Do you dedicate time to improving your mental fitness? Most of us believe we should take active steps to improve our physical health, dedicating time to exercise and making an effort to eat healthier food. However, many of us don’t think much about enhancing our mental fitness.
Go to bed smarter than you woke up.
Mental fitness requires exposing yourself to new ideas, considering opposing viewpoints, and learning new skills. Interest and inspiration sparks learning and motivates us to act. It awakens our inner creativity, shaking us from our apathy and triggering our desire to grow. Curiosity and a desire to gain understanding activates learning.
Learning takes effort.
Muscles grow stronger when you stress them until they fatigue. Your brain grows stronger through practice, repetition, and exposure to new ideas. Making the effort to learn leads to knowledge.
When you pursue a goal or explore an interesting topic, you are emotionally invested in the outcome — no one has to force you to learn. The emotional investment helps motivate you to do the hard work of gaining proficiency and competence.
I love learning but hated school. I felt like I was being told to memorize a lot of information but had no idea how it applied to me. My teachers did not show me how I could apply concepts I was learning in algebra and geometry classes to help solve problems in my life.
Unfortunately, few people actively pursue learning after their formal schooling ends. They may learn as a consequence of performing their jobs or being in relationships with people, but they are not seeking out methods and practices to improve performance.
You can’t just wait for inspiration to strike. You must seek it out. Expose yourself to inspiring people and place yourself in challenging situations. Look for books, podcasts, blogs, lectures, videos, and performances that will inspire you and help you learn. A lot of people in the world are doing amazing, inspiring things — actively search for them.
Time is your most valuable resource. We are drowning in social media and 24-hour news. Don’t waste your time consuming information that you will not care about next year. Focus your attention on topics you are interested in and want to master.
Read a lot.
According to a 2015 article by Kathleen Elkins on the Business Insider website, a study of 1,200 highly successful people showed that reading was a common pastime and a practice they use to educate themselves. Successful people would rather be educated than entertained.
- Bill Gates reads 50 books per year.
- Warren Buffett reads 500 pages every day.
- Oprah Winfrey reads one book per month, and her book club reaches millions of readers.
- Tony Robbins read 700 books in seven years.
If you don’t like to read, then listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Choose quality over quantity. You don’t have to finish a book or podcast that does not capture your interest. Move on and start reading or listening to something else.
Read or listen actively when you are alert and focused. If I try to read in bed before going to sleep, I rarely finish more than two pages before the book smacks me in the face. Reading while sitting in a chair in the morning works better for me.
Schedule time for reading. You won’t finish many books if you prioritize other activities and think you will just fit reading in when you have time. I read for 30 minutes as a part of my morning routine.
Compound your knowledge.
Compounding interest works in economics because you earn “interest on your interest” and your money compounds over a long-time frame. You can get a similar exponential return on learning by investing a small amount of time every day to add new knowledge. The more you read, the better you get at it. You will start to read faster, and your knowledge will compound.
For example, if you read 30 minutes a day you will read 183 hours over a year. The only way I’m able to dedicate that much time for reading is by building it into my morning routine. Reading the book Waking Up, by Sam Harris, and practicing meditation inspired my morning routine and has reduced my tendency to react to challenging situations, improved my focus, and given me a more relaxed start to my day.
You don’t get a lot of benefit from reading if you forget what you read. Write down important ideas and key insights as you read, and you will learn more and remember more about what you read.
I tend to forget things, so I take notes as I read instead of waiting until the end of the chapter or my allotted reading time. I prefer to use the Notion app because it is searchable and organizes my notes. However, using pen and paper helps reinforce learning, so use a notebook if you prefer. Notes provide a nice summary of all the ideas and insights you have learned.
Create a schedule to review your notes.
Reviewing your notes will maximize retention. Spaced repetition, as explained in this article on the Farnam Street website, is a learning technique built on reviewing previously learned material at increasing intervals of time. It has been proven to significantly improve learning.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time to practice spaced repetition. A typical schedule to review your notes may be one day after reading, then one week, then two weeks, then one month, then six months, then one year. Invest a few minutes per session to review notes. After I started taking notes and reviewing them, I noticed that I retain a lot more information than in the past.
Share your knowledge with other people.
Teaching other people forces you to internalize learning at a deeper level. Test your knowledge by first writing down your concept in a way that you could explain it to an eight-year-old child. This article on the Farnam Street website labels this technique the Feynman technique, named after the brilliant Nobel-prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman. This process will help identify gaps in your existing knowledge and help you learn faster with better understanding.
My recommended books and podcasts
I go out of my way to listen to people and ideas that challenge me. If I’m learning about a new topic or want to achieve a greater depth of knowledge, I seek out experts in the field that hold opposing opinions — especially controversial ones. Ideas rooted in truth always hold up to deep skepticism and scrutiny. Here are a few book recommendations, and the podcasts I listen to on a weekly basis.
One of many insights I am learning from reading these books is that the most effective intervention point to impact change in the world is at the level of the individual.
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (new abridged version with volumes 1, 2, 3)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz
Beyond Good And Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
Good Profit by Charles G. Koch
I spend a lot of time (1 to 2 hours/day) listening to podcasts. I listen at the gym, while walking my dogs, commuting, doing dishes, and waiting in line. If I’m not working or talking with someone I’m most likely listening to a podcast. I take notes while listening, typically I use use voice-to-text to record my notes quickly using the Notion app because I’m usually not in a position to write them down.
Personal Development, Psychology, Improving Society
Making Sense (Sam Harris)
Conversations with Tyler (Tyler Cowen)
The Knowledge Project (Shane Parrish)
The Portal (Eric Weinstein)
Akimbo (Seth Godin)
Technology & Startups
Greymatter (Greylock Partners)
Masters of Scale (Reid Hoffman)
This Week In Startups (Jason Calacanis)
How I Built This (Guy Raz)
The Joe Rogan Experience includes lots of diverse, interesting guests but I usually don’t listen to interviews with comedians/entertainers or the mixed martial art (MMA) show episodes.