11 Ways to Learn Something New Every Day
A while back, I wrote about the benefits of improving your memory, and I did so for a very specific reason: My mother is in the beginning stages of dementia and I've been looking for ways to slow it down and potentially even reverse its effects.
What I found is that in addition to nutrition, exercise, and practiced recall, learning new things is a key component to combating this disease. And in the process of ensuring my mom had plenty of opportunities to expand her horizons, I discovered something else. Learning new things had a notable and positive effect on me as well.
For starters, I felt smarter, and not just in the sense that I knew something I hadn't known before. I realized I was starting to see things more clearly. I was able to connect the dots faster and process and evaluate information more efficiently. (See also: Ways to Change Your Brain Chemistry and Be Happier)
I also noticed that my recall was better, as well as my focus. I didn't have to wait for things to "come back to me" as I had done so often in the past and that aggravating little habit of walking into a room and forgetting why I was there seemed to be occurring less and less.
So, with the benefits of broadening your mental horizons covered, let's talk about some of the many ways you can incorporate learning into your day-to-day life.
1. Go Back to School
Obviously, enrolling in school would ensure a steady stream of new things to learn and truth be told, getting a degree is most definitely on my to-do list. But if, like me, money and time don't allow that commitment right now, there are other ways to tackle a new subject. (See also: Ways to Save on Tuition)
Sites like Coursera and EdX offer classes on everything from math and foreign languages to cryptography, quantum physics, and the art of arguing. Classes are free — read that again, FREE — and completely online, and they're taught by professors from some of the top universities around the world. It is the future of education.
And for those with an interest specifically in programming, there's CodeAcademy. Here, you can learn everything from basic HTML and CSS to PHP, Ruby, and lots more. Like Coursera and EdX, it's completely free and completely online. It's also self-paced, so you can easily integrate it into your busy schedule.
2. TED Talks
If you haven't watched a TED Talk yet, you don't know what you're missing. These live seminars have been recorded for your convenience, but they go much deeper than what you might expect a seminar to do. TED Talks cover topics that everyone is thinking about, but often have trouble discussing. These are the conversations that make you say "Hmmm" and create new perspectives and ideas in the process.
TED Talks cover the gamut from global issues to technology to entertainment and you can even sort by whether you want to be amazed, inspired or have your funny bone tickled. And yes, they're free as well. (See also: Free Ways to Learn Something New)
3. The History Channel
I don't know about you, but I'm hooked on the History Channel — more specifically H2 — and for multiple reasons. I can learn about ancient ruins and mysterious landmarks in "America Unearthed," get a taste of quantum physics in "The Universe," and discover why I think the way I think in "Your Bleeped Up Brain."
H2 offers a variety of educational shows that explore everything from secret societies to possible alien visitations to how salt helped shape our history and cultivate society. If you've ever wished you knew more about obscure or unusual topics, this is the channel for you.
4. Learn a Language
Imagine being able to talk to anyone. Imagine speaking the language no matter where you are. That's a possibility when you Duolingo.
Now, I know I've written about this nifty little tool before, but it seems appropriate to sing its praises again here. Duolingo is free and offers both a web-based version as well as a handy app for your smartphone.
That means that learning Spanish, French, Italian, German, or even Portuguese is well within your grasp. And because the platform has you writing, speaking, and reading the language you're learning, you'll retain more in a shorter amount of time.
C'est bête comme chou.
I'm an avid reader, and I still love that feeling I get when the light bulb goes off and something I've read sparks new understanding. (See also: Build Community and Save Money With Books)
Reading opens doors that were previously closed. It introduces you to new places, new ideas, and new topics that you may not have previously known much about. Reading can take you to a far away, make-believe land or immerse you in a steamy romance, but it can also enlighten, empower, and educate.
Start with some of the classics — Moby Dick, Gone With the Wind, A Tale of Two Cities — or visit your local library and see what's on the New Releases shelf. If you have an Amazon account, start paying attention to their "Recommended For You Section" because they'll help you find new books to read based on previous purchases and searches.
If carting around books isn't your style, then consider reading in digital format. We're all familiar with Kindle, but there are other ways to get your books online. Project Gutenberg boasts tens of thousands of ebooks, all from legitimate publishers that are now in the public domain, available for download or online perusal.
DailyLit on the other hand, will send books to you in installments, allowing you to read in short, pre-scheduled segments.
6. Do Your Own Repairs
There is a certain sense of pride and accomplishment when you discover you can handle something on your own, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to tackle all those little repairs and restores around your house. (See also: 10 Plumbing Repairs You Can Do Yourself)
Most recently, for example, I replaced the washers inside my kitchen faucet. I turned it on one morning and discovered a leak, which left me with two choices: I could fix it myself or wait for hubby to come home.
Thinking "how hard could it be?" I went with option #1, and you'd be amazed at what you can do with tutorials on YouTube. I went to the hardware store, knowing exactly what parts I needed and then rummaged through my husband's toolbox to find the correct tools for the job. Step-by-step — and with a few rewinds and playbacks — I repaired that faucet. Just me and the guy on YouTube. (See also: Free DIY Home Improvement Training and Advice)
By the time hubby got home, the leak was fixed and I had learned something new.
7. Read the News
Back during my corporate days, I worked with a woman who could talk about anything — literally, anything. Foreign affairs, the economy, politics, finance, you name it — she had enough information to hold her own in a conversation.
She had this gift because she paid attention to what was going on in the world around her. She read multiple newspapers and tuned into to an equal number of news shows. She was well-informed, and as a result, she didn't have an opinion that she couldn't thoroughly back up.
Of course, the news is only as good as the source providing it. Try finding some solid, non-partisan news sites that strictly report the facts without letting personal motives or beliefs cloud the story. I realize that's not easy these days, but there are still a few sites that do a fairly decent job of reporting only the news. BBC is one, and Reuters and Al Jazeera are good as well. If you have trouble finding sites that you think fit the bill, then at least get your news from a variety of sources, so that you're more likely to get the bigger picture.
I'm currently studying Archeology at Stanford, Astronomy at Oxford, and Philosophy at Yale. How am I doing that? I'm downloading free lectures and courses through iTunes.
iTunes University has grown into quite the extravagant learning tool, so much so that it now has its own section in the iTunes store and its own app as well. Learn languages and sciences, math and history, or delve into the not-so-traditional subjects such as Darwinism, spirituality, and consciousness.
And you can do it at your own pace, in your own time.
9. Subscribe to Wikipedia
Did you know that Wikipedia will send you a new "featured" article every single day, right to your email? It's their Daily Article Mailing List and it ensures you'll receive something new to read at least once a day. In January for example, you would have read about the constellation Phoenix, the 1939 film Gagak Item, and the American pioneer John Adair.
How's that for a broad wealth of knowledge delivered right to your desktop?
10. Expand Your Vocabulary
Remember those word-a-day calendars that we all used to have sitting on our desks? That's where I learned that there are a "plethora" of words that I have yet to use and I should take steps to remedy this lest I want to suffer the "ignominy" of having a limited vocabulary.
See how fun that is?
Now, all you have to do is subscribe to Word a Day and you'll never have to worry about keeping up with your calendar again.
11. Help Your Kids With Their Homework
If you have school-aged children — and if you've been out of school for a while — try helping them with their homework. You might discover you're not smarter than a 5th grader after all.
The math they're teaching now is much more advanced than the math they were teaching some (inaudible) years ago when I was in school, and I was both shocked and embarrassed to discover that I needed help to help my kids do their homework. (See also: 20 Places to Buy or Rent Textbooks)
But isn't that exactly what the Internet is for?
Homework has now turned into an opportunity to learn more about what my kids are working on in school, to reinforce the new concepts and ideas they're being taught and to spend just a little more time with them before they bounce off to play with their friends or zone out on Xbox.
I mean, nothing says quality family time like factoring prime numbers or dissecting sentences.
So, there you have it, my short list for bringing more learning into your life. Now it's your turn. How do you exercise your mind?