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Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

    I recently had a birthday. As I’ve gotten older, birthdays have become for me a time of intense self-reflection: where am I in my life, where do I want to be, what could I improve? They don;t depress me, like they do so many others, but they do make me think.

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    Birthdays are also natural times for me to make new resolutions. New Years Day has never felt like much more than an accident of the calendar, but birthdays – especially with mine falling right at the start of the academic calendar that has dominated most of my life, when I really am making a new start in much of my life with the dawn of a new academic school year – seem like a natural time to start making choices about the year ahead.

    Now, I said “resolutions”, and we all know resolutions fail. My fellow Lifehack writers have written about the failure of resolutions over and over again, as for instance in Steve Errey’s post entitled pretty unambiguously New Years Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why. But I think we need to reframe the idea of resolutions, to think about them not so much as goal-setting but as problem-solving.

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    When we think about resolutions, we tend to think of them as a matter of resolve, that is, of willpower. “I resolve to do x, y, and z.” Of course, if we had the willpower to work on our novel, pass on rich desserts, or be more outgoing at social events, we wouldn’t need to resolve those things in the first place. And so yes, they fail – and often leave us bitter and disappointed with ourselves.

    But what if we thought about resolutions not so much as a matter of resolve but of solutions – that is, as a re-solution to life’s problems? My father, a great collector of quotes, likes to repeat Einstein’s dictum that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”; it seems to me that most of life’s problems remain with us because the solutions we’ve adopted don’t really solve them – and so we try the same solutions, over and over, harder and harder, thinking eventually those problems must give ground.

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    Consider, for example, this situation which many of us are or have been in:

    • Problem: Your aren’t advancing in your chosen career.
    • Resolution: Work harder, put in longer hours, apply for higher positions more often.
    • Re-solution: Are you still committed to this career? Maybe you don’t have the passion and drive you had when you entered it ten years ago. If money weren’t an issue, would you still want to do what you do? What would you do? Inventory your skillset and your passions today and start looking into changing careers.

    Maybe that isn’t how you’d address the problem, but you get the idea: a real re-solution needs to address the problem not in terms of what you aren’t doing often or well enough but at the very core, questioning the assumptions that the problem itself is grounded in. If you’re stalled out in your career because you no longer have any passion for it and are just putting your time in to collect a check, then a career change may well be in order – and if so, then it no longer matters that you’re stalled in your current career.

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    Let’s try applying this to a personal matter:

    • Problem: You’ve been dating for months/years/decades and can’t seem to find someone with whom you’re interested in a relationship.
    • Resolution: Get out more. Join an online dating service. Visit a professional matchmaker.
    • Re-solution: What are you really looking for in a partner? Maybe you’re spending too much time and energy dating people because you should be interested in them, not because you are. Or Maybe you’re dating anyone who seems interested in you at all “just in case”. Take time to figure out the pattern in your past dating life and then act to consciously break that pattern.

    Again, this may not be your re-solution, but the principle applies: whatever you’re doing isn’t working, so don’t do more of it, do something entirely different. And you can’t know what to do differently without really examining not just the behaviors that make up your current practices but the reasons you are behaving that way in the first place.

    For the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – re-thinking my goals, my choices, and my habits to see what simply isn’t helping to solve the things in my life that I’m not quite happy about. And, at the same time, the things I am – this  isn’t about self-flagellation, but about an honest inventory of strengths and shortcomings, so that the one can be applied to the other.

    Two years ago, that process led me to embrace a fledgling second career as a writer; last year, it led me to seriously rethink my approach to relationships and what I wanted in a partner; this year, who knows? I think I have some answers I didn’t have a month ago – and I have another 12 months to figure out what to do with them.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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