While I’m not as big on goals as I used to be, I do get excited about learning new things.
A single blog post I read about making bread is enough to set me off into hours of research about bread-making techniques, a week of experiments in baking and kneading, a couple weeks trying to make my own wild yeast starter, and some fun moments with my family eating some fresh-baked bread (is there a better smell in the world, btw?).
Learning is one of my favorite pasttimes. It can take up my entire day if I let it. And while I’m a big advocate of focusing on one thing at a time, after a few weeks or a month of focusing on one thing, I tend to move on to another — without necessarily abandoning the last thing I was learning.
What I’m Learning
As an example, here’s a list of what I’m learning right now:
- Spanish. Still at the very beginning stage. Hola, Señor.
- Meditation. Have been doing this off and on for years, but I’ve been doing it for a few months now, every day.
- Breadmaking. Have made a few basic recipes with some success. Am now making my own wild yeast starter, and will try tougher recipes. Am also learning to cook pasta and pizza from scratch.
- Wine. Each month, Eva and I have been exploring a new kind of wine. Last month, we did Napa Valley cabs, and took a trip to Napa in January. In February, we have been exploring pinot noirs from Sonoma.
- War and Peace. I love to read. I love the Russians. I started Tolstoy’s War and Peace in December, but am only halfway through right now.
- Building muscle. I don’t normally focus on building muscle, but have started a 14-week hypertrophy program as an experiment. Just three full-body workouts a week, lots of rest, lots of calories, lots of protein.
- My business. Recently created the Zen Habits Premium Membership, am experimenting with ways to best teach things to people, including webinars, mini-courses, videos and more.
An Autodidact’s Schedule
So how do I fit all of that into a day? Well, honestly, I don’t always. Some days I’ll focus on one or two things, others I’ll do a little of each. I don’t like rigidness, and want the freedom and flexibility to let my interest and enthusiasm take me where it will.
That said, I’ve been working lately with a rough schedule. It’s not set in stone, but having a loose schedule helps me to keep everything going.
Here’s what it is right now (subject to change at any time):
- Morning: Meditate, read, write/create, workout/yoga/stretch.
- Afternoon: Language, code, read.
- Evening: Bake/cook, language, wine.
I tend to do anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour for each one, but if other things come up and I can get to some of them, that’s OK.
How I Learn
I learn not as a chore to check off my list, nor as a route to self-improvement, but because I’m excited about something. That’s the only way to learn, in my experience.
Some other things I’ve been learning in recent months:
- Neapolitan pizza.
- San Francisco, by exploring by foot.
- Fat loss.
- WordPress themes, CSS.
- Book publishing.
- Squats & deadlifts.
Here’s how I usually approach learning:
- Read. It will usually start through reading — I read a lot each day, and it’s pretty varied. If I get excited about something, I might read about it all day, or for a week or two. Mostly through blogs and other websites, but sometimes through books.
- Do. The best way to learn isn’t by reading, though — it’s through actual doing. The mistake some people make is they just read about something, but it’s when you actually use the knowledge that it becomes real, that you find other problems that you have to solve, that you learn all the things that go along with main idea. If I don’t put something into practice, I don’t really care about learning about it.
- Socialize. The best learning is social. When I bake bread, it’s for my family. When I learn Spanish or coding, it’s with my son. When I meditate, it’s with my Zen Habits members. Sometimes I learn alone (Tolstoy, the gym), but it’s more fun to learn with someone else, even if they’re only online.
- Practice. Just doing something for a week never really teaches me something. I have to do it repeatedly for weeks or month or years. Writing, for example, is something I’ve done practically every day for two decades. I’ve learned more about that than almost anything else.
- Love. Everything I learn is learned with love. It’s a way to experience my love for life, the wondrous gift we’ve been given. It’s a way to practice my love for myself, or my love for others. If learning is infused with love, it becomes a practice you won’t want to stop.
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