I am devoted to regular exercise. I’m also a huge proponent of lifelong learning. At first glance these two forms of self-improvement/self-maintenance might not appear to have much in common. But they’re both habitual practices developed over a lifetime. Physical fitness and mental sharpness are not best maintained in random binges or by hastily fitting in a few cramming sessions, but as part of an overall lifestyle.
Both also require a heavy dose of willpower and self-discipline. Dragging yourself to the gym isn’t always easy, and neither is working through a tough online course. To get out there and take that extra step, whether you’re working to improve your body or your mind, is sometimes more than you feel like doing.
Exercise and education are both activities you will always perform best at when your body and mind are properly cared for and rested. Overdoing it is counterproductive, so make sure to warm up, stretch, and cool down whether you’re working out or working out a complex statistical formula.
Learning and exercise both still have to be challenging, though. In order to truly do any good, something has to require you to make an effort, or you won’t achieve the result you’re aiming for.
The last (and best) similarity, though, is that both education and exercise become more enjoyable—and require less willpower—as they become ingrained as a regular part of your routine. Yes, you may be tired at first and might pull a muscle or two along the way, but getting off the couch and hitting the gym is eventually its own reward. As is building a new skill set.
Today, pretty much everyone agrees that making exercise a habit is a good thing to do, and there is a whole culture geared toward helping you develop and maintain that habit. Gyms offer both individual exercise machines and group classes in everything from Pilates to kickboxing, personal training, and even specialized preparation for competitive races. There are books, DVDs, and streaming programs to help you develop an exercise routine on your own terms, in a way that works for you. And there are numerous fitness apps that allow you to check on and track your progress, which motivates you to maintain your healthy habits. What starts out as a sporadic hobby hopefully becomes a lifelong commitment to keeping your body healthy.
Just like physical exercise, lifelong learning—keeping your mind open and stimulated—shouldn’t be viewed as a hobby, but as a vital pursuit integral to a full and healthy life, and possibly even a fulfilling career. Open-access courses such as MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) are a great way to pump up your personal development as well as your personal fitness. Much like group exercise classes at the gym, social learning opportunities (meetup groups, facilitated projects, online office hours, message boards and forums, networking, etc.) could make learning more enjoyable so you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Education apps, like today’s popular fitness apps, could help you stay motivated.
I believe we should all start viewing lifelong learning the same way we see exercise. Imagine how it would feel to always be keeping your mind in tip-top shape, exploring new challenges, reaching unexpected heights, and above all, creating your best self. A healthy, active body plus a healthy, active mind is an important equation, and one that can pay both personal and professional dividends.