After Juggling Projects and Priorities for Years...

April 20, 2021

After Juggling Projects and Priorities for Years...

May 29, 2023

As I slide the slippery slope toward retirement, I’ve tried lots of novel activities to keep my brain sharp and engage me in the way my career has. Unfortunately, most of the standard “hobbies” I tried were quickly abandoned because I compared myself to experienced writers, artists, singers and musicians.

It finally dawned on me what you already know from Chip’s recent post on being a Beginner as an elder: that my lifelong dedication to self-improvement and high achievement is not only exhausting, it is getting in the way of me enjoying this new phase of life.

Rather than self-criticism (which seldom worked), I decided to do something different this time: First, don’t do anything that my ego thinks she should be good at. Second, pick things that are fun and relatively painless. (Watch for my next blog post “Three Easy Steps to Enlightenment — No Meditation Required!”) And third, use the science of learning and behavior change to make it into a game and improve quickly.

It worked. So, if you are trying to pick up new skills, let me share some personal tips based on science and my experience so far.

1.
Don’t activate your ego. Take a detour.

I took up juggling. First, it is fabulous for your brain. Second, it has a shallow learning curve—you progress quickly. In a couple of hours of practice, I was juggling three balls.

And best of all, I don’t know any jugglers. I have never even HEARD of any jugglers. My ego can take a nap.

2.
Pick stuff that is fun to do.

At 20 and 40 you had to learn a lot of hard stuff. You will again. For now, give yourself a break. Enjoy learning. If drawing is fun, and your ego doesn’t care, do that. Macrame…you bet. Patio vegetable gardening…why not?

3.
Make it very private or very public.

One way to circumvent your ego is to practice your skill in private till you get the hang of it. Observation is very important to rapid skill acquisition: that’s what YouTube is for. Check out the dozens of good “juggling for beginners” videos. Eventually, you will want to get some coaching from a real human being.

Another ego-deactivation device is to make your practice very public: join a big beginners’ class, especially if you like group activities. You are one of many beginners and there’s no stigma or expectation that you’re going to be any good. You will be better than some people and worse than others. Perfect.

Whatever you do, enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously. Nobody is looking.

For more tips and tricks and good reads, see the books “How We Learn” by Benedict Carey, “Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning” by Tom Vanderbilt, and the hilarious and useful “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer.


Dr. Carla O'Dell is the chairman of APQC, an international non-profit research institute serving the Global 2000 for over 40 years, with a degree in organizational behavior specializing in cognitive psychology, author of three best-selling business books, and a frequent speaker and APQC blogger on hot topics and trends in the business world. She relished being in one of MEA’s early beachside-in-Baja beta groups. Hola, fellow COCO-nuts, Class of 2018!

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