On my way to swim laps yesterday, I listened to the second half of the Happiness Lab podcast’s exploration of fun. In the episode, the host interviews a dad who had a giant Duh moment one day as he drove his child from chess lessons to music lessons then sat in his car in the parking lot to wait for her.
He realized he was trying to instill in her a pursuit of learning, yet he had stopped learning new skills years ago. When confronted with a novel activity he might learn, as an adult he figured, “Why bother? I’m grown, I’m not going to be great at it — I’m past my learning days,” and so he kept with the things he knows.
And then he said something that struck me: that learning a new skill is an exercise in mindfulness. Typically, when you learn something new, you are completely immersed in that thing. Your attention is focused on it. You are fully in the present moment. I thought about our recent surf lessons and realized how true this is.
Mindfulness feels elusive. It’s something many of us have to remind ourselves to cultivate. Learning automatically puts us in that state. Learning how to do something new requires that we concentrate on what is happening in the moment.
It provides another bonus, too. It relieves boredom. As an adult, I find comfort and stability in routine. But a stable routine can easily become a monotonous rut. After his Aha moment, the dad in the podcast episode, Tom Vanderbilt, decided to embrace being a beginner and to learn just for the sake of learning. I love this mindset. I have a million skills I want to learn.
Next time I feel bored, stuck, or stagnant, I need to remind myself to learn how do do something new. It will likely bring both novelty and mindfulness into my life.