Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Ideas for things you can read, watch and do to expand your horizons and dig your way out
I’ve felt in something of a funk lately. I’m OK with that – it’s 2020 after all! – but this dull, grey, emotional feeling doesn’t sit well in my body or mind. Over the years I’ve learned to be with the dark clouds, see their lessons or take them as a chance to rest and reset; but I try not to let it go on for too long. One of my favourite sayings (origin unknown, it’s just part of me now!) is something like “it’s a nice place to visit, but don’t build a house there”.
There are many ways of getting out of such a funk, including some I’ve mentioned in other blogs (like meditation, broadening your perspective and journaling), as well as exercise, practicing gratitude, being of service, healthy eating and many other ways. These are all amazing for those short-term bouts of blue-ness, and when practiced over time they truly make a huge difference to your life. But when the dip is a little lower, a little longer, a little more existential, you need to call in the big guns!
One of the keystones in the ups and downs of my life has been learning. Love of learning is one of my character strengths, so that's no surprise! There’s a reason I spent nearly 20 years working in learning and development, with most of that time at universities!
When I plotted my life timeline as part of Reiki Master Teacher training, it was clear that learning was my preferred way out of the low points across my adult life – reading particular books, watching certain TED Talks, at one point voraciously absorbing nutrition and exercise information; more recently studying Wellness, and going to Reiki- and kinesiology-based workshops and doing yoga teacher training.
My grandad called himself an autodidact – one who teaches themselves (he taught himself the violin in his 70s and languages right up until he died!). I identify that way too, though have also been guided by wonderful teachers, both those I’ve met and worked with and those I’ve followed from afar (hello Oprah!). Learning changes your perspective, gives you something different or new to focus on, lifts you out of present circumstances and into possibility. It can entertain you, support your wellbeing and maybe help you be the hero at trivia nights!
We are in something of a global funk right now, and we’ll get through it. It’s OK if you’re feeling lost or confused, anxious or uncertain – but let’s not build a house there. Let’s find a way for you to learn, expand your horizons and dig your own way out of this year’s (or any year's) challenges!
I’ve listed a heap of suggestions below – things to READ, WATCH and DO.
Don’t be overwhelmed! It’s not designed to be an exhaustive list, merely a jumping off point. As you read through, feel into which ones are right for you or see what other ideas are sparked. Go with your gut and experiment a little!
Please reach out to discuss any particular areas of interest or if you want specific recommendations.
Things to read
Something you wouldn’t normally read – if you’re into historical fiction, try a sci-fi or crime novel; if you’re a non-fiction fan, give fiction a go. If you mostly read business books, read something for pleasure.
Biographies – there’s always something you can learn from someone else’s life and experience; whether that’s empathy, humility or something more specific from their story that relates to your own. Biographies I’ve read in recent years have illuminated so much for me – check out Melanie Brown’s Brutally Honest; Russell Brand’s Mentors and Recovery; Michelle Obama’s Becoming; Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father; Jonathan Van Ness’ Over the Top; Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik; and Reckoning by Magda Szubanski.
Books and articles on social issues – this year has shined a light on so many cultural and social issues, and it’s time we all took more seriously our self-education about race, gender, politics, climate change, wealth and health injustices – take your pick! From short news articles to longer pieces and books, there is an abundance of options out there. Find some that resonate with you but also challenge your current thinking or beliefs.
Long form essays and articles – we are so caught up in the social scrolling and headlines, that we’re on the verge of forgetting how to properly read. I’m as guilty as anyone, and I do find reading on a screen difficult/annoying. But it’s often worth investing some time to dive into longer essays and articles that unpack an issue or idea in depth, and magazines (remember them?!) that focus and pride themselves on reflective or analytical articles. Look at The Atlantic, the New Yorker, Quarterly Essay and the Guardian’s ‘The Long Read’. Check out longform.org for a whole collection, including the option to get a random article.
Things to watch
Like the suggestions on what to read, this is a real choose your own adventure. You’re the best guide to where you want to deepen your knowledge or understanding of something, or where you can stretch yourself or learn about something totally new. With online and streaming services we now have access to more options than ever before.
Have a look at:
Current affairs panels (e.g. Q&A, The Drum)
Investigative journalism (e.g. 4 Corners, Foreign Correspondent)
Movie and TV shows depicting historical issues and events. Think, 12 Years a Slave, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Queen, Schindler’s List, Braveheart – even if they’re overly fictionalised or even schmaltzy, there may be something to learn. Check out this list of historical movies on IMBD
Movie and TV shows depicting social issues – racism, inequality, health and healthcare, climate change etc. Here’s a fantastic list.
Things to do
1. Learn about yourself
There are lots of ways to go about this, from simple tools like meditation and journaling (they seem to be the answer for everything!), to investing in guidance from coaches and psychologists, and seeking feedback from trusted colleagues, friends and family.
Over the years I’ve found it valuable to understand my personality, preferences, drivers and blind spots – so I can have patience with myself as well as see where to put my energy. Check out the Authentic Happiness website (under the auspices of The University of Pennsylvania and Directorship of one of my gurus-from-afar Martin Seligman) for a huge number of questionnaires and quizzes based in positive psychology research (my personal favourites are Character Strengths, Grit and PERMA).
A disclaimer here – after years of using these tools personally and professionally, my advice is don’t get too caught up in the results. Don’t let them be the whole story of you, because they’re not. And don’t use them as an excuse for doing or not doing anything. I’ve come to see all these tools as different colours, adding to the Monet painting of who I am and how I show up in the world.
2. Listen to podcasts
There are literally thousands of podcasts out there these days – by people you agree with and people you don’t; about issues you’re familiar with and those you want to know more about; about history, culture, politics; journalists investigating true crimes and misunderstood events.
Podcast apps (I use Spotify) have curated lists and charts of popular shows, which are a great place to start exploring; or ask for recommendations from friends (I have so many! One might say I’m a little podcast obsessed!)
3. Sign up to online or in person courses
For a more structured learning experience, there are a myriad of paid and free options out there. Look at Udemy, Commune and Daily OM. Microcredentials are gaining in popularity and prevalence as a way of learning contemporary skills, particularly for work. And, if you’re ready and it’s right for you, consider jumping into formal education.
4. Find or create a community to learn and converse with
Reading and watching things or learning on your own is brilliant, but it will only get you so far. Humans are wired for connection. Most of us learn well when we are interacting with others.
Find people who you can discuss, debate and perhaps respectfully disagree with; people online, on Zoom or in person that can help you deepen your knowledge and sharpen your opinions. Perhaps it’s a book club, local community centre, faith-based group, private group on Facebook, facilitated discussion circles or a lunch & learn at work.
Creating spaces for exploring ourselves and our world is something on my agenda for 2021, so watch this space!
Take action – identify just one thing from whatever you’ve read or watched and put it into practice. Hundreds of tiny actions lead to big change!
Get accountable – tell people what you’re learning about, post about it on social media. Making it public gives you that extra drive to not let it slide.
Find your tribe – join Facebook groups or follow pages, find like-minded souls through teachers, friends or in your local community that you can discuss ideas with, get support from and feel like you're not alone on the journey!
Monitor progress – keep a journal (yes, that again!), develop a monthly reflection/planning ritual, set some goals and work toward them.
Above all though...
Always explore the ideas or issues that are of interest, in a way that feels right to you.
Give yourself a break! Take your time. Don’t be too hard on yourself or set unrealistic expectations.
Pay attention to how you feel, particularly if you choose to dive into difficult issues. There is often a thin line between something being interesting or educational, and it pushing buttons or worsening your mood (trust me on this!). Be courageous in your exploration, but notice when it’s time to pull back.
Seek support from loved ones and/or help from professionals – there is nothing to be gained by soldiering on alone (yes, I’m talking to myself as much as you here!).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Let me know what ideas have been sparked and what you start to explore!
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go" - Dr. Seuss
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