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Thinking is required

It doesn’t take much thinking to realise that schools and universities don’t offer a comprehensive education and can actually kill your creativity.

Here I offer my alternative plan for everyday education. You may not notice the effects each and every day but over time you will see profound changes in yourself. You have to start using long term thinking.

A quick word before I begin. I really believe that to study successfully, in or out of an institution, it’s necessary to be truly passionate about the subject.  When you are passionate about something it doesn’t feel like “work” when you need to spend hours going over something or when you need to burn the midnight oil.  Studying should feel like the right thing to do. If it doesn’t perhaps you are on the wrong path.

Anyway, let’s begin!

1. Learn a New Word Everyday

There is a high correlation between success in life and the size of one’s vocabulary. This is actually quite obvious. [Let’s not get into an argument about what “success” in life actually is: for the sake of this argument I will just assume it’s being at the top of your chosen field. Of course, there is much more to success than that!]

The more successful you are in life, the greater the number of abstract concepts that you need to think about. It also means communicating with a larger and more diverse range of people. To communicate your ideas effectively to them the standard vocabulary just won’t cut it.  Also, a larger vocabulary allows you to read a vast number of books and so you can  become the equivalent of  a human sponge. You can absorb many ideas from different cultures and evaluate them effectively.

Owning a dictionary is probably not a bad idea. I don’t actually own a dictionary – okay that is a barefaced lie, I’m sure I do but I haven’t opened it in years, I just use the internet. Well, I used to use the internet, now I just use my Macbook.

That’s why I love Macs, I’m just a double three-fingered tap away from knowing the definition of a word:


By the way, have you ever noticed that when you learn a new word you start seeing it everywhere? That’s your mind working for you automatically to cement that new word in your vocabulary!

Having a large vocabulary gives you freedom of thought! While the brain works in mysterious and abstract ways, our concrete thinking, which leads directly to action is often done through the prism of language. Just like when you talk to yourself in your head about the positives and negatives of a situation.

This was highlighted extremely well in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the fictional language Newspeak is created. It’s an attempt to eliminate personal thought by restricting the expressiveness of the English language.

So, it’s all good me telling you to go away and learn a new word each day, but how should you go about it?

How to expand your vocabulary:

1. Get Your “One” a Day

As mentioned above, learn one new word a day, but make sure you actually do this! Don’t learn three words one week, a couple the next, then have a two week break and then come back again. That just won’t work.



I can see you worrying already. How do I keep up with it all? What if I don’t have time? Where do I store all these words? All you need is to…

2. Have a System

I’m sure if you haven’t been asleep or living in a cave for the last ten years or so that you have heard about GTD – Get Things Done. It’s an organisational system for your entire life. It works very much like  an email inbox, except it handles all the incoming tasks and things you need to remember – including emails! I highly recommend you check it out and incorporate it into your life. You could use such a system to store your ever growing list of new-found words! Alternatively you can just wait  a little while, there may be an upcoming post on [hint hint]…In fact, hold on that thought and read my upcoming article!

Anyway, getting back to my original point, you need to have a system. This can be as simple as a piece of lined A4 paper or you can use software, such as Evernote, to keep track of everything.  All you need to do is write down your new word, the meaning and perhaps an example of it’s use in at least a mildly interesting context. Make sure to review new words everyday for a week until they have really sunk in.  Couldn’t be easier.

For the truly lazy among you: Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day, emailed to you every morning. There are no more excuses!

3. Read like a dog. 

Yes, I am fully aware than dogs cannot read! Ruari, the co-author of this blog, and I fell into the habit of saying “like a dog” whenever we did something difficult. For instance, when I was cycling up Etna in April I definitelysuffered like a dog. The original saying is “work like a dog”.
You should read everyday. Funnily enough this is also point 3 of my alternative plan on how to educate yourself. I suggest you skip ahead and read that.

2. Exercise Everyday

This point may seem slightly counterintuitive at first, but stay with me. There have been numerous studies that suggest that exercise does improve one’s capacity for learning. We’ve talked about exercising first thing in the morning before and it’s really not a bad idea, it can set you up nicely for the rest of the day.  It’s actually makes sense, as much as we may think that our brains and bodies are separate entities, they are in fact connected in ways that we don’t even know about yet.  A fit body may or may not help, but surely it’s better than an unfit body in supporting the brain’s workload? Note: This is perhaps the hardest point to follow in my education programme.
Exercising everyday is tough, both physically and mentally. Try it for a month and see how you get on.  Here’s a lovely infographic for you. Click to see the whole thing.

3. Read Everyday

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read

Mark Twain

Just think about that quote for a second. Imagine not being able to read. For starters you couldn’t follow this brilliant blog, but imagine how difficult life would be.  Imagine how difficult education would be without the ability to read. Imagine how difficult it would be for the human race to advance if all of us couldn’t read!

Reading is crucial and you should spend at least half an hour a day doing it. In this day and age there is no excuse. We have an abundance of cheap books via Amazon, and don’t even get me started on Ebooks!  If you are wondering what you should read, my answer is this:

Okay, joking aside I would say anything and everything. Remember that it doesn’t have to be a book, there are plenty of interesting blogs online! Another great idea is to read a random Wikipedia article each day. Not only does that force you out of your own comfort zone by giving you something that may be way out of your range of experience, but you may end up having some fun too!

If you are interested in books, take a look at GoodReads, a website which allows you to track the books you have read and are currently reading and then gives you suggestions based on those.

You know what’s the really amazing thing about reading? It allows you to experience other people’s ideas and points of view, as well as other cultures without having to leave your front door.  It’s almost like teleportation!  Reading also works like a time machine. You get to have wonderful conversations with people who lived hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.That’s real magic. 

4. Write Everyday

This is the flip side of the coin. You really should try and write every day, preferably in a  journal. It doesn’t even have to be a physical journal, something on the computer will work absolutely fine.  The point is to use your head. You can summarise your thoughts for the day and have a place to analyse your experiences. I can’t even begin to describe how useful this is. Often the mere act of writing something down triggers further ideas and before you know it you’ve got yourself a large and in-depth journal entry. It’s also a great way to get things off your mind. After writing something down it’s often easier to stop thinking about it as you know all the details are safely stored away. This is the same premise as the above-mentioned GTD system.  It’s also very cool to go back and see how you reacted to a certain event or what you were thinking exactly a year ago.

A word of advice, if you are doing it on your computer, try and make it as lively as possible. Include the song you were listening to, a few pictures..whatever you want!

The faintest ink is better than the best memory

Chinese Proverb

If you are struggling for ideas on what to write, let me introduce to you a cool concept:

Topic of the Day
All you have to do is write a numbered list from 1 to 30 and by each number write a detail of your life you would like to work on or think about.
Then, each day spend a few minutes writing about the topic that corresponds to the day of the month. So on the 2nd of the month you look at the number 2 and see what you’ve put down and have a ten minute writing session on that!
The brilliant thing about this is that it once you get into the habit it makes you follow rule number 4 and write everyday. 
Secondly it’s a great way to be constantly reviewing your life. Instead of waiting until the start of a new year and suddenly putting in place half a dozen new goals and resolutions this allows you to change yourself in a step-by-step manner. Remember: you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step!
Thirdly, because you have to cover 30 topics, you end up at least “checking in” with all the major parts of your life once a month. This is really not a bad idea! As a young man, I rarely think about getting old, but with this system it allows me to write about it once a month and I can begin to develop a concept of what it might be like to get old and how I can plan for it, both financially and mentally.

Finally, because the “topics of the day” are quite focussed, it’s very easy to go back (perhaps a month later?) and see what you wrote. There will, or should, be very few ramblings because you are aware that you have to stay on topic. After all, how much can one ramble in five to ten minutes?!You will find that you will slowly develop as a writer and perhaps you will want to write about your thoughts and feelings on a particular subject and then share them with the world. To this end, I shamelessly promote our Guest Post Submission Page. Seriously, give it a go, after all, what do you have to lose? I’d love to see what some of our readers have to say about the world!

The pen is mightier than the sword!


5. Watch a TED Talk 

Seriously, if you don’t know TED, then stop reading this article and visit their website. Perhaps one of the best things on the internet.
It’s quite a simple premise: Get a large number of really interesting and successful people and film them talking about what their passion.
Did I mention it was FREE?

Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world


It really is an amazing project and it’s something that I would love to get involved with one day. They also have a great mobile application if you want to watch the videos while commuting or out and about. This is perhaps the simplest and easiest things you can do to educate yourself every single day. Unlimited access to talk by people from all over the world about a multitude of subjects. Could you ask for anything better? Of course, there are plenty of other great video websites online:

  • Youtube has some great content but can also turn into a huge time-wasting machine.
  • is a great resource for documentaries on a wide range of subjects.

6. Dare to Daydream!

This is something that you get actively told off for in school! Daydreaming can actually be incredibly useful to the creative process. Don’t take my word for it:

As Nike, the Goddess of Victory Multinational Corporation, would say: Just Do It.  Spend a small amount of each time without your any electronic distractions and be a little bored, you may surprise yourself at what ideas your brain starts generating! Handy tip: If you are struggling to daydream, look up at the sky and take in the clouds. Try and make the different clouds look like something in real life. Make a game of it. Use your imagination.

 7. Create Something Everyday

This one is dead-easy. Well, being a composer I may slightly biased as I create something everyday as part of my studies and work but the concept itself is not that difficult. In fact, if you follow the previous five points you will be creating something everyday:

A better you. Write a  Haiku, draw something, sing a tune, take a photograph, do something. Otherwise you will regret it when you are old and you will look back and you will have created nothing. By forcing yourself to create a little something each and everyday you will create a positive habit that will blossom over time.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit


I hope you have found this useful. The point I wanted to make is that it doesn’t really matter how many degrees one has. What matters is to have deep and thoughtful education with an emphasis on self-development and understanding other people and cultures.  Do you have any ideas on self-education? Anything you do on a daily basis to develop yourself further as a human being? Let me know in the comments!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. 

Henry Ford


September 25, 2014


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