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Do You Want 2008 to Be Your Best Year Ever? Let Go.

Do You Want 2008 to Be Your Best Year Ever? Let Go.

Try making a single change in your outlook
Having a ball!

Regular readers will know that I am not much attracted to the type of article that can be summarized as “x simple ways to do y.” I distrust overly simple responses to life’s endless complexity, just as I distrust simplistic ways of thinking.

However, I can think of one — just one — simple action that will make 2008 perhaps one of your best years ever.

This one action is so far-reaching in terms of creating well-being that I felt I had to overcome my distaste for the format and share it with you.

It can be summed up in two words: “let go.”

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Let go of the past

It’s over and done. Whether you relish or hate what you did back then, nothing can change it. Worrying about it is useless; replaying it over and over in your mind merely prolongs the emotions to no purpose.

All that will happen is that those feelings will reach forward and poison the present and the future. People caught up on past obsessions are unable to respond to what is happening now; they’re too busy revisiting and trying to revise what happened then.

Let go of guilt

Guilt is a totally useless emotion. All it does is make you feel bad and tempt you into ill-chosen actions to try to drive it away. Feel remorse by all means, since remorse leads to resolution not to repeat past errors. But guilt? That’s merely a negative kind of self-indulgence, focused totally on yourself, not those who suffered from your mistake or bad actions.

Let go of resentment

Nothing corrodes your happiness, your relationships, or your ability to act sensibly as easily as resentment. So someone hurt you? Let it go and focus instead on what you are going to do either to make things right between you or walk away and make sure that person won’t hurt you again.

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Resentment is like guilt: it’s all about you and your own self-righteousness. It tricks you into replaying that past hurt over and over again in your mind, as you keep the resentment alive. The single hurt then becomes a constant repetition. If you fell down and cut your leg, would you keep doing it, just to recall how much it hurt? That’s resentment: a continual, needless reminder of how much it hurt.

Let go of revenge

There’s an old saying that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. In truth, revenge is a dish best thrown away.

Was getting even part of your original dreams of how your life would turn out? Did you sit day-dreaming, maybe years ago, and envision a golden future filled with revenge on anyone?

All revenge does is reinforce the original hurt, create another enemy, warp your judgment, and take your focus away from where it should be: on doing what it will take to fulfill your dreams. Oh . . . and often create a long-lasting vendetta, that will pull you into worse and worse actions, until you likely hate yourself and suddenly notice that all the time you have been getting further away from where you really wanted to be.

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Let go of joy

This may sound foolish, but think about it. How many times have you devoted enormous effort to trying to recapture some moment of joy, only to find it impossible? How much effort have you wasted on trying to reproduce some past moment of happiness?

Joy is a beautiful butterfly. It floats into your life, filling it with beauty. But if you grab at it and try to hang on, it gets crushed and dies, leaving little behind but a rotting corpse.

Many of life’s miseries are due to trying to cling to something good; to prolong a moment of joy long past it’s due time, instead of letting it go and looking for another one.

Let it go. That way, you’ll never poison it with your vain attempts to revive it.

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A single resolution

That’s it: my suggested recipe for a great 2008. Make it a year of letting go and moving on. No regrets, no guilt, no resentment, no revenge, no pointless clinging to the good moments.

Breathe. Let it go.

Life is motion and it’s better to go along with it, unfettered by the past, that try to fight against it and drag a whole lot of useless baggage along with you.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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