The Self-Care of Learning New Things

Learning new things

Today’s big idea is that learning new things is a great, if perhaps unexpected, form of self-care. Although there’s nothing pampering about trying something you’ve never done and, let’s face it, probably doing pretty badly at first, opening your mind and possibly your body up to a new skill or discipline is a great way to keep your mind sharp, and to expand your world view.

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Beginner’s Mind

Maybe the most precious piece of learning new things is that it puts you into the state known in Buddhism as beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind is when you don’t have a lot of preconceived ideas telling you how things are going to go, so you can just be present and observant and see what happens. 

Not everyone will agree with me that learning new things is a form of self-care

When I was pregnant with my now 13 year old daughter, I signed up for a sewing class. I had all those nesting hormones surging through my body and they needed an outlet. And I’d always been curious about sewing. I thought it would be the coolest to make my own baby clothes. Sewing seemed a little like spinning hay into gold to me.

So I signed up for a class and wrote about it in my weekly email newsletter (it’s shocking to me that I have been sending out some form of an email newsletter since 2005, omg). And a reader wrote back to me right away to counsel me against it. She said, “Being a mom is hard. Being a wife is hard. Working for yourself is hard. You don’t need to add anything else to your plate.’”

I appreciate her concern, I see her point

But I wasn’t committing to making every stitch of our clothing and giving myself a new chore that I was responsible for. I just wanted to know how to read a pattern, how to operate a sewing machine, and try my hand at using my hands to make something that didn’t exist before. It was fun.

And even though it didn’t totally take–in addition to the wrap skirt I made in class, I think I only ever made an apron for myself, and an apple costume for my daughter’s second Halloween–I have been able to do simple things hem curtains and really appreciate hand made things so much more. It opened my eyes to things I never really thought about before and I say made me a better person. 

I asked on Facebook about the things that people are doing that help them feel like their best selves

(Especially things that might be surprising to people.) You know, not meditating, or volunteering, or anything super obvious  like that. And my friend Liza wrote in that she’d signed up for two online classes that were really helping her get out of the pandemic funk that had settled in. So I asked her to share her experience with us.

Here she is: 

I knew this winter was going to be tough with COVID. I knew that I would need some kind of stimulation.  So I signed up for two classes that I’ve always been dying to take, but just never had the time. One is the University of Rhode Island master gardening program.  And the other class is a mindfulness class at Brown university. Both have been really stimulating in very different ways.

The mindfulness classes I’m with internet people from South Africa, Portugal, all kinds of people on zoom, trying to improve their mindfulness habit and meditation habit. So it’s interesting to hear other people’s perspectives globally.

And then the master gardener program is very local. It’s all Rhode Islanders. There are hundreds of people are taking this class and talking about really specific things like bugs and insects on your tomato plants and what kind of fungus you might have. So it’s all really relevant to me. I’m so super excited about both of them and how it’s changed my thinking. I’m really glad that I took the bull by the horns and saw that I needed to make some changes in my life. And then I did it and that it’s been pretty satisfactory. So knowing that I have the self-efficacy to make some changes in my life when needed, seems really important.

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to jot down a list–it can be very very short–of things you’re interested in learning. Could be a language, an instrument, a song, a style of dance, a sport. Just put these interests down some place where you can find them again. The next step would be to find a resource–like a class or a teacher or a book–and think about where in your schedule you’ll make the time to practice. But for today, just capture the ideas. 

As for me, I’m wanting to learn how to play the Velvet Underground song I’m Sticking With You on the piano. I took piano lessons as a kid, so it’s not TOTALLY new to me, but it’s been decades since I played. Once I’ve got that down, maybe I’ll be inspired to learn a new instrument. Maybe. I’m starting small though and I invite you to do the same. Once you take that first step, the next one will appear and you’ll have some momentum behind you. 

Come back tomorrow!

When I’m interviewing Alicia Gauvin, executive director of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, about sex as self-care! You know you don’t want to miss that. 

And next week, I’m covering things people have given up in the name of being a better person. If you’ve got a story about this you’re open to sharing, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to me at kate@katehanley.com, and you could be on a future podcast! 

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