Hopefully I’m not the only person heading into their mid-twenties to have found this, but soon after graduating university, I found myself feeling stupid. Without the challenges of writing essays, reading papers, studying for exams, preparing for tutorials and engaging in rousing debates, I found myself slipping further towards intellectual laziness. It seemed that without the structure of formal education, my brain decided to take a break, but no more! Last summer, I decided to re-engage my intellect and challenge myself to start learning in an informal manner with no other structure other than what interests me and whatever resources are freely or cheaply available.
Well, duh Captain Obvious, but it is important to move beyond just reading whatever happens to be the bestseller that year towards reading with a goal. I want to use my reading time to educate myself about an area in which I have little knowledge, or to read the classics of a genre I’ve never tried before. My current reading goal is to read one non-fiction book for every novel I read, but there are plenty of other reading challenges. You could read the English literature classics from Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, or read the complete works of your favourite author to fully understand the themes of their writing, or you could read the great novelists of your country (I’ll get around to Ulysses someday!) You can still read Twilight and The Hunger Games, but also add some depth and variety to your reading material. My e-reader latest read count is at 53 since September so I’m definitely succeeding in my reading goals.
Learning A Language
I know I’m not alone in this one! I learned Irish (Gaelic) for 13 years and French for 5 years, and can barely hold a conversation in either language. I could blame the Irish education system and the way it teaches languages for this but to be honest, my laziness is mostly to blame. It’s time to start revising my French vocabulary so I don’t lose what little I have left, and I aim to improve enough for my next holiday in France to be able to hold basic conversation in French. Memrise is a free language website with user-generated content of vocabulary lists in many languages. It may have also triggered my deeply repressed memories of endless boring French classes but in the last two months, I have learned 500 words.
Reading Decent Quality Newspapers
Put down the Daily Mail, block their website with tea and kittens, and pick up a decent newspaper or read a website which offers unbiased news coverage, insightful op-eds and longreads. My personal preference is The Irish Times and The Guardian for news coverage, and then the Twitter hashtag #longreads for interesting content.
What better way to get those synapses firing than trying to teach them a whole new set of skills, this can be anything from cooking, photography, crafting, DIY or anything which challenges you to learn and create. Photography has taught me about so much about how cameras work, how the technology has advanced over the years, how different settings like ISO, aperture and shutter speed affect a photo, and how to use photo-editing software.
Use Your TV for Good (Not Evil)
Everyone goes on about how watching television rots your brain, but there is a world of difference between watching endless drivel and watching informative documentaries, some of the best TV series and films, and using good news coverage and panel TV shows can all up your cultural, social and political knowledge. If you don’t have a TV, even watching a TEDtalk on something you’ve never heard about can improve your general knowledge. The TEDtalk by Ben Goldacre linked above is one of my all-time favourite talks. Watch it, it’ll make you think about science reporting in the press in a far more critical way.
Thinking critically and engaging
What’s the point of doing all this if you still can’t critically think about the stuff you encourage in your daily life and your quest for more knowledge. The main reason why I started this blog is as an excuse to be able to write up my thoughts about anything and everything that crosses my mind. I’m not very good at updating it for those purposes, but on occasion, I’ve used it to rant about politics and social issues.
So how do you improve your knowledge outside of formal education?