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Exercise for Your Brain

We all know by now that being “healthy” is about more than how many pounds you can bench press or how little sugar you eat. Mental health, in particular, has taken center stage as a result of the challenges of the pandemic, and there are many other important aspects of overall well-being to consider – financial health, emotional health, spiritual health, etc. As somebody who works in the language education industry, I am keenly aware of the many benefits of education. Even putting aside the obvious potential financial/career gain to be made from learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge, the process of learning is good for your health. Learning in any subject area is a great “exercise” for the brain, as it not only keeps your mind sharp, it also has been tied to healthier, more robust brain cells. Use it or lose it, as they say – an oversimplification, for sure. But a truth nonetheless. Your brain needs to be challenged and exercised in new ways, just as your muscles do.

So how to continue your education when you have other responsibilities demanding your time and attention? How to fit learning into a schedule packed with work, family, and friends? It isn’t always easy to find the time but dedicating yourself to being a lifelong learner will be well worth the effort.

· First and foremost, PICK UP A BOOK. Reading is one of the most flexible and accessible tools available for expanding your knowledge base. Keep a list of books you want to read, check out your local library, join a book club. Reading truly is one of life’s most fundamental, most important skills, and it is an invaluable tool for us lifelong learners.

· Prioritize learning. That’s not to say you should ignore that work deadline, or ignore your kids all evening, but setting aside a specific amount of time each day for your learning endeavors will make it a priority and, more importantly, a habit. It doesn’t need to be long – 15-30 minutes per day will do it. If you have more time to devote, even better.

· Do a little soul searching. Don’t pick up a book about the human anatomy if you have no genuine interest in the subject. What subject(s) get you excited? Whether that subject is highly technical in nature or a seemingly frivolous topic, if it piques your interest, that’s where your focus should be.

· Embrace your inner child! Not sure what topic(s) get your learning juices flowing? Engage that curiosity that is so inherent to children. Look for alternative ways to do things or solve problems. Think about activities you enjoyed doing as a child. Were you drawn to the local creek and its abundance of wildlife? Did you beg your parents to take you to art museums? Or did you prefer to be out on your bike for hours at a time? Sometimes we simply need to reconnect with who we once were to remember what makes us tick.

· Action! Learning is best done by doing things. When learning a new language, you are most likely to be successful by being fully immersed in the language and culture. Interested in learning how to kayak? If you don’t get out on the water, that skill isn’t going to develop itself. Whatever your topic(s) of choice for learning are, practice your skill. Find a coach if you need to. Hire a tutor. Enroll in a class. Practice makes perfect!

· On that note, don’t forget the VAT. The Visual, Audial, and Tactile ways of learning. We all learn best in different ways, an if you know you are a visual learner, choose books or an online class that is heavy on the graphics. If you are a tactile learner, on the other hand, a subject that literally requires you to get in the weeds may be best.

· Pay it forward. One of the best ways to thoroughly learn a subject or skill is to teach others that same skill. Teaching forces us to consolidate our knowledge and helps to highlight any holes in our knowledge. You are also likely to gain confidence in your own learning if you feel others are benefiting from your hard-won knowledge.

· Have an end goal. It is difficult to fully engage in learning a new subject or skill if you don’t have a purpose in mind. Perhaps your end goal is simply to speak Spanish better with your Peruvian in-laws. Or maybe you want to be able to play tennis with your kids. Or perhaps you are learning to garden because you crave a pastime that is calming. Whatever your reason, know the WHY of your learning.

· Your body (and mind) is a temple. As with so many things in life, you will only be successful at learning a new skill or subject if you keep your body and mind healthy. Don’t skimp on the physical and emotional pampering, as well.

So do your mind and body a favor and take a few minutes to think about what subject(s) pique your interest. Whether it’s a subject that directly corresponds to your job or a subject you loved learning about as a kid, you will undoubtedly find ample avenues for learning with a little research and an open mind.

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