It’s time to upgrade yourself to version 2.0.
Every year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sets himself an annual challenge of self-improvement. In 2010, he learned Mandarin. In 2011, he vowed to eat only animals he had killed himself. Last year, he set himself the goal of reading a new book every week. Take inspiration from Zuckerberg and change your life for the better. Like they say, change starts from within.
Learn a new language
It might sound like an impossible task, but according to language experts, you can learn communication skills in weeks and master the basics of a foreign language in just a few months. While you might not reach the fluency that allows you to understand great foreign literature classics, you can still quickly master conversational skills that will meet most people’s needs for work or tourism.
It’s been proven that the fastest way to learn a new language is to just immerse yourself completely in the culture. But if you can’t take a few months off to go live overseas there are some other options that will help. Consume as much media in your chosen language as you can: read foreign language books and watch foreign language TV shows without the subtitles on.
If you’re just starting out, read illustrated children’s books or watch familiar films so you know what’s going on. One of the best ways to improve your skills is to regularly converse with native speakers - without resorting to English when you have trouble communicating. If you’re having trouble finding people that speak your language locally, check out italki.com, a language social network that connects native speakers and teachers with students. Your smartphone can help too.
Language apps like Duolingo, which uses a game-style system where users receive experience points for every correct answer, can make language learning more accessible and fun. Other useful apps include AnkiApp, which uses a more traditional flash-based memorization technique, and Babbel, which focuses more on recognition and repetition.
Learn a musical instrument
When it comes to learning a musical instrument, technique is everything. Yes, you might be able to pick up a guitar and learn how to play a few of your favorite songs without too much effort, but if you’re learning bad habits, you’re only doing yourself a disservice in the long run. If you can afford it, get lessons from a real teacher, at least when you’re just starting out. Many online lessons or apps can show you what to do, but if you’re unsure about anything – your posture, how to hold your instrument, how to hold your hand etc. you might end up just reinforcing bad techniques that will be harder to unlearn in future.
An actual teacher will be able to assess your technique and correct you early on. When it comes to practice, start by choosing a simple song, or even just a portion of that song - anything from a few notes to eight measures will do and practice meticulously with an emphasis on technique and accuracy. Every time you practice, use your smartphone to record yourself. By being able to hear what you play, you can easily assess where your strengths are, and where you need to improve. Maybe you’re hitting the right notes, but you’re playing too slow? Now you know you need to work on your speed.
JUST FOCUS ON DOING ONE THING AT A TIME: SINGLE-TASK, DON’T MULTI-TASK. WHEN YOU’RE WALKING, JUST WALK. WHEN YOU’RE EATING, JUST EAT.
Expand your resume
If you don’t think you’re getting anywhere in your current job, maybe it’s time to expand your resume. Add to your skill base by attending online classes at Coursera.com or Apple’s iTunes U, both of which offer free interactive online classes by major universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Princeton on topics from Accounting and Business Administration to Art History and Music Theory.
The format varies based on the platform and class you choose, but the bottom line is almost always the same: spend some time watching video lectures, reading course materials, and engaging with other users in discussion. You won’t always get a formal certification, but you will walk away with new skills and knowledge.
If you’re interested specifically in picking up computer programming (one of the most in-demand skills today), we suggest Codecademy.com. Unlike Coursera and iTunes U, Codecademy is based more on practical application rather than theory. So instead of just explaining coding to you, the system will guide you through real coding exercises until you get the hang of it. For most people, it’s an easier way to learn.
Be more zen
“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” – Shunryu SuzukiIf you ever feel that your life is too stressful, too chaotic and too disorganized, you could probably heed the advice of Soto Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. One of the best ways you can unclutter your life is to just focus on doing one thing at a time: single-task, don’t multi-task. When you’re walking, just walk.
When you’re eating, just eat. Don’t try to knock off a few tasks while doing other things. It may seem more efficient, but really you’re just getting into the habit of not devoting your attention entirely to one task. You don’t give your all to that task, and the results are never as good as they could have been. When it comes to each task in your day, put your mind completely on it. If possible, don’t move on to the next task until you’re finished.
Try to schedule your day to give time between tasks so you’re not always rushed for time. If you fill your entire day with tasks, you end up rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you’re doing.Create order out of chaos by scheduling certain activities for the same time every day. Zen monks designate certain times for prayer, eating, cleaning and exercise, and you can do the same thing. Don’t exercise whenever you can squeeze in the time, make it a daily (or weekly ritual) to maintain order.