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How to Learn from Other People’s Experiences

How to Learn from Other People’s Experiences

When we’re children, we learn (and fail) all the time. We fall off bikes, scrape knees, add sums incorrectly, and tell someone we have a crush on them when they’re clearly not interested (*cringe*). That’s just what kids do.

As adults, we tend to move into areas of core competency, sigh a breath of relief (Hooray! No more feeling like I’m constantly failing at everything!), and then promptly stagnate. This, of course, is the quickest route towards the kind of career and life experiences that feel just kind of, well, “meh.” In order to keep yourself engaged and motivated, it’s important to continually form new and unexpected neural connections.

Fortunately, in the internet age, it’s not just easy to learn, but also to learn from other people, so you’ll have a model to go from and you won’t feel so alone in your endeavors. Here are 4 tips for doing just that.

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1. Try a new healthy habit for 30 days

If you’re like most people, you set lofty, unachievable goals for improving your health. Maybe you decide you’re going to shed 40 pounds before Memorial Day, or maybe you’re all about that unachievable New Years’ resolution. The problem is, big goals are hard to maintain, and you’ll feel discouraged and overwhelmed when you don’t meet them, which will up your chances of quitting.

Instead, trying giving a 30-day project a try and blogging about your experience. The idea of 30-day projects is to focus on nurturing one (and only one) habit intensely for that time period, so you can really commit and try the new habit on for size. You could, for example, try eating local for 30 days, or not watch TV for 30 days. Who knows? Maybe some of those healthy habits will stick around.

Google “30-day project” and you’ll see a number of fellow bloggers with inspiring ideas. Even if you already have a few in mind, seeing what other people try can help you reach outside of your box and really challenge yourself. Even better: Invite your own friends to participate so you can learn from and support each other and swap stories about your experiences.

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2. Learn about the world

Come on, be honest: how much global news do you really consume? Reading a summary site like The Week can be a great way to a get glimpse into the stories making headlines around the world, as can any number of news publications.

That said, the best way to really learn about the world is from its many people. Doing so doesn’t have to mean stuffing all of your possessions into a backpack and hitting the road (though that’s nice if you can do it, too!). Instead, make full use of the internet and social media. Read articles and add comments to travel blogs like Gadling. Narrow in on a region of interest, start doing your research on WikiTravel, and post questions on the Lonely Planet Travel Forums or even on Quora. Or, for a social network and travel blog site all in one, head to Matador Travel, where you can connect with people worldwide and learn about new communities while also doing a little teaching about your own region.

3. Learn how to be more entrepreneurial

From the corporate workspace to the home office, just about all of us can use entrepreneurial skills these days. After all, in a tough economy, bosses reward go-getters, and “innovator” is the buzzword of the day. But how can you learn these skills without enrolling in an MBA program or throwing your hat into a risky startup’s ring?

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The best course of action is to find a thought leader within a niche that interests you and learn from them. Thankfully, with the popularity of corporate blogs and social media feeds, this is easier to do than ever. Let’s say, for example, that you love Stonyfield Yogurt—both the brand itself and its online presence. Just a browse through the corporate blog will tell you all you need to know, as long as you look closely. Want to learn how to draw readers more deeply into your site? Look at the “Recent Posts” sidebar. Want to tempt readers into reading your full post? Study the wording of the Stonyfield blog’s headlines, the kinds of photos they choose for the top of the post, and how they break up text throughout the page.

Even more helpful is when a brand commissions white papers and case studies and posts them online. Take a peek, for example, at Amazon’s Website Case Studies; an exhaustive look into just how real customers have benefited from Amazon’s products. Here, you’ll learn how to make the most of online tools that can help you launch or maintain your businesses or side projects from one of the most successful businesses around. If it worked for them, why shouldn’t it work for you?
When a thought leader provides insight into their business, grab it!

4. Learn how to make something new

Last but certainly not least, there’s much to be learned from the tinkerers of the world. Step entirely out of your everyday comfort zone by making something totally new. Learn how to hack your Ikea furniture. Turn everyday objects into a robotic arm. Follow lifestyle blogs, or just head to Pinterest for a little creative inspiration. With so many bloggers posting their experiments online and even how-tos, there’s no excuse not to give DIY a try!

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Search for a Maker group to find even more in person support.

The Takeaway

So much of our everyday work lives rely on repetitive skills. Learning something new, no matter how seemingly minor, will refresh your brain and give you a sense of renewal and inspiration.
Make sure to check out the new daily articles on LifeHack for even more tips!

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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