to many of the health problems associated with direct smoking.[6]

Smoking risks

    6. Excessive Drinking

    All of us know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for us, but do you know how bad it really is?

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    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much — be it on a single occasion or over time — can seriously damage your health:[7]

    • Brain problems: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
    • Heart diseases: Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle, Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat, stroke, high blood pressure
    • Liver diseases: Steatosis or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis
    • Pancreas problems: Pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
    • Different types of cancer: Mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast

    If you drink a lot, perhaps cutting it out right away will be tough. Cut down the number of glasses you drink each time, followed by the number of times you drink a week.

    If need be, seek help from an AA group — you aren’t alone in this. Change starts from today.

    7. Eating Junk Food (Including Diet Soda)

    Junk food — they are everywhere in our society today. From McDonald’s, to KFC, to Burger King, to 24-hour takeouts, junk food such as fries, highly processed burgers and sodas has become a staple in our society today.

    If you think, “Hey, but junk food is tasty!”, think again:

    A study by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny suggests that junk food consumption alters brain activity in a way similar to addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin.[8]

    “After many weeks with unlimited access to junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized, requiring more food for pleasure.”

    And you wonder why you seem to crave fast food when you just had some the day before?

    While it may not be possible to remove junk food completely from our diet right away, we can reduce our junk food consumption starting today. Instead of soda, opt for a fruit juice (fresh juice, not the carbonated kind) or mineral water. Instead of fries, switch to mashed potato, a salad, or rice (many food outlets allow for this today). Instead of a fried meat patty, go for a grilled one.

    Where possible, opt for healthy food joints like salad bars and delis as opposed to fast food outlets. Every little step goes a long way.

    Here’re some healthy snacks ideas for you: 15 Healthy Snacks You Should Always Have At Home

    8. Eating Too Much Red Meat

    There has been conclusive evidence that consumption of red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer; and suggestive evidence that it increases the risk of oesophageal cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and endometrial cancer.

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    In addition, some studies have linked consumption of large quantities of red meat with breast cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer![9]

    Personally, I’m a vegetarian so I don’t consume red meat, but for those of you who consume red meat, do watch out and limit your intake — better still, cut it out of your diet. World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting intake of red meat to less than 300g (11 oz) cooked weight per week, “very little, if any of which to be processed.”

    Of if you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian, check out this guide: 5 Practical Tips For Starting a Vegetarian Lifestyle

    9. Watching Too Much TV

    I stopped watching TV since eight years ago and I have never regretted it. Every once in a while I will switch on the telly to see what is on, and then I will switch it off because it’s just the same boring shtick over and over again.

    Watching TV, particularly well-written dramas, can be a good way to unwind. However, remember that TV isn’t your life.

    Spending three hours every night watching TV will not change your life for the better. Rather, using that time to reflect on your life, take stock, and take action on your goals will.

    It’s not easy to remove TV from your daily routine right away, but follow these 6 Steps To Remove TV From Your Life.

    10. Being Late

    Not only is being late being rude to others, it also means that you’re always rushing from one place to another, playing catch up in your agenda, and having to apologize to every person you meet.

    Stop being late and not being punctual, but practice being early instead. Target to arrive 15 minutes earlier before any appointment and bring along something to do in those 15 minutes (or longer if the other person turns out to be late). Then you can stop playing catch up and stay ahead in life.

    Learn more tips about how to be more punctual here: How to Be On Time Every Time

    11. Being in Bad Relationships

    Are you always dating the wrong guys/girls? Do you end up with jerks all the time? Well, you may not be able to stop yourself from meeting bad partners but you can certainly stop yourself from furthering contact with them, spending time with them, or even… entering into a relationship with them.

    I used to invest myself in this guy who was nothing but toxic for me. After a good five months of experiencing nothing but getting burned over and over again, I realized that he was a total waste of my time and I deserved better. I decided to cut him off, and it was soon after that I met my soulmate.

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    Learn about why you shouldn’t stay in a bad relationship and how to deal with it if you’re in one: Why Trying Hard to Stay in an Unhappy Relationship Is Not Love, but Fear

    12. Leaving Things to the Last Minute

    Burning the midnight oil isn’t fun — it’s exhausting.

    Those of you who got through college by burning the midnight oil would have learned this the hard way. Not only is it damaging for your body, it is also mentally draining as you’re constantly in a hyper-tense mode, feeling anxious about whether you can finish your work on time.

    Start today on a new note. Rather than react to your deadlines, be proactive about them by planning ahead, identifying what needs to be done for the week, and getting things done in advance.

    By staying ahead of your tasks, you can also use your extra time to plan ahead in your life and get more things done.

    Take a look at this guide and learn how to stop procrastinating: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    13. Focusing on the Negatives

    In every situation, there are two ways you can react: zoom down to the problem areas and crib about how things aren’t the way you want, or celebrate the areas that are going well and work on making everything better.

    Many of us see the importance of doing the latter but in practice, we do the former. Why though? Criticizing and focusing on the negatives is easy but it doesn’t empower nor inspire us to be better.

    Make a change — for every negative encounter you run into, I challenge you to identify three things that are good about it. Practice doing this for one week, and by the end of the week you’ll find that your first instinct is to think positive, not negative.

    And here’re even more ways to help you stay positive: 11 Tips for Maintaining your Positive Attitude

    The Bottom Line

    So here you find the 13 most common bad habits and their consequences on your mind and body. The good news’ you can quit them all.

    Just spot out your own bad habits and take my suggestions to quit them. Then you’ll find your life a lot healthier and happier!

    Need more tips to break your bad habits? Check out these articles:

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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