Why you need to always learn new things (not what you think)

The human brain is a constantly growing living organism that regenerates new brain cells (neurons) constantly. It craves to learn new things.

We’ve all heard the expression that the brain is like a muscle – if it’s not exercised, it becomes weak.

This is of course true. But the surprising thing is, it doesn’t become strong just in that certain area of the mental exercise. E.g., when we learn a new language, our brain doesn’t just get more fit in terms of acquiring a new language, but it becomes stronger in general.

For our brains, it doesn’t matter so much what we learn – be it a new instrument, a new language, or any other new skill. As long as you’re learning something new – may it even be juggling – our brain will be growing and becoming stronger.

Similar to lifting weights or running – you don’t become just better at lifting weights or faster but stronger and more fit in general.

Therefore the benefits are actually two-fold: you learn a new skill, and you upgrade your brain. And the more you learn new things, the easier it will be to learn new things.

Many people, however, do the exact opposite. They don’t seek out new experiences and surroundings. They do everything not to get out of a daily routine.

Instead, it’s important to be constantly curious about our surroundings and explore new areas, smells, surfaces, tastes, sounds. Meet new people. Constantly observe – do not shut down your curiosity. This will keep your brain from growing.

Research has also shown that people who don’t give their brain sufficient amount of exercise are more likely to get mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.

Do not let your brain become the equivalent of a fat person eating Cheetos all day and dying of a stroke.

KRISTJAN

How to instantly become calm and keep thoughts and emotions under control

Don’t try to shut down thoughts and emotions – they’re a natural part of us. Instead, do not get caught up on them. Experience but don’t run after them.

A perfect example of being caught up by our thoughts is explained really well by the creator of the meditation app called Headspace: thoughts are like cars on the road – they come and go. Don’t run after the cars; just watch them pass.

Besides, the thoughts will never run out either. They’re generated indefinitely. The more you delve on the thoughts (thinking about thinking), the more of them will be generated. You can think yourself crazy this way.

No matter how much you think, in many cases, you can’t think your way out. It’s because some things can’t be simply solved on a logical level.

Like anxiety – it doesn’t matter how much you think – you’ll never think your way out of anxiety. Most likely, you’ll become more anxious.

Focus on the present moment and at the task at hand instead. Thinking about possible outcomes and possible future scenarios will just make things worse – too many thoughts will be generated.

Thinking should be a tool – to be used when it is needed.

KRISTJAN

Use your unconscious mind

We need more stillness in our lives. There’s too much noise. Just think about how your mind is bombarded with constant stimulus every day and moment.

Most people make the terrible choice to wake up to the news, then check the phone; then there’s radio playing, e-mails, and messages to be checked, the traffic, people on the street, ads everywhere, construction noises, and so on and so on.

Because of all this, our conscious mind is in constant overdrive, which doesn’t let our unconscious mind to work. We greatly undervalue the power of the unconscious.

People tend even to think that if they’re consciously not working on something, they’re not working and wasting time.

However, it’s actually the unconscious mind that does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to solving problems. This is why great thoughts come to people when they’re taking a shower or walking in the woods. While the conscious mind is at ease, the unconscious can work in the background.

As Holiday explains in his new book, the stillness can also help to cool things down. Or even save the world!

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy chose to sit in the garden, go swimming and withdraw to reflect deeply on the issue. As we all know, he came up with a brilliant solution of placing a blockade around Cuba. He could’ve also immediately reacted with a vengeance – but things would’ve been probably very different in this world, had he done that.

If we get away from all the noise, we can indeed come up with greatly better solutions than our conscious mind would at the heat of the moment. All great thinkers understand this.

KRISTJAN

Be turned on by obstacles

Stoicism is most likely the best form of philosophy out there. The reason is this: it’s practical. It doesn’t require any debates whether this means this or that. It’s not an intellectual exercise.

The leaders of stoicism were not some poor rags either. Marcus Aurelius, who practiced stoicism, was at the time, the most powerful man on Earth. Seneca was a wealthy advisor. Epictetus founded his own school, where he taught great intellectuals.

These men talked about patience, humility, and compassion. To paraphrase Ryan Holiday: if you were a dictator, would you write about restraint and humility in your diary? Marcus Aurelius did.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Marcus Aurelius

Our society wants to avoid obstacles. We think obstacles are bad, and if we hit one, we get frustrated, angry, or sad.

The truth is, there will always be polarity. It’s the law of the Universe. There’s hot and cold, day and night, happy and sad, pain and pleasure. So, obstacles are part of life – they will never cease to exist. You will always have obstacles.

Therefore, instead of trying to avoid obstacles or being surprised by them, we should always expect them and not view them as something” bad” but rather part of life.

A good person dyes events with his own color … and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.
Seneca

Better yet, we should view obstacles as something good. We have so much to learn from obstacles. Without obstacles, we wouldn’t become better. It’s the hard times that make us stronger.

This is what Marcus meant with his words about obstacles being the way.

Next time you hit an obstacle, be excited about being able to learn something new and that you’ll become stronger. And you don’t have to take my word for it – read what Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, or other great stoics have written.

KRISTJAN

The Muse and her gifts

Apparently, Zeus had nine daughters with Mnemosyne called the Muses. They represent the source of knowledge for all things regarding creativity like arts, poetry, literature, and songs. Essentially they can mean “inspiration” for artists.

Now, I don’t know if they really exist, but I do like to believe that they do.

They come and give inspiration and ideas for artists – but – only for the ones who put in the sweat. They don’t care about talent or genius – they will not give away their gifts of ideas for free. They give you gifts only if you work hard.

If you’re an artist waiting for an inspiration to strike, yet you do not sit down to do your work, then the Muse will not respect that. She will not give you anything.

The only way to earn the Muse’s respect is to do your work every day no matter whether you feel like it or not – then you will also receive the gifts of inspiration.

Sometimes I have thoughts about quitting – that writing is not for me or that I have nothing to write about on that particular day.

Yet, I sit down, boot up my computer, open an empty text file, and begin to write in spite of all that. After a while, thoughts start pouring in. Sometimes they come immediately – sometimes the Muse will let me wait before she comes – to see if I really mean it.

Then I remember how much I enjoy writing and sharing ideas on my blog and how silly it is to think about not “showing up.”

This article is heavily inspired by Steven Pressfield’s blog post, and by his book the War of Art.

KRISTJAN

On being unapologetic

Don’t ever apologize for who you are, what you like, what you enjoy, and what you want. Be absolutely unapologetic.

Too often, people try to dumb themselves down, pretending to enjoy things that others do, thinking that then people will like them more. Or if they’re being asked a question, they try to construct the answer in a way that is politically correct. They give a nice little safe answer.

Our society has become insane in a sense that people are even afraid to laugh at certain jokes – they look around looking at others to see if it’s okay to laugh.

I think we should laugh at everything. Humor means that we’re secure about ourselves and that we try to break the ice around us. People who are always serious, always offended, are generally really insecure about themselves. They take everything as a threat – they think everything is about them.

We can start by freely expressing our likes and dislikes. To be more authentic and stop trying to be a people pleaser. What you’ll discover, is that people will actually connect to you more – they sense you’re not putting up a fake front.

A really simple and silly example is the whole concept of a “guilty pleasure”. I get that it makes sense if it’s attached to e.g., food, but people also use it when they’re talking about music. How ridicilous is that? It’s as if you’re not supposed to like certain music.

I like Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off – and by like I mean, I really really like that song. It’s not a guilty pleasure – I think it’s one of the best pop songs of 2010s.

Own 100% of what you are, like, do, enjoy — no apologizing.

KRISTJAN

How to stop judging others

For quite some time, I’ve been pondering about why do we judge other people so much and how to stop doing this.

We’re essentially little tyrants that want others to be like us and think like us. We get angry if they don’t. Some do it more than others, but we all have this tendency.

I’ve written about this a little bit before and came to the conclusion that this happens when we’re not living our lives the way we want. We’re unsatisfied with our life situation, and this makes us especially prone to criticize others.

People who are living their life to the fullest don’t have time to worry about others. The actions of others don’t even enter their reticulate activation system. It’s as if they’re operating on a totally different wavelength.

I recently started to read Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature, where he gives some very interesting advice regarding this judging. I wanted to share these with you.

He goes so much deeper into this and explains it way better than I ever can, so the following is really just a poor man’s version.

One idea that struck me was that we should view people as facts – a phenomenon to explore.

Most people are simply being run by their deeply hardwired emotions. When they act a certain way towards you, its nothing to be taken personally – you just happened to cross their path at the wrong time. It’s not about you – it’s just their brain.

We don’t get mad at trees, plants, or animals, so why should we do that towards people? We should view people as puzzles – trying to solve them or to figure out why do they think and say as they do.

When people go to war, it’s because both sides believe they’re right. Same with religion or politics or just about anything. Everyone believes they’re the rational ones, and the others are the irrational ones. The truth is, none of us are rational.

Everyone’s just doing the best they know. Sometimes they know very little, and therefore their actions reflect that. We can’t blame them.

Greene advises us to stop reacting to the emotions of others. When we react, we’re like a plastic bag in the wind – thrown around as the wind pleases. It’s very difficult to live like this.

The only way is to step out of this reaction mode and whatever people throw at you – you observe and try to understand why they do what they do – but you stay in your own lane.

KRISTJAN