It doesn’t take much thinking to realise that schools and universities don’t offer a comprehensive education and can actually kill your creativity.
Here I offer my alternative plan for everyday education. You may not notice the effects each and every day but over time you will see profound changes in yourself. You have to start using long term thinking.
A quick word before I begin. I really believe that to study successfully, in or out of an institution, it’s necessary to be truly passionate about the subject.
When you are passionate about something it doesn’t feel like “work” when you need to spend hours going over something or when you need to burn the midnight oil. Studying should feel like the right thing to do. If it doesn’t perhaps you are on the wrong path.
Anyway, let’s begin!
1. Learn a New Word Everyday
There is a high correlation between success in life and the size of one’s vocabulary. This is actually quite obvious.
Let’s not get into an argument about what “success” in life actually is: for the sake of this argument I will just assume it’s being at the top of your chosen field. Of course, there is much more to success than that.
The more successful you are in life, the greater the number of abstract concepts that you need to think about. It also means communicating with a larger and more diverse range of people. To communicate your ideas effectively to them the standard vocabulary just won’t cut it.
Also, a larger vocabulary allows you to read a vast number of books and so you can become the equivalent of a human sponge. You can absorb many ideas from different cultures and evaluate them effectively.
Owning a dictionary is probably not a bad idea. I don’t actually own a dictionary – okay that is a barefaced lie, I’m sure I do but I haven’t opened it in years, I just use the internet.
By the way, have you ever noticed that when you learn a new word you start seeing it everywhere? That’s your mind working for you automatically to cement that new word in your vocabulary.
Having a large vocabulary actually gives you freedom of thought. While the brain works in mysterious and abstract ways, our concrete thinking, which leads directly to action is often done through the prism of language. Just like when you talk to yourself in your head about the positives and negatives of a situation.
This was highlighted extremely well in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the fictional language Newspeak is created.
It was an attempt to eliminate personal thought by restricting the expressiveness of the English language.
So, it’s all good me telling you to go away and learn a new word each day, but how should you go about it?
Well, I like to be lazy so I just get the Oxford English Dictionary to email me a new word every morning. Done.
2. Exercise Everyday
This point may seem slightly counterintuitive at first, but stay with me. There have been numerous studies that suggest that exercise does improve one’s capacity for learning. We’ve talked about exercising first thing in the morning before and it’s really not a bad idea, it can set you up nicely for the rest of the day. It’s actually makes sense, as much as we may think that our brains and bodies are separate entities, they are in fact connected in ways that we don’t even know about yet.
A fit body may or may not help, but surely it’s better than an unfit body in supporting the brain’s workload? Note: This is perhaps the hardest point to follow in my education programme.
I’ve personally had an on-off relationship with exercise, but I’ve managed to lose over 25kg in the last four years, and really changed my body. I’ve still got a way to go. It’s extremely challenging to keep up a lifelong commitment to exercise, but each year I am getting slightly better at it.
Exercising everyday is tough, both physically and mentally. Try it for a month and see how you get on.
3. Read Everyday
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read” Mark Twain
Just think about that quote for a second. Imagine not being able to read. For starters you couldn’t follow this brilliant website, but imagine how difficult life would be. Imagine how difficult education would be without the ability to read. Imagine how difficult it would be for the human race to advance if all of us couldn’t read!
Reading is crucial and you should spend at least half an hour a day doing it. In this day and age there is no excuse. We have an abundance of cheap books via Amazon, and don’t even get me started on Ebooks!
Remember that it doesn’t have to be a book, there are plenty of interesting resources online. Another great idea is to read a random Wikipedia article each day.
Not only does that force you out of your own comfort zone by giving you something that may be way out of your range of experience, but you may end up having some fun too.
You know what’s the really amazing thing about reading? It allows you to experience other people’s ideas and points of view, as well as other cultures without having to leave your front door. It’s almost like teleportation.
Reading also works like a time machine. You get to have wonderful conversations with people who lived hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.
That’s real magic.
4. Write Everyday
This is the flip side of the coin. You really should try and write every day, preferably in a journal. It doesn’t even have to be a physical journal, something on the computer will work absolutely fine.
The point is to use your head.
You can summarise your thoughts for the day and have a place to analyse your experiences. I can’t even begin to describe how useful this is. Often the mere act of writing something down triggers further ideas and before you know it you’ve got yourself a large and in-depth journal entry.
It’s also a great way to get things off your mind. After writing something down it’s often easier to stop thinking about it as you know all the details are safely stored away. This is the same premise as the above-mentioned GTD system. It’s also very cool to go back and see how you reacted to a certain event or what you were thinking exactly a year ago.
A word of advice, if you are doing it on your computer, try and make it as lively as possible. Include the song you were listening to, a few pictures, whatever you want.
“The faintest ink is better than the best memory” Chinese Proverb
If you are struggling for ideas on what to write, let me introduce to you an interesting concept, writing a topic a day.
All you have to do is write a numbered list from 1 to 30 and by each number write a detail of your life you would like to work on or think about.
Firstly, spend a few minutes each day writing about the topic that corresponds to the day of the month. So on the 2nd of the month you look at the number 2 and see what you’ve put down and have a ten minute writing session on that. The brilliant thing about this is that it once you get into the habit it makes you follow rule number 4 and write everyday.
Secondly it’s a great way to be constantly reviewing your life. Instead of waiting until the start of a new year and suddenly putting in place half a dozen new goals and resolutions this allows you to change yourself in a step-by-step manner. Remember: you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.
Thirdly, because you have to cover 30 topics, you end up at least “checking in” with all the major parts of your life once a month. This is really not a bad idea! As a young man, I rarely think about getting old, but with this system it allows me to write about it once a month and I can begin to develop a concept of what it might be like to get old and how I can plan for it, both financially and mentally.
Finally, because the “topics of the day” are quite focussed, it’s very easy to go back (perhaps a month later?) and see what you wrote. There will, or should, be very few ramblings because you are aware that you have to stay on topic. After all, how much can one ramble in five to ten minutes? You will find that you will slowly develop as a writer and perhaps you will want to write about your thoughts and feelings on a particular subject and then share them with the world.
5. Watch a TED Talk
Seriously, if you don’t know TED, then stop reading this article and visit their website. Perhaps one of the best things on the internet.
It’s quite a simple premise: Get a large number of really interesting and successful people and film them talking about what their passion. Did I mention that is it free?
"Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." TED(.com)
It really is an amazing project and it’s something that I would love to get involved with one day. They also have a great mobile application if you want to watch the videos while commuting or out and about. This is perhaps the simplest and easiest things you can do to educate yourself every single day. Unlimited access to talk by people from all over the world about a multitude of subjects.
6. Dare to Daydream!
This is something that you get actively told off for in school! Daydreaming can actually be incredibly useful to the creative process.
As Nike, the Multinational Corporation, not the Goddess of Victory, would say: Just Do It. Spend a small amount of time without your any electronic distractions and be a little bored, you may surprise yourself at what ideas your brain starts generating!
Handy tip: If you are struggling to daydream, look up at the sky and take in the clouds. Try and make the different clouds look like something in real life. Make a game of it. Use your imagination.
7. Create something everyday.
This one is dead-easy. Well, being a composer I may slightly biased as I create something everyday as part of my studies and work but the concept itself is not that difficult. In fact, if you follow the previous five points you will be creating something everyday:
A better you.
Write a Haiku, draw something, sing a tune, take a photograph, do something. Otherwise you will regret it when you are old and you will look back and you will have created nothing. By forcing yourself to create a little something each and everyday you will create a positive habit that will blossom over time.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit” Aristotle
I hope you have found this useful. The point I wanted to make is that it doesn’t really matter how many degrees one has or even if you went to university or not.
What matters is to have deep and thoughtful education with an emphasis on self-development and understanding other people and cultures.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." Henry Ford