Cultivate Your Habits of Learning

I grew up in one of those wonderful families where when a question came up, then out came the big dictionary or the encyclopedia or the atlas or all three to try to figure the answer.

My mother told me that when she was a kid on Sunday's after church they'd come home, break out the Interpreter's Bible and look at the different ways the particular pieces of scripture quoted that day had been translated and discussed over time.

One of my fond memories of my grandfather, her father, is his insatiable thirst for knowledge and particularly for the origin of words and idiomatic expressions. Many times since his death I've encountered something and wished I could share it with him or ask him if he's heard about it; those moments make me sad, but also happy because I know I'm celebrating a curiosity about life that is a great memorial to him.

When you say to yourself "Hmm, I wonder…" don't just stop there; see if you can learn the answer.

With the web we've got so many great and easy to use resources, there's just no excuse not to keep stretching your brain every day.

For example, I was just wondering if seltzer water and club soda and soda water are all the same thing. Well here's the Wikipedia article on carbonated water. They are the same, it turns out, but different ones may have differing amounts of added salts, including none at all. Reading further though, I discover a paragraph about the discovery of a method of carbonation by Joseph Priestley in the course of various experiements and that reminds me of an amazing painting I saw in London: Experiment on a Bird in the Airpump. Reading further I find a link to the transcript of a marvelous NPR interview with the last seltzer delivery man in New York City. Now when I pour some bubbly water I'll probably think about the way people still 250 years later have such varied reactions to science or perhaps about Trafalgar Square or about paintings with a particular quality of light or about New York or about old people's kitchens and the things they make for you or about changing professions. How marvelous a transformation to make on an ordinary old can of seltzer water!

Celebrate Seeing

We are such fascinating animals with so many varied talents and few more inspiring than art. Combine that with memory, that glorious gift of our big ol' brains, and you reach something transcendent.

Watch these video of savant Stephen Wiltshire drawing panoramic views of Rome and Tokyo and look around with fresh and inspired eyes afterwards.

What happens when you take the time to look and really see details? What intriguing views do you encounter in your daily life? And how do they change with the time of day, the seasons, or over the years?

Maybe you don't draw very well, but just give it a try. Or write a story or a piece of music or a poem about the world you see. Or tell someone, a child or someone very old, about what you've seen. Or let the way that seeing in new ways opens up your mind and heart guide your hands as you make something, be it a quilt, a repaired car engine, a clay pot, or just dinner.

[Thanks to Jason Kottke, whose hands & mind take that energy and pour it into his excellent blog, for pointing out these videos.]

Whole New Taste

Today you're going to eat two things you've never tried before.

A good way to do this is to go to lunch & dinner with a friend and get them to introduce you to a new food that they really love. Or check out the produce area and see if there's something interesting and exotic.

So what's it going to be? Big wide world of things to try out there… 

Tell about your tasting adventures in the comments!

Two Priorities: Day 6

1. Work

What? Work on a weekend? Yes, because this time I want you to do something that doesn't necessarily relate to your present job but to your ability to do jobs in general well and with less stress.

Stroll on down to the library or your local bookstore and get your hands on one of these books or something else that's been recommended to you to help build skills you want:

– Getting Things Done by David Allen (to help with prioritizing your time)

– Don't Sweat The Small Stuff or Don't Sweat The Small Stuff At Work by Richard Carlson (to help with general stress reduction)

– Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug (to help anyone who makes or works on websites do it better)

– Wishcraft by Barbara Sher (to help with identifying what you really want to be doing)


2. Home

Yay! You have time to work on a project if you want, I hope. Or you could go to the movies or take a long bath. Whatever. Enjoy!

Discard the knee-jerk biases based on philosophical/spiritual affiliation

I know, I know, easier said than done, but watch yourself and see if you can catch yourself in the act of not listening as soon as you know that the person speaking (or writing) is a [insert belief system here].

This is particularly common across the boundary of belief and non-belief in God (or gods). Secular humanists are very quick to tune out the religious, missing out on deep insights and traditions of charity, and, as a most disheartening survey in the United States revealed, atheists are less trusted than any of the other groups listed (e.g. women, blacks, homosexuals, Jews, etc. etc.) despite their significant numbers and contributions even in a highly religious country like the U.S.

Try reading something across the boundaries of your beliefs. C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity have something to offer even a diehard atheist. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins or just about anything by Carl Sagan can help theists & deists understand the love & passion that the irreligious can bring to the world around them

If those are too big a jump, go read the humorous Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by atheist Douglas Adams or enjoy Sister Wendy's books and videos on great art of the world.

Discard World Ignorance

Take some paper and make three columns down which you place the numbers 1 to 243.

Over the course of the day, write down the names of every country you can think of.

To give you a little help here are the breakdowns by letter:
A – 18
B – 18
C – 23
D – 4
E – 7
F – 6
G – 15
H – 4
I – 9
J – 4
K – 8
L – 9
M – 22
N – 16
O – 1
P – 13
Q – 1
R – 3
S – 30
T – 14
U – 7
V – 6
W – 2
X – none
Y – 1
Z – 2

Now, using a different color pen, take a look at a List of Countries and see how well you did. When you're done filling and correcting the names you missed, go read the entry for the first of the ones you didn't know.

If you do this every week, by the end of a year, you'll know about the whole world.