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Mission to Learn – Lifelong Learning Blog
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New Year, Better You

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Issue 8 – December 15, 2020

Before we dive into this issue, I’ll note that I’ve posted my annual thoughts on educational gift ideas for adults. So, if you are looking for ideas, check it out. But read on for the true gift of learning.

Now …

… it’s been a rough year to say the least. I won’t catalog the stresses and strains the world has been through over the past nine months. Instead, let’s look to the future. With a vaccine now in distribution, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon and the prospect for a much better new year.

So, how can we make the best of it? One way, of course, is to continue the work to be the best self you can be. Here are some brief thoughts on what that might involve.

1: Know – and think for – thyself
Ancient advice, eternally hard to follow. As human beings, we are notoriously chock full of biases, and most of the time we are not even aware we have them. Still, there is a lot to be gained by putting in the work to become more self aware, and as this Fast Company article suggests, there are practical steps we can take.

For me, a key reason to become more self aware is that self awareness can alert you to when you are simply being a sheep and blindly following conventional thinking. I love the way Paul Graham sums up the power of independent-mindedness in a recent essay (very highly recommended):

“…fastidiousness about truth and resistance to being told what to think leave space in your brain, and curiosity finds new ideas to fill it.”

May you find that space in your brain in 2021.

2: Plan for better
It’s pretty rare for “better” to just happen. In most cases, you need a plan. As Scott H. Young argues, planning can seem boring, but the benefits are huge – and, of course, Scott shows you how to do it. Key to planning is setting – and then managing – goals. That requires what is often the boring part: breaking those goals down into concrete steps that you can map out, schedule, and make part of daily action.

Dare to be bored for just a little bit and plan your way to a better year.

3: Practice (but not too much)
Practice, according to Steven Pressfield, is “a dedicated daily application of time and effort toward the goal of actualizing one’s higher self.” Sounds like a good extension of planning, eh? Certainly it is hard to conceive of achieving anything worthwhile without practice. Most meaningful learning, after all, takes effort. Of course, it’s possible to over do it. As Jeremy Dean highlights, rest – even as little as ten seconds of it – is also critical as a complement to practice.

So plan for practice, practice your plan, then rest.

4: Reflect and refine
Of all the practices I write about, reflection may be my favorite. Reflection is often where it all comes together – your self awareness, your planning, your practice – to create the thoughts that will lead you forward. Pausing and reflecting at set times or in the immediate aftermath of significant achievements or failures is powerful, but I also like the idea of reflection in real time advocated by Nick Wignall. However you do it, reflection always loops back to self-awareness, offering the perspective that is essential to real growth and improvement.

It’s a good time to look into the mirror of 2020 and reflect.

5: Give all you can
In one of my top albums of the year Jason Isbell sings “What’ve I done to help.” It can be easy to get a little self absorbed in pursing awareness, planning, practice, and reflection, but Isbell’s words help me remember that the point of learning, of personal growth lies in what it enables us to bring to others. We get better, ideally, so that we can help others get better – indeed, help the world get better. That is the gift of learning.

In 2021, what will you (learn to) do to help?

What’s your take?
I hope you find the resources offered here useful. Before we part ways for this edition, I’d like to encourage you to hit reply and share any details you are willing to on your learning plans for 2021 – and how you will share the gift of learning.

And, as always, if you have questions or I can be of help in any way, just let me know. Also, don’t forget that you can access past issues here.

Best regards,

Jeff

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