30 day learning challenge: World geography edition

30 day learning challenge: World geography edition

In the recent post “How (and why) to be a lifelong learner” I wrote about how constantly learning new things makes for a rewarding, meaningful life (and retirement).  Lucky for us, we live during a time when it is easier than ever to teach ourselves how to do just about anything.

With that in mind, I announced that I would be doing periodic “30 Day Challenges” where I will learn about something that interests me and then write about it here at the blog.  Hopefully all of you will follow along at home and each month we’ll be able to add something fun and interesting to our “life skills resume” like how to make a great omelet, plan a round-the-world trip or light a fire by rubbing two sticks together (hat tip to my friend Niel for that one).

The first challenge I undertook was to learn all the countries in the world.  To do it I downloaded an app from Brainscape called Learn Geography.  I usually learn best by repetition, so the flashcard format worked well for me.  I also used an app called National Geographic World Atlas and a website called www.PurposeGames.com which has quizzes so you can test your level of mastery.

The results?  I did pretty well.  After 30 days I can tell you where just about any country is located.  I still struggle with some of the tiny islands in Oceania (I’m looking at you Tuvalu), but I’ll continue to work on it until I have them down.

What are some of the things I learned as part of this particular challenge?

First, I learned how much of the news actually relates to countries that I know nothing about.  Just for fun one Saturday I read through the Weekend Wall Street Journal and made a list of all the countries mentioned in that day’s news stories.  I didn’t read every article, but here’s a list from those I did read: Turkey, Myanmar, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan, Spain, China, United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, United Kingdom, Scotland, Syria, Japan, Iraq, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, Falkland Islands, Peru, Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland, Vietnam, Iran, South Korea, North Korea, and El Salvador.  Simply knowing where these countries were located helped me notice stories I probably wouldn’t have otherwise noticed and also gave those stories some context.

Second, I learned it’s fun to do the challenges with someone else.  My friend Mike and the daughter of my friend Kelly did the challenge along with me.  Not only did this provide accountability (nothing motivates you like losing a challenge to a 13 year old), but it was fun to have people to talk to and gain tips and insight from.

Finally, I was reminded of how fun and rewarding it is to learn something new.  Constantly challenging yourself is a great way to keep your life from getting stale and boring.

What’s next?

So what’s the next challenge on the list?  I’ve got two that are on the drawing board.  Since a trip to Paris a few years ago, my wife has wanted to learn how to make croissants.  She and I will start working on that and I’ll let you know in a month how it turns out.

Also, we have a trip scheduled with friends this summer and the guys want to do some scuba diving.  One small complication:  None of us have ever done it before.  Never fear.  We’re talking to a local company called Diventures about getting certified.  That probably won’t come together until sometime in May, however, so I’ll keep you posted.

How about you?

How about you?  Is there anything you’ve always wanted to learn?  Hopefully these posts will be inspiration to start a 30 Day Challenge of your own.  Better yet, email me about what you’d like to do and we can work on it together.

Thanks for reading!  Have a great week.


How (and why) to be a lifelong learner

How (and why) to be a lifelong learner

Show me someone who loves to learn new things and I’ll show you someone who will most likely have an interesting, rewarding retirement.  Why is that?  Learning comes with a host of benefits like:

  • It keeps your mind sharp
  • It keeps you engaged with advances in society (Congrats to my mom on buying her first iPad!)
  • It helps you figure out what you like
  • It helps you discover new things
  • It gives you new people to interact with
  • It gives you something fun to do with your spouse or significant other
  • It provides personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment

And when I talk about learning, I’m not talking about learning in the traditional, sometimes boring sense of the word (e.g. What year did the Spanish-American War start?), but in the fun, practical, interesting sense of the word (e.g. How do you scuba dive?).  In other words, pursuing knowledge and experiences that enrich your life.

How about you?  Do you like to learn new things?  I love to learn.  In fact, every year I pick one or two things that I’d like to know more about and spend time learning all I can about them.  In years past this has included things like:

  • Learning to play chess (to play me search for joe hearn on Chess With Friends)
  • Learning to play the guitar
  • Learning how to run a marathon (and then running one)
  • Learning how to make a great omelet (hint: get the right pan)
  • Joining a Master’s (a.k.a.: Old Man’s) swim club
  • Taking cooking classes with my wife
  • Get my motorcycle license
  • Taking a travel photo workshop

One of the great things about our world today (besides the Snuggie) is that self learning (also known as Autodidactism) is easier than ever.  Gone are the days when you need an expensive education or lengthy apprenticeship just to learn more about something that you find interesting.  Now you can just sit down on your own time and access a plethora of resources, tools, apps, books, and videos on just about any topic that interests you.

Take photography for example.  For less than $1,000 you can have a camera that is head and shoulders above anything that Ansel Adams ever had.  The store you buy it from will likely offer free “Get to know your new camera” classes so you can learn how to use it.  To learn how to take better pictures you can download (for free) The Art of Photography podcast on iTunes.  Then you can edit and improve all those great new vacation photos you take using something like iPhoto or Snapseed (available in software and app form).

30 Day Learning Challenges

As you can tell by the name of my blog, I think being intentional is one of the most important things in life.  Everyone has ideas, plans and dreams, but those never really become reality unless you intentionally make them happen.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do periodic “challenges” where I intentionally learn about something that interests me and then write about it here at the blog.  And of course, if the topic interests you, you are more than welcome to follow along at home and pick up a new skill as well.

Some of those things I can probably learn to do in 30 days (like how to make a good omelet).  In those cases, I’ll write about the topic, why I want to know more about it, the tools I used to learn about it, what I was able to learn after the 30 days and a plan you can follow to do the same thing.

In other cases, it will take much longer than 30 days to learn something (learning to speak a second language, for example).  In those cases, I will spend the 30 days learning everything I can about how best to teach yourself that skill.  Then I’ll write about what I learned and try to give you a road map to follow if you’re interested.

In either case, the idea is to become intentional learners through a combination of reading, researching, asking experts, experimenting, practicing and improving.  Sound fun?

The first challenge

The first thing I’ll be doing is a smaller challenge, but something I’ve always wanted to know.  I would like to be able to locate every country in the world on a map.  You may remember the painful video a few years ago of the Miss Teen USA contestant explaining why most “U.S. Americans” can’t find the United States on the map (If not, you can watch it here).

I chuckled at that video, but in reality, my knowledge of world geography is nothing to write home about.  If you asked me to find places like Suriname or Macedonia, I’m not even sure I could get you on the right continent.  For someone who loves to travel and eventually wants to visit most of the countries in the world, that geographical ignorance will not abide.

So in the next 30 days, I will learn how to locate every country in the world (about 195 depending on how you count) on a map.  To do this, I will be using an app from Brainscape called Learn Geography.  The app uses a scientifically optimized algorithm to repeat flashcards in just the right pattern so that your brain will absorb the information.  I’ll be learning the countries one continent at a time and in 30 days I’ll report back to you on how I did.  If that sounds like something that interests you, I’d love to have some of you follow along as well.  Just download the app from the App Store and get started.

Don’t worry if this challenge doesn’t interest you.  I’ll make a list of some of the other ones I’m considering below and I’ll be adding new ones all the time.  Hopefully, something on the list will pique your interest (or absolutely feel free to suggest something to me) and we can channel our inner Polymath and learn something fun together.

  • How to plan an around the world trip
  • Learn video and photo editing software
  • How to tell a great story
  • How to play tennis
  • Gardening
  • How to simplify/declutter my house
  • Scuba diving
  • Learn about particular foods (coffee, beer, wine, olive oil, etc.)
  • How to snowboard
  • How to make great croissants
  • Photography
  • How to pack light for a trip
  • How to hike and camp (e.g. navigating with a compass, starting a campfire, backwoods first aid, planning a hike, etc.)

Thanks for reading!