Try Something New

Why It's Time To Learn Something New
the hands of a pianist in...
the hands of a pianist in...

By Art Markman Ph.D. for

It is cold and gray out. The winter doldrums have set in. The excitement of the holidays is over. It is starting to feel like a long year. You have probably broken all of your New Year's resolutions by now.

This is the perfect time to think about the future. Rather than finding some habit that has been plaguing you that you want to change, what can you do this year to give yourself a new outlook on life?

I recommend starting to learn something new.

If you are like most people, you spend the first 20 or so years of your life in school. You spend a lot of time learning new things. Every day is a frustrating adventure through topics you don’t know much about (and often aren’t sure you want to know much about).

After you finish school, though, you probably feel like it is time to move on. Enough with all of this learning, you think. Now let's get on to doing things. And so you spend a few years establishing a career, meeting new people and perhaps starting a family.

Before long, you may start to feel as though you are in a rut. The combination of a day-to-day routine at work and the stresses of family and friends (not to mention that cold gray weather) can make you feel like nothing new will ever happen.

To break out of that routine, think big. What is something that you have always wanted to do and have never done? Play a musical instrument? Sing in a choir? Speak Italian? Paint a picture? Make a scrapbook?

Now is the time to start learning something new. It isn't as hard as you think, and it really will change your outlook on the world.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Your life is really busy right now. There is simply no way you can learn something new. Where would the time come from? How can you afford it?

First of all, you really do have the time. How much time do you spend perusing the internet looking for advice? Do you wander through Facebook for 20 minutes a day? (Or 120?) Do you turn on the TV and veg for an hour in the evening?

Now, take all of those bits of time and carve out 30 minutes a day to learn a new thing. You won't learn it overnight, but those minutes will start to add up. Those 30 minutes a day is three and a half hours a week -- over 150 hours a year. You can learn a lot in 150 hours. And if you think about how much you will know in 10 years if you start now, it is pretty amazing.

All this learning can completely change your outlook as well. Twelve years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to play the saxophone. I had never played a wind instrument before, but it looked like fun. I spent a little money buying a cheap sax, found a teacher and started on my way.

It was immediately liberating (even if I wasn’t very good at first). Suddenly, I knew how to get a sound out of a curved piece of metal. It also started to change my outlook on all kinds of things. I listened to music in a different way than I ever had before. I began to appreciate songs that I had barely listened to before.

To make time to play, I stopped watching TV at night. That change gave me a little extra time to practice. My hope when I started was that after 10 years of playing I would be a pretty reasonable sax player, and I think I have succeeded. I even play on Sunday nights in the horn section of a blues band.

If you need some more inspiration, I recommend that you take a look at my colleague Gary Marcus's book Guitar Zero. He took up the guitar as an adult and wrote about his experience, as well as some of the psychology that relates to learning new things.

Try something new. I promise that you will be glad you did.

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