It's that time of year when everyone heads to the gym to fulfill their resolution to 'get healthy' in 2016, and whilst maintaining your physical health is important we often forget that keeping our mind active plays a huge part in our overall well being.
If you're like me then there are lots of things you say that you'd eventually like to learn. They might even have appeared in your new year's resolutions in the past. But how often do we actually set our minds to achieving the task?
Many studies have linked ongoing learning to improved cognitive function into old age, not to mention the confidence building and satisfaction of learning a new skill.
The problem is with our increasingly busy lives we don't always have the time or the money to pay for an expensive tutor, or sign up to an evening training course. So with that in mind, here is a list of five things that can be self-taught. I have personally tried them all myself. All you need is yourself, your bedroom or living room, and some will power!
1) Learn a language
This is probably the most common one that falls by the wayside. Although it's something a lot of us say we want to do, it can be easy to put it off unless it's absolutely necessary.
Having an extra language not only improves your opportunities for travel and jobs, but aside from the practical benefits, it could actually help to maintain your cognitive function. Studies have shown that being bilingual actually reduces the age of onset for dementia by up to 5 years.
Language apps such as Duolingo are a great way to start learning the basics. You can pick up and practice vocabulary whilst on your way to work, on the bus or the train. Then when you're ready to start to start practicing out loud, there are plenty of websites such as Verbalplanet where you can hire native speakers of the language to give you skype lessons. Meaning that you can become fluent in most languages without ever having to leave your bedroom!
How many times have you listening to someone strumming the Eagles on a guitar, and thought 'I wish I could do that.'? Playing guitar, or any instrument can be a great way to alleviate anxiety, providing a creative outlet and somewhere to focus your mind. Not only that but some studies have shown that training your brain to play music can increase executive functions (EF), enabling people to quickly process and retain information, regulate behaviours, make good choices, solve problems, and plan and adjust to changing mental demands.
The good news is that with the amount of tutorials online now learning has never been easier (provided you're willing to put in the hours.) There are hundreds of YouTube videos that take you through the very beginning steps of learning to play a song with as little as two chords! I mainly used Andy's guitar but there are plenty of other free ones to choose from.
3) Start a blog
We live in a very exciting time where we can write about the things we are passionate about, and potentially millions of people will read it. Not only can this be cathartic, and stress relieving,if you enjoy writing, but it is also a great way of connecting with a network of people with similar interests.I have personally found blogging to be the best way of honestly talking about my own experiences, sharing my opinion, and reaching out to huge audiences
To set up your own blog this is what you need to do.
• Choose a free back end content management system (CMS) that can be used to upload all your new articles. I find Wordpress very easy to use, but Blogger is also a good platform.
• The last step is to set up web hosting. You sign up and pay a monthly fee to the hosting site and in return they give you somewhere for your blog to live! Hostgator, 123.reg and Easyspace are all good examples.
The feedback and comments you get will be a very worthwhile reward to the effort you put in. Trust me!
The mental health buzzword of the past few years that EVERYONE seems to be talking about is mindfulness meditation. If you haven't heard of it, mindfulness is the practice of a combination of relaxation techniques, breathing and meditation that intends to alleviate stress and anxiety and silence the mind. When taught properly it can be very effective, with some studies claiming that it has better success rates than antidepressants for treating mild depression. Thankfully to achieve inner zen you don't have to pay an extortionate amount for an 8 week course at your local wellness centre. I signed up to a website called Headspace, and find it a great tool to help me calm my mind before bed, or when I'm feeling particularly stressed. The first 10 sessions are free, and then you have to pay a subscription, but I found that by session 10 I was able to remember the process, and can now do it alone without the need for audio guidance.
5) Writing fiction
How many of us have said to ourselves that one day we would like to write a book? You then sit down to begin writing your masterpiece and...nothing. Writing can be a fantastic creative outlet for your mind, allowing you to explore ideas from your past and present in a safer way than talking about them out loud. What most of us don't consider is, like anything, being able to write takes practice and technique, and you CAN teach yourself this.
The Open University run free online creative writing courses to introduce you to the basics of becoming a fiction author, whilst Futurelearn also run similar courses all of which usually require 3-5 hours a week study.
A recent book by Joseph Kaufman made the claim that it takes only 20 hours to learn a new skill. Whether or not we believe this to be true, 20 hours would certainly be a step in the right direction, and may just give your brain that workout it's been waiting for. Happy learning!