A Balanced Diet for the Starving Soul

Of the few things I can say I like about myself, my curiosity is one. I have always loved to learn, and I am excited by new topics and tidbits from history to philosophy, math, and science.

When a new question occurs to me, I hold onto it and excitement fills my chest knowing what comes next, feverish searching through Google web and image results, skimming Wikipedia pages, adding books to my Goodreads TBR. I am excited to learn to grow to become more whole and free and aware. I love to stretch my mind and consider new facts and concepts, but I’m not good at making it happen every day, and I’m not good at recognizing the difference between knowing things and understanding things. I’m not good at keeping my curiosity alive.

I admit, this only occurred to me yesterday when I saw this comic by Austin Kleon—an inspiring author I admire greatly—came scrolling up my Instagram feed.

💀

A post shared by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on

Ouch.

Yep, that’s me. I check the news first thing when I wake up too. I don’t think about what I want to know, what I need and should know, to grow as a person. I don’t think of all the wonders of the world and wonder at the way they work and how they came to be. I wake up, and I want to know what new drama has unfolded in the petty politics we humans have made for ourselves.

Not that I don’t think learning is important. I consider myself a smart person and I even think of myself as a curious one too, but Austin’s comic reminded me that learning, real learning, has not been a priority in my life. I am learning Spanish. I am learning new math. I have my flashcards on geography, state flags, and the anatomy of the eye all on my phone, but it’s not really learning, and it isn’t healthy.

And not that I don’t think current events, politics, and even pop culture are important. You have to know the world around you to navigate it, and you have to navigate it to live and find your happiness, but sometimes it all feels like a play put on the stage, and I’m following the story. It’s a good one, but I want to know what happens backstage and how the script materialized and how I might write my own one day.

The drive to know, to learn, and to discover can easily be tricked. Humans love novelty. We love to discover things and make things. We like to be smart. Social media, TV, tech companies, and advertisements all exploit your curiosity. They make you feel like you are learning and growing wiser while your soul dies of malnutrition.

My phone beeps pleasantly for breaking news and trending topics. It glows cool blue from the side of my bed, enticing me with promises to tell me all I need to know to make polite conversation and bond in mutual anger, outrage, and anxiety at work. I pick it up and scroll. I learn things. I know things. I am in the now in the know. My mind is happy, but not healthy.

Too much of anything is bad for you. A balanced and varied diet has always proven the healthiest.

All your knowledge should not come in the form of 140 character tweets, or sensational images on the news, or click-bait headlines on Facebook. You should know more than what happened yesterday, and you should look further than your own city, country, and conventional beliefs. Your day should be more than breaking news, and your mind should have more to live on than what bring in rating and advertising money. When you are starving can eat rocks and feel full, but you’re still dying.

Mindfulness is key. Become aware for where your information comes from and what kind of information you are consuming. Ask yourself how much time you devote to learning and if you are really learning anything at all. Your day should be more than breaking news, and your mind should have more to live on than what brings high ratings and cash from advertisers.

A starving person can eat rocks and feel better, but it won’t stop death from coming.

I want to study something. I want depth and context. I want to get frustrated by the work of understanding.  I want to stay curious and to feed my soul something good.

Just like the body feels hunger when it needs food, and thirst when it needs water, the mind feels curiosity when it is parched and starving. And like good eating habits, or remembering to drink the right amount of water every day, it takes mindfulness and willingness to forget, fail, and start again for long-term happiness and health. You have to bring learning into your life from something that happens passively and by accident to something you make time for because it’s critical to your well being.

I want to change my diet and learn to keep my soul alive.

I’m not sure yet what that means for me. I’m not sure yet how to do that with my schedule and limited resources, but maybe I can start by picking one or three things every morning that I want to know. I can ask a few questions about how the universe runs and how humans came to be who we are. I can start the day with burning curiosity over anything I choose from trivial to monumental and make time during the day to find answers, not just to know, but to understand.

“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

― Tove Jansson, Fair Play

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo is by Lacie Slezak and available freely on Unsplash

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Let yourself be wrong.

Good morning and happy Monday dear readers. Welcome to the start of the work week and yet another chance to learn, create, and grow. Monday’s have a reputation for being notoriously difficult but I let’s try to change that. Let’s think of Mondays as reset buttons. A day to try again to get it right. I think we all need that.

My morning went better than I expected but not as well as I’d hoped. I worked hard to get a few things ready last night but still ended up running late. That’s the story of my life, though, always running late even when I try very hard not to be running late. I do acknowledge that I have made a lot of progress since the last time my boss had to talk to me about it. I haven’t been late since I just occasionally cut it a little too close.

“But I could be wrong.”

// Carl Sagan

This week I am going to do my best to work on my nasty habit of behaving like a know-it-all. I have a bit of an ego when it comes to the way I perceive my level of intelligence compared to those around me and I have a hard time accepting that I could be wrong. I have a tendency to always behave as if I m the smartest person in the room without ever considering that I might not be.

I am admitting all of this because I honestly do not mean to act this way. For a good portion of my life people have been telling me I was the smartest person in the room, add to that my hatred of information and belief that ignorance must be stamped out wherever it rears its ugly head means I tend to interject where I am not wanted, and I tend to say things in a particularly condescending tone.

“There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.”

// Edward Abbey

I am learning to offer my opinions only when asked for, or if I really believe a person’s life will be improved greatly by hearing it. People don’t like it when you point out how wrong they are about something, especially when they weren’t talking to you or if it is only a minor thing. Conversations get derailed and the point it often lost over semantics and details. I can be frustrating. I know this because whenever it happens to me, I have a small internal meltdown to rival any two-year-old’s tantrum.

Often I may have mispronounced something or I am trying to make a point and when someone steps in to correct me I have to start all over, plus it is just plain embarrassing. I don’t feel better that someone told me those things I just feel angry and I want to stop talking altogether. I don’t want to be always making my friends and loved ones feel that way too.

I have to remember that I do not, in fact, know everything, and there are, in fact, people smarter than me. I also have to remember to be humble when I am wrong and not get angry but to just learn and grow.

It isn’t a bad thing to be wrong sometimes, it’s part of life and it’s part of gaining wisdom, which is greater than knowing facts and figures. Wisdom is what gets you through life.

Wisdom is what we get from each other.

“To make mistakes or be wrong is human. To admit those mistakes shows you have the ability to learn, and are growing wiser.”

// Donald L. Hicks, Look into the stillness

My 30-Day Learning Challenge End-of-the-Month Report

This past month I decided to join a 30-day learning challenge from one of my blog heroes, Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. The challenge was to choose something you wanted to learn about, or learn how to do, and spend a little time every day in the month of June working on it. At the end of the month you just had to report back about how it went. Easy-peasy.

The thing I chose to learn about was mathematics. More specifically I chose to learn as much math in 30 days from the Khan Academy as I could.

I was draw to the challenge for two reasons. For one, it was motivating. I’d been working on Khan Academy for a long time but I wasn’t consistent and I tended to quit when I got into math and science subjects I didn’t know. This challenge gave me a reason to try harder. It’s also gave me a reason to make learning a daily habit.

What’s this challenge all about? It’s about motivating ourselves to finally tackle learning whatever we’ve always wanted to learn. It’s about developing the learning habit. And along the way, maybe learn some effective learning techniques.

Do a daily study session (at least 10 minutes) for as many of the 30 days of June as possible.
2. Optional: Journal about your learning.
3. Optional: Join the Sea Change Program (http://seachange.zenhabits.net) for articles/videos on learning, daily accountability and weekly reviews.
4. Mandatory: Report how you did at the end of the month here: http://bit.ly/1HB3Su7

– From the The 30-Day Learning Challenge sign-up form

I’m getting older and I want to keep my brain as active as possible, more than just doing puzzles everyday. I want to push my brain to actually learn new, and often complicated, things, then retain the information over time. I also want to get into a habit of trying to solve problems without first being told how to. I want to practice thinking logically.

Khan Academy is great for all of these things.

The problems are set up like a test you would have gotten in school. A paragraph describing what they want from you, or an equation to solve, and a graph or image to work from, plus a space to enter your answer. That is it. There isn’t any fancy graphics or anything to distract you from the reason you are here, to learn to solve this problem.

The math concepts are broken down by grade for K-8. You are given a percentage of how much of that grade you have completed. Each concept has four levels of completion. First you must practice something, such as multiplying by 10’s, or finding cube roots, or recognizing conic sections, whatever that is. You can practice anything as much as you want.

In order to move up through the levels though you have to wait for the “Mastery Challenges”. These give you one or two problems from the concepts you have already practiced. If you get it right, you move up a level, if you get it wrong, you move back down. I moved down a lot not from not knowing how to solve the problem, but from not reading the problem all the way through before answering. It was incredibly frustrating.

The thing is the Mastery Challenges are only offered every 12 hours or so, so you have to remember what you learned, you have to retain the information. That’s good and all but it also limited the amount of work I could get through in a day.

So how did I do? *drumroll*

Well, not as I would have liked. I didn’t make as much progress as I wanted to and there were many reasons for that. For one, Khan Academy is always adding more stuff. You will think you have completed everything in one of the grade levels but the next time you log in you will find that it is no longer at 100%. I had to go back twice this month and work on things in the lower grades due to added content. Not a bad thing at all, but my stats don’t look as good now.

Another problem was simply me making stupid mistakes on things I really did know. This was especially bad on days when I was tired. I would accidentally add instead of multiply, I would not see negative sign, or I would just type the wrong number in, these things caused me to drop back down a level where I would have to wait until the next day to move back out of.

And lastly, and purely my fault, was not working on it everyday. I did work on it most days but there were some where I was busy, tired, or had gotten frustrated the day before and felt discouraged. Then I would feel bad about missing days and missed more days from being disappointed in myself.

BUT I have not given up. If you look at the above picture, at the bottom of the list, under “All of Math” yo will see I am at 50%, halfway there! Yeah, a lot of what I have done so far has been easier stuff, but still, 50%! That feels good and makes me want to work even harder to get there. I want to continue to develop this daily learning habit.

 

One of the questions Leo wanted us to consider going forward is what worked and didn’t work, and what adjustments can be made going forward.

What worked was just sitting down and going from problem to problem without worrying about how far I wanted to get that day. If I didn’t know how to solve something it took time to learn it, but when I wanted to make a lot of progress I would only choose to do the easy stuff. This wasn’t a problem at first but when I ran out of easy things to do I would just give up.

Going forward I will just do the problems in the order the Khan Academy gives them to me instead of picking and choosing what I want to work on. It will slow things down but I will get more of a challenge every day rather than mindlessly doing things I already know.

Another thing that worked was not doing these first thing in the morning. At first I thought I should work on this challenge early in the day to get it done but I found myself distracted by thinking of other, more urgent, tasks I had planned. I changed up the times after the first week and found that doing a bit, 10-30 minutes, of math work during my lunch was the best. I wasn’t too tired and I didn’t have other things to do then.

One thing that didn’t work was not choosing a more measurable goal. I just wanted to do “as much as I could” but that gave me a lot of leeway to slack off. If I had said something like “get through all of K-8th grade math”, or Algebra, or Geometry, I would have a better idea of what was possible and could adjust for the future better.

All-in-all I enjoyed the challenge and I did learn a ton too. I’ll continue to work on the math going forward but I think I will also do more months of learning with different focuses. Already I am thinking about using Khan Academy’s science videos for a challenge in July, then reporting back more specifically about what I learned.

Could be a fun blog project :)

Bonus: Learning tips for your top challenges are here: http://zenhabits.net/learning-tips/

Image by Averater (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday Motivation – Quitting Smoking (Again) and a 30-Day Challenge

Hello there and welcome to the work week. I know it’s tough but lets try to start off on the right foot, ok? Let’s try to get motivated! This week I am announcing three pieces of big news.

The first is I going to quit smoking again. I tried a long time ago after a bad cold but I picked it up again. At first it was just every once in awhile. I would get bored when all my friends would go smoke and I would tag along. Then someone would feel sorry for me and offer me a cigarette and I couldn’t refuse. Then I started asking for one. Then I started buying them again. Next thing I knew I was a full blown smoker and I smelled like one too.

This time though I have a buddy, maybe even two. One of the girls I’ve recently become friends with picked up the habit again after quitting awhile back too and would like to try to quit with me. We are both social smokers and we figure if we have each other to hang out with while everyone else smokes we have a better chance. Plus, she’s pretty stubborn and pushy (in a good way) which I will probably need in my times of weakness.

Also this week I am going to join a 30-day challenge to learn something new. I got the idea from one of my favorite blogger Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. This will be another second attempt at a previous goal, to teach myself math and science.

I think I have mentioned this before but I dropped out of high school at a pretty young age and while I have always been interested in math and science I have stuck to only learning the parts that I find interesting. As a result there are gaps in my knowledge that I would like to close, before my brain gets too old and squishy. I don’t have an exact end goal in mind but the challenge sates I must work on it for at least 10 minutes a day every day in June and I should journal about it. Then at the end of the month I’ll report back how I did. Easy-peasy!

I’ll be using Khan Academy math challenges and science videos for this, as I always have. I highly recommend them if you are like me and need to learn, or relearn a few things you missed out on in school. Or if you have kids who need a bit of homework help!

And finally this week, yet another goal I have not completed, I am still working on this driving thing. So yeah, I am 30 years old and I have a strange and quite potent fear of driving a car. For me all cars are bombs on wheels! Getting in the driver’s seat gives me anxiety and after any amount of time spent actually driving I usually have a small mental breakdown. I know, it’s weird.

I’ve worked on it off and on since last summer and I can at least say I have made a ton of improvement. In fact for the very first time this morning I drove myself to work! I go in at about four in the morning so there aren’t that many other drivers on the road and I figured I could handle it. I think I did well, I just need to learn to stop a little more smoothly and I need to learn to balance looking at the road, looking in my mirrors, and looking down at the speedometer. I also have to get better about not hugging the right side of the lane so closely.

I hope to drive to work everyday now and soon I hope to drive home too. It’s slow progress but with the amount of fear I have about driving it is significant progress and I am quite proud of myself.

I plan to make this week a good week and one where I move closer to completing some old goals that have been forgotten. Wish me luck! I promise to report back as more progress is made. In the meantime, I hope you have a great week too and I wish you luck in return and hope you cross of a few of your own goals and to-dos :)

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Jane Austen

This week’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday is dedicated to the world renowned English author Jane Austen. While I haven’t yet read any of her works I certainly plan to. From everything I have read she is regarded as one of the most widely read authors of all time and has an amazing style. Apparently her realism, biting irony and social commentary as well as her acclaimed plots have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics.

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775, was not widely known in her own time. It wasn’t until after 1869 that her popularity skyrocketed. Her work includes just six novels but due to their timelessness have been adapted into many movies, television shows, and modern adaptations, as well as being translated into multiple languages.

Her most  popular novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and are considered literary classics. And her other works have gone on to become a model for all modern romances to follow.

“I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.”

Jane Austen

Ever since I decided that one day I’d like to become a writer I have felt both self-conscious and a bit discouraged by my own lack of education. I’m not just talking about the fact that I didn’t go to college, I’m talking about the fact that I didn’t even finish high school! How can I even think about being a serious writer when I have had no education on the subject? I mean, you have to have a degree to be an architect, a doctor, a teacher, an accountant, a lawyer, or an engineer, why not to be a writer?

I’m not sure how important higher education is to becoming a writer but I hope to do it without the expense and the time of college. I am getting older now and I just don’t want to waste the years when I could just sit down at my computer and type until my fingers bleed as much as my heart. What more is there to writing than that?

Yes I know, there are rules to writing. There is spelling, and grammar, and structure. You should avoid passive voice, use active verbs, remove adverbs, provide detail, and know your characters. You should use concrete rather than vague language and avoid double negatives. You should vary your sentence and paragraph length and cultivate your own style. I know, I know.

The thing is I learned all of that from reading books on writing and reading books by people who write the same sort of things I want to write. I learned even more from a few simple Google searches. What more could a school teach me? The only benefit I can see for going to school is you pay others to be you critics. You pay someone to help you get better.

That’s the great thing about the internet though, it comes with millions of potential critics. You can create a blog and join groups and ask people to tell you what they think, all for free! The only catch is you have to do a bit of work promoting yourself so that people actually want to read your stuff in order to tell you what they think. That, I have learned, is easier said than done.

I am getting there though, and, like Jane, I take great pride in doing it while being quite unlearned and uninformed.

Original image: https://flic.kr/p/4wVccL

Monday Motivation, Goals, and Plans

It’s Monday again but this week I swear I am taking it easy. I am only working at my day job for a few hours today and probably not at all the rest of the week. That doesn’t mean I don’t have things I need to do though. Between the holidays and my own personal projects I will be pretty busy.

This past month I have focused more of my time on trying to learn new things everyday. I have come to the conclusion that the key to writing is keeping the brain stimulated with new content daily. Content that makes you think! TV and social media do not stimulate the brain and should be consumed sparingly. Books, both physical and audio, podcast, course lectures, other peoples blogs, these types of things stimulate my brain so those are the things I am focusing on.

I now have a new goal of reading 1 or 2 (or more) books every month and listening to a course lecture on iTunes U, or an educational podcast, everyday. In the past few weeks I started doing this I have noticed more ideas coming to me out of the blue and I have a greater ability to brain storm ideas as well. Before when I sat down to write I felt a stuck and was starting to fear that I had nothing much to say. I realize now that I just needed to jump start my brain. Now that I’ve got it running I need to keep it fueled with new knowledge and new perspectives.

I am currently listening to Oxford University “Philosophy for Beginners” lectures and reading Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Anansi Boys isn’t exactly educational in the traditional sense but Gaiman is an incredible writer and one of the best ways to learn to write better is to read more. I think I could learn a thing or two by reading more of his work. And there’s no reason that fiction can’t be just as mentally stimulating as non-fiction, right?

Anyway, other than that I plan to enjoy my holidays and work on coming up with some resolutions for 2015. Look for that post soon! I hope you all have a great week, I encourage you to make some time to learn something new :)

If We Were Having Coffee

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I have been feeling much better. Last time we got together I was feeling so tired and emotionally drained from work. This past week things have settled down a bit and I am finding more time for writing. I still need to get better at coming up with ideas ahead of time then writing and scheduling my posts for the next day or two out. That way I am not scrambling to post at optimal times the day I also I have to write the post.

I think my blog is doing well and I very much enjoy the community on WordPress. I wish I knew other bloggers in real life who I could talk to. I’m not blogging anonymously but I haven’t told many people about it either. I like that strangers read my work and not friends and family. I wouldn’t want to talk about it very much. I’m not confident enough yet for that. I am trying to comment more and get to know other bloggers online though. That is the goal now, and to grow and write more in depth pieces.

I also joined both the Writing 101 and Blogging 101 courses being offered over at Daily Post. I did them before but I didn’t finish them. I am going into them with more confidence this time and I think I will do better this time around. I am excited for the community aspect of it. It means more feedback and chances to improve. I never thought I would like blogging as much as I do. I’m not even sure exactly what it is I enjoy so much considering it can be a very frustrating at times. I guess it’s just knowing that I am putting a part of myself out there and trying to be better.

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I am also going to start meditating in the mornings. I have been wanting to for a very long time but it is hard for me to find time to be alone. I am working a lot and when I am at home I spend as much time as I can with Chardonnay. I feel like I can really say I am trying to be more Zen when I’m not even meditating! So I am going to wake up 10 minutes earlier than usual (which is actually on time) to meditate first thing in the morning. I figure before work is a good time. I struggle so much in the mornings. I wake up and rush around and forget something everyday. Clearing my mind before I do anything will hopefully help.

I downloaded an app called Headspace that offers a 10 day course to teach you to meditate. Each session is 10 minutes a day and you can even download them and listen to them whenever you want. Headspace offers a lot more, some things you have to pay for a subscription to access, which I don’t really want to do. I’m just going to start with the “Take 10” program and see what happens. I’ll let you know too.

If we were having coffee I would tell you that I have gotten back into learning all math Khan Academy. I got busy and took a break for a week. Then I got discouraged and quit for a week. I got stuck on 6th grade dividing fractions by fractions word problems….sigh. I felt so stupid! This was 6th grade stuff and I just couldn’t get it! After I was suffiently dissappointed in myself for quiting I got back to it and was finally able to get through it. I’m still not sure I fully understand it but I understand how to get the right answer. I was very proud of myself but I am still mad I was stuck on it at all.

I am about 67% through 7th grade now and my progress is starting to slow a little. It’s been over 10 years since I was in school and I have forgotten a lot. I have also realized that even though I made it to 10th grade as a teenager, middle school is when I stopped doing the work. I do know a lot of this stuff and what I don’t I am picking up fast, just not as fast as I thought I would. I think I realized that I’m not as smart as I thought I was. That sounds sad but that thought just gives me more motiation to learn more! I hope to finish the 7th grade stuff this week and 8th next week. I am currently 42% done with 8th grade.

So that’s whats going on with me. If we were having coffee I would very much want to hear how you were doing too. Let me know in the comments and until next time, good vibes everyone.