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Learning, Hobbies, and Goal Setting

Introducing: Personal Philosophies and Learnings

After reflecting more on what I wanted this website to be, I decided on it being a mix of keepsakes. My philosophical and political posts will continue, but it will now also be a running memory of my life and the thoughts that shape it. This comes in the aftermath of deleting the last battalion of social media that I had vying for time in my life: Instagram. I thought, “Am I happy, or do I want people to think I'm happy?” – then, after little consideration, I deleted my account. With that, I figured if a moment in time is special enough to warrant a digital presence (i.e. Running my first 50K or sending a thrilling rock climb), then I’ll write a blog post about it to share my learnings and photos. If I want to share an aspect of my personal philosophy, then I’ll grab a cup of coffee and put pen to paper.

For my first personal post, it’s apropos that I discuss my thoughts on learning, and the how and what of my focus in 2024.

A story on my introduction to knowledge:

It was not until after college that I read my first non-fiction book. I closed the final page to Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari in my studio apartment near downtown Milwaukee and felt a sense of childlike wonder. How much did I not know about the world? And with the closing of that page, a spark of self-improvement was set in motion, though at the time I would not have called it that. I became obsessed, reading books from a wide range of categories (updated reading list coming soon), four of which resonated the most: History, philosophy, health and wellness, and social sciences. I was unsure of why I was reading these books, and of the nature of knowledge and memory (what’s the point if most of it is forgotten), but my enjoyment was outweighing any concerns. A quote I read from that time stuck with me as an easy way to justify non-fiction:

"I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me" -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Starting Sapiens while camping in Olympic National Park, Pacific Northwest
Starting Sapiens while camping in Olympic National Park, Pacific Northwest

The reading was opening my world to new possibilities. Range: Why Generalists Thrive in a Specialized World gave credence to the idea of trying new things. Neurofitness: A brain surgeon's secrets to boost performance and unleash creativity brought sanctity to the protection of my brain. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams shined a light on the importance of upholding a sleep schedule. Atomic Habits smacked me into better managing my time and routines. The lessons would continue, and with that, the start of a philosophy on learning, habit formation, and goal setting was born. The more I read, the more open I became to exploring new hobbies. With that exploration, I realized that goal setting, talent, and time all worked in tandem. To this point, I had always assumed that talent was abstract or non-negotiable: you were either born with it, or had yet to discover what your innate talents were. My stance here has changed drastically. As I stepped further out of my comfort zone, I realized that improvement in almost everything is the result of putting time towards a project. The incredible musicians and athletes that we look up to have one thing in common: they put a lot of time and practice into their craft. This does not apply to the glory jobs alone, though. Any hobby, workplace habit, or skill is the culmination of time and practice. I would argue that there is a variance in natural ability from human to human, but consistency and dedication will almost always win out. 

This was an important realization, because it means that if you are lucky enough to discover your passions in life, you can dedicate the necessary time to the craft to make it more enjoyable, potentially profitable, and improve upon it. Discover is a key word here – to this day, I often feel guilty for hobby-hopping. But, as I mention below, this is a necessary step in finding what resonates. This is where the conversation gets interesting (and conflicts with a lot of what I’m saying) with regards to human variance as I don’t believe in free will. How can someone have an ego with respect to innate intelligence, for example, if they played no part in being born with that brain? That topic will have to be a separate post, though, and is certainly a controversial one!

Where should I spend my time, then?

With my newly formed learner mindset, I became inclined to try new things (probably too many things). Coming into 2024, I looked hard at where I was spending my time and decided to make some sacrifices. I needed to identify what I was most passionate about and start to cut out the rest. A few lessons I’ve learned from trying many hobbies, and from having to select a few to focus on, is this:

  • Trying new hobbies is vitally important to discovering who you are and what your passions are in life.

  • You will be a novice to start. It’s embarrassing and painful.

  • The skills learned from any given hobby can and will transfer to other areas of your life, even if the impact or correlations are not immediately apparent.

  • And, the painful one: You only have time to become intermediate or skillful at a handful of things. Choose wisely.

This may not be true for everyone. I’ve seen new rock climbers skip the beginner phase and skyrocket to hard climbs right away. I recently spoke with a first time author who hit the New York Times bestseller list. This is few and far between, and often has its own drawbacks. For the accelerated climber, without fail, a finger injury occurs from not building the necessary finger strength before attempting harder climbs. There is a lesson to be had here: cutting corners usually doesn’t work, and if it does, you are probably missing out on building requisite fundamentals. The upside to the long road is that it is ripe with fulfillment if the passion is there. 

As for my 2024 plan, I started by listing out all of my rudimentary goals for the year (outside of my professional development and career goals):

  • Write my first fictional novel

  • Climb an outdoor V8

  • Become a better guitarist

  • Learn to draw

  • Read 24 books

  • Improve my meditation practice

  • Work harder on my blog

The list was too long, and not specific enough. I had to cut things out. To do so, I created a diagram (pictured below) that listed out my goals intermeshed with my habits to better understand where these goals fell in my life, and what contributed to achieving them. The ones highlighted in purple are the ones in which specific expected outcomes were attributed. The outcomes are not listed, but read like:

  • Write a Sci-Fi dystopian novel with a minimum of 55,000 words

  • Play three guitar songs in front of a small gathering (3-10 people)

This specificity is important, as it allows me to understand if I put in the work and time necessary to achieve a specific outcome. Anything ancillary on the diagram that is not colored, including baseline habits, should assist in achieving specific goals. I shaped it as a hierarchy, with the novel that percolated in my mind for a large part of 2023 at the top. It’s broken into three stages, akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

  • The bottom: The day-to-day or long term habits that are required for ultimate creative freedom

  • The middle: My hobbies broken into two categories (physically creative or mentally creative)

  • The top: My large goal for the year

  • The outskirts: My hindrances (these are personal – please note the caveat to video games and television)

I designed it as such to ensure that all my habits pointed towards, or assisted in, achieving ONE lofty goal for the year. I will assess at the end of 2024 if this methodology was beneficial. 

Forming a rudimentary idea of where to spend my time
Forming a rudimentary idea of where to spend my time

A New Grasp on Time (Finding and Protecting Your Creative Zone)

It took a lot of trial and error to find the things that fuel excitement in my life. Five years ago, I entered a rock climbing gym for the first time. I recall telling my friend on the spot, “I’m getting a membership.” It was love at first sight – I knew that I had found an exercise that would stick with me for a lifetime. In the subsequent years, I moved to Colorado where it would be elevated to new heights: The real mountain walls and outdoor bouldering problems solidified the passion, and brought a level of adventure into my life that I did not know was possible. The catch to climbing is that it takes up a lot of time. In my home life, I yearned for creative outlets. A few years ago, I invented The Informed Optimist, and started to learn how to draw and paint. This past year, I bought my first guitar, started taking lessons, and wrote the first few chapters of my Sci-Fi novel. It became clear that, time wise, this was too much. On top of my outlets, I have career and professional development goals that take a large portion of my day. After deliberating with a close friend, he told me that from the outside it was clear which goals and hobbies excited me the most. (Rock climbing, writing, and learning guitar.) It became obvious what I needed to cut from my life for a fulfilling year. With a better understanding of what I wanted to focus on, I needed to schedule dedicated time to the activities. To do so, I identified when I am at the peak of my focus and creativity for the day. For me, this is from ~5am-9am. I’ve had friends remark, “You read, write, and play guitar FIRST thing in the morning?” to which I reply, “Yes! It’s quiet, I have coffee, and nothing is pulling me in other directions!”  Identifying this time was vitally important, and I protect it at all costs. It has become my favorite part of the day, and sets the stage for a productive morning and afternoon. The climbing is reserved for after work and weekends.

At the time of this writing, I am 28 years old. I don’t know if it’s a busy career, something with growing older, or an increase in responsibility, but one thing is certain: the days are going fast. It’s clear to me now why “overnight success” is a joke – because achievement in anything is the result of incremental steps towards the goal, which can only be done day-by-day with dedicated focus. And for me, dedicated focus means setting specific hours aside for creative freedom.

The Pundits, Cold Showers, and Early Mornings

I understand that routine is not one size fits all. There are plenty of articles on the internet from CEO’s raving about the benefits of waking early, taking cold showers, and moving the body right away. Conversely, there are plenty of articles mocking this lifestyle and the caricature of a person that it represents. I know people who do their creative work late at night, burning the midnight oil. Up until recently, I thought I was this person – but, after giving the early mornings, sunrise walks, and cold showers a go myself, something clicked. I am often too tired after a full day of work and exercise to transition to creative writing or learning an instrument. So, the early mornings when I feel alert and refreshed is when I get it done. Without finding the creative space that works for me, and protecting it at all costs, I never would be able to achieve the goals I’m pursuing. It goes without saying that routine is contingent on life variables and is subject to change. I do not currently have children and work remotely, for example. That said, we all have the same hours in a day, and where you plant and water your seeds is where results will grow.


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