Living on Purpose: Continuous Learning

In Habitually Living on Purpose, I mentioned how I am focusing on habits this year in an attempt to live according to my Life on Purpose statement: My Life on Purpose is a joyful life of freedom, continuous learning, encouraged and supported creativity, insatiable curiosity, and prolific creation, driven by passion and a desire for excellence, powered by a healthy body and soul.

Last time, I wrote about working on habits to help me work on the “powered by a healthy body” aspect of my purpose statement. Today, I’ll focus on the “continuous learning” part.

I once read that you should commit to learning at least one new thing each day. I decided to make it a real habit.

Now, each day we learn all sorts of trivia and minutia, and we live in a fascinating world where we could learn a hundred things a day about how an antenna works or how dogs evolved to recognize the gaze of humans while wolves haven’t or that animals can grieve.

But that seems too easy. I could just click links posted on Twitter all day, but I’m not really learning anything useful, am I? Not unless I become a TV repairman or an animal whisperer.

Cat whisperer It didn’t quite work out for me.

These bits of trivia and data are cool, and they probably help me with being creative in ways I don’t see yet, but I’m more interested in learning something personally useful. Learning when chess was invented doesn’t count, but learning how to do the Alekhine’s Defense in a chess game would.

On February 29th, I started writing “Yesterday’s lesson” posts on my Google+ account. That first post was about human proportions, since I was getting back into doodling.

And somehow, without fail, I have posted a new lesson each day. Sometimes the lessons are based on my work learning JavaScript through the Codecademy. Sometimes the lessons come from books I’m reading. Sometimes they come from observations I’ve made during game development.

So it is safe to say that I’ve instilled this habit of posting what I have learned from the previous day. What’s interesting is that the habit isn’t directly related to learning. It’s merely reporting, which is less about learning and more about accountability. So shouldn’t I have a habit that gets me to specifically learn something new as well?

I thought I needed to do so at first. I would try to set aside an hour to learn JavaScript each day, for instance. I basically blocked out some learning time, but on days when I had to drastically change my schedule due to an emergency or one-off errands that were urgent, what then?

What I found was that as nice as the blocked off time was, I didn’t really need it as much. Because I know I’ll be writing a “Yesterday’s lesson” the next day, I find myself motivated to make an effort to find something to learn if I haven’t done so in the normal course of the day. There were a few days where I couldn’t easily remember what I had learned the previous day, but I made myself write a post anyway, which sometimes meant searching through my browser history to jog my memory. You could argue that I must not have really learned it, but there’s a difference between learning a lesson and being able to recall the learning. B-) Still, apparently the pain of sitting there unsure of what to post seems to have gotten me to subconsciously seek out specific things to write about for the next day.

If I need to do research for some work I’m doing, I realized that I already had something to report. For instance, I learned how to create custom star badge for an ad I was making for ISVCon. This past weekend I had my bachelor party, and I realized that I didn’t spend part of the day reading or working, yet I learned that Jameson and serrano peppers are not a fun combination for your mouth.

Sometimes I’d stay up a little later reading before going to sleep. Reporting what I learned the next morning then becomes a review, which helps me remember the salient points instead of mindlessly consuming content. Recently in lieu of watching old episodes of “Star Trek” on Netflix during lunch, I find myself listening to audiobooks such as The E-Myth Revisited, and I recently found a very similar lesson about how vital the right metrics are for a business between it and The Lean Startup.

So it is interesting that unlike exercising, in which the habit is directly related to the benefit, in this case, the habit I formed was indirectly encouraging me to continuously learn. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have anything to report, and even though no one else is really expecting me to do so, I would feel like I was letting someone down if I missed a day. Well, in reality, I would be letting myself down. I’m just being more public with my self-accountability.

There are ways I’d like to improve this habit. For now, it feels too haphazard, as if the learning isn’t focused enough. One day I learn something code-related, and the next I learn something about business, but there’s no connection between the two. If I really wanted to learn Italian, for instance, I’d dedicate time every day to it. I wouldn’t space it out over the course of a year.

Recently I read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and now I’m reading Hugh MacLeod’s Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. When I’m finished with that book, I would like to follow it up with another book on creativity. Or a documentary on creativity. Or something related to the same subject until I feel I’ve sprinted enough with it before exploring a different subject.

In any case, I’m pleased with this habit so far. In pursuing continuous learning, I now feel like I more easily recognize the opportunity for a lesson when it appears. And who knows? Maybe I’ll finally figure out how to be a Cat Whisperer one day.

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