Do you feel stuck in a rut? Learning a brand new skill can jolt you out of a stale mindset and lifestyle. Here are five reasons to tackle the challenge – the benefits can be enormous, and the obstacles aren’t as big as you might think!
Mentally and physically, most of us reach a point where we are no longer learning to do new things. We learn new information, and perhaps we progress within the skills we already have, but we don’t have to take on brand new things. At least, not like little kids learning the basics of life, or students taking new classes every semester.
You know how to do your job and manage your household. You know what you like to do for fun. And it’s only natural to stick to the same language you’ve always spoken and the same way you’ve always written, sat, and walked.
Habit has it’s place in life – good habits help us improve ourselves and stay productive (for more on this, check out the work of James Clear, one of my favorite bloggers). It’s wonderful to stick with a beloved activity and grow your expertise over years and years, too. But if you feel stuck, like nothing much is new or improving in your life, breaking out of your habits may be just what you need.
What a new skill is (and what it isn’t)
First, let me explain what I mean by “new skill.” I don’t mean progressing to the next level in something you already do. One-off training at school or on the job, like presentation or communication skills, doesn’t quite get at it either.
A new skill is something at which you would be a beginner, a total novice. If you signed up for classes, you would be in level one. It could be a new sport, an instrument, improv, painting, computer programming…the possibilities are endless. The important thing is that it challenges your brain and body to do things they have never done before.
In my life, I’ve taken on a radically new skill a few times. In college, I started dancing and totally fell in love with the practice of expressing music through my body. A few years later, I took up digital photography, and I still fill my walls and this blog with my own images. More recently, I’ve started running, which is a big challenge for me but puts a smile on my face every time.
The benefits can be life-changing
And why should you? Because diving into something radically new can have major positive impact on your life, especially if it’s something you truly enjoy and stick with over the long run. Here are five big reasons to take the leap.
When we stay in the same routine for too long, we lose the ease with which we once picked up new patterns of thought and movement. Our brains and bodies literally become less adaptable, making it harder to handle change and struggle. In contrast, learning new skills creates new neural pathways and promotes brain health, especially in old age. Studies have shown that for the elderly, learning a complex new skill improves memory.
Do you think of yourself as an adventurous person? How about persevering? Curious? Those may not be words you use to describe yourself today, but tackling a new challenge will show you that you can be those things. Making the decision to be a beginner all over again takes courage, and sticking it out through those difficult early stages of learning takes determination. Knowing you are capable of such a feat is a huge boost to your self-confidence!
Do you love what you’re doing? I firmly believe that we all should be doing what we love, or at least working towards that goal. Life is too short to do otherwise. The toughest struggle, for many of us, is to figure out what that special thing is. I’ve been there several times – in fact, this blog is part of my attempt answer to that question. If you’re not sure whether what you’re doing with your life is really what you want for yourself, learning something new is a great opportunity to explore a different path. This has certainly been the case for me – for example, learning to dance opened my world to a whole new perspective. I didn’t become a professional dancer, but it changed the way I viewed myself and who I could be in life.
Many adults find their social circles shrinking over time. The core group of friends from school starts to weaken as people move away or start families, and if you keep doing the same things, you may rarely make new friends. If you long for greater connection to others, learning a new skill is an opportunity to find a community. By taking group classes, joining a club, or going to local meetups, you can meet people who share your interests and want to connect, just like you.
One of the best feelings in the world is flow – when you’re so in the zone that you lose track of time. That kind of mental focus is something that people who are truly passionate about their work often experience, but many of us rarely get a glimpse of this special mental state. Learning a new skill that excites you is a great opportunity to get sucked into flow, especially as you scale the steep early part of the learning curve. And aside from flow, whatever you choose to do should be something that you enjoying doing, so go have fun!
What would you do?
If you’re looking to break out of your own mold, here’s a question to ponder: what would you do, if you believed you could? What makes you stop and think, Wow, that’s amazing! I wish I could do that. Share your ideas in the comments below!
Now sure where to start, or how? In my next post, I’ll talk about the three biggest obstacles to learning a radically new skill, and what you can do to overcome them. Subscribe here to stay tuned!