Most of us tend to get carried away in our work lives, perhaps, passionately at that, getting better and better at it as we learn the nuances of our trade. But not many of us get to learn completely new skills outside of our work. And even fewer of us get to master any of these new skills. This piece in the Outside highlights the mental benefits of both picking up a new skill and mastering it.
“…both the early and the late stages of skill acquisition feature unique benefits despite their varied difficulties.
…When author and Outside contributing editor Tom Vanderbilt had his daughter, he, like so many other new parents, spent endless hours in awe of her capacity to learn new things and the joy those processes brought her. This got Vanderbilt thinking: When was the last time I learned anything new? So began his journey to learn five new skills—chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling—which he details in his latest book, Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning. Vanderbilt makes a compelling case that learning something new has myriad advantages, including promoting the brain’s ability to rewire itself, connecting you to new people and new communities, and reengaging our innate curiosity and open-mindedness. While all of these offer tremendous benefits, that last one may be the most important.
One of the big five personality traits is openness to experience (the others are conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Research shows that individuals who score high in this trait tend to have a richer life experience. They are more aware of what is going on around them, and in turn they feel more complex emotions because they’re accustomed to processing incompatible information. A 2016 study of school children in China showed that this trait is associated with enhanced intelligence and creativity. And last, but certainly not least, particularly in these times of change and disorder, openness to experience is also a good way to prevent anxiety.
While some people are terrified to try anything new, there are also people who are perpetual dabblers that never go on to master anything. This, too, leaves much on the table.
…Mastery, or throwing yourself fully into an activity and pursuing even the most incremental gains (i.e., the last 20 percent), is good for the mind and body. It teaches patience, self-determination, and persistence, and it’s the perfect antidote to the ephemeral, silver-bullet, hack-filled, dopamine-chasing ethos we find ourselves in today. It is one thing to keep going when everything is hunky-dory, when you are making swift and observable progress. It is another to keep going when you reach a stubborn plateau. Mastery teaches you about the latter.”

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