9 Ways to Cultivate Intellectual Wellness
Since I'm out of school for the summer and suddenly have a lot of time on my hands (time previously spent buried in textbooks), I've been focusing on my intellectual wellness. So this will be the topic for the first of a series of posts about how to improve the different dimensions of your wellness. (Check out this post for a complete overview of wellness.)
Here's an overview of the different strategies to improve intellectual wellness:
Read to learn
Research your interests on Wikipedia (no seriously I explain why below)
Listen to an audiobook
Listen to a podcast
Play a game
Practice a skill or hobby
Pursue a creative outlet
Keep a learning journal
Explore counter-arguments to your beliefs
Keep reading to learn how these strategies improve intellectual wellness and how you can implement them in your life.
Read to Learn
Well duh, you might be about to say. Is the rest of this list going to be so obvious? Reading seems so obvious and is almost always mentioned in lists like these, but that's because it really is a great way to stimulate your brain.
I don't mean read fantasy or romance or science fiction (although reading fiction is still a great pass time.) Choose a non-fiction book that will help you expand your worldview, learn a skill, or challenge your thinking.
A great book to read if you want to learn about sustainability is The Story of Stuff. Author Annie Leonard looks in depth at the life cycle of the stuff we make and use and points out flaws in this system. My favourite part is that she provides tons of actionable advice!
Research your Interests on Wikipedia (and Discover New Ones)
If you're not ready to commit to a non-fiction book, start with a Wikipedia page or article!
Yes, I am seriously recommending reading Wikipedia articles. While professors and teachers may bash Wikipedia, it's a really good place to get an overview of subjects you're interested in. As my secondary school librarians used to say: Wikipedia articles are a great jumping-off point.
Plus, there's a Wikipedia article for almost everything. There are Wikipedia articles that just list other articles for specific subjects, like this one about culture. It's awesome. Plus, if you get the Wikipedia app on your phone you can substitute it for less productive apps (and you can bookmark articles to read later that the app will download so you can read them offline.)
Also, I know Wikipedia asking for donations is a bit of a meme, but the Wikimedia Foundation is actually an awesome super cool non-profit that I support because they are champions for the free access to knowledge, it is definitely worth a read even if you can't afford to donate.
Listen to an Audiobook
It can be hard to find the time to sit with a book and read, especially when it's a physical book you have to carry around. Plus, we can usually find something else to do. But consider all the time we spend during the day where our hands are busy but our minds aren't actually working. E.g doing the dishes or tidying up your space.
This is all time that could be used to listen to an audiobook. It also makes all those mindless tasks more enjoyable. (I look forward to doing chores now and was able to make running tolerable for myself). This is a technique called temptation bundling, which I first heard about in an Audible Original Podcast about habits.
If you're a fidgety person and the idea of sitting and listening to a book is unappealing, you could also play a simple game on your phone to keep your hands busy while you listen.
Currently, I'm listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel which explores why human history played out the way it has, and it is so interesting. The author, Jared Diamond, is an evolutionary biologist who explores why human societies are the way that they are today. All the way from farming to government.
Listen to a Podcast
The different tools podcasts employ, compared to an audiobook, such as having guests, using music, and playing recordings is a different (in a good way) experience for learning things.
Audible has a great series of original podcasts that explore different wellness topics such as meditation, happiness, and habits. Plus, with your audible membership, you can download all the audible original podcasts for free!
Other places to listen to podcasts (for free) are the Apple podcasts app, Google Play Music, and Spotify. If you want to pay for an app that is specifically designed for podcasts (and has more features), check out Overcast or PocketCasts.
Play a Game
This is probably the most fun way to build intellectual wellness. It can also improve your social wellness if you play with others. Of course, some games are going to be better for your intellectual wellness than others. Here are my suggestions:
Strategy-based board games
Word searches and crossword puzzles
Practice a Skill or Hobby
Gardening, sewing, cooking, crafting... there's a long list of skills that we can benefit from learning and improving. Many of these skills can also help you become more independent, more sustainable, and can help you save money.
Practicing skills can be really fun. The key is to not become disheartened by failure and to instead take it as a sign of progress. Skills are usually interactive, which stimulates your mind. And learning new things builds neural pathways in your brain.
Pursue a Creative Outlet
Playing an instrument is great for intellectual wellness. Even if you only start as an adult, you can still get many of the brain-boosting benefits of music. And music isn't the only creative outlet, either.
There's sketching, painting, knitting, writing, journaling, and more! Trying out different pursuits, and diversifying yourself keeps your brain stimulated and cultivates creativity.
Keep a Learning Journal
Sometimes we read things that are super interesting or powerful and we want to remember them. Having a place to write these down, whether it's physical or digital, is great for your intellectual wellness.
It's a form of active reading as you're looking for interesting ideas to note
Summarizing what you've read helps with retention
Writing is better than just listening or reading for remembering
Fun to look back at everything you've learned
Motivates you to learn more
Here are some ideas for things to write down in a learning journal:
Words and their meanings
Notes from reading
Fun little things you learned about
These would also all make great spreads for a bullet journal.
Explore Counter-Arguments to Your Beliefs
This is a fun one. Determine what your beliefs are, and then explore the counter-arguments.
For example, a proposed form of welfare I'm very interested in is universal basic income or UBI. One of the oft-repeated arguments for UBI is "upcoming massive technological unemployment," in which hundreds of thousands of citizens lose their jobs to automation, and are left unemployed with little job prospects.
Technological unemployment was filed away in my mind as a reason for UBI. When I decided to explore arguments against UBI I found an interesting paper. This paper examined data on employment and found no sign of technological unemployment leading to permanent joblessness, and further found no evidence of technological unemployment being permanent in the past. There was no evidence to suggest that UBI would be necessary to support masses of people left permanently unemployed due to advancements in technology.
This knowledge led me to explore how past industrialization has affected people. And what I found was that while it's true that the overall quality of life improves as a result of massive technological advancement, at the same time the inequality amongst people grows. The benefits of industrialization and technological advancement are not shared equally. But I only found this because I looked for a counter-argument to what I believed.
So beyond expanding your view of the world and your base of knowledge, exploring counter-arguments and opposing beliefs shows you the flaws in your beliefs and can help you strengthen them. Or, you may question your beliefs and find better ones.
I recently listened to Unlearn, a podcast that covers 5 big topics of today: consent, race, transness, disability, and body image. This is a good place to challenge your current beliefs and opinions.
Remember: the key is consistency and progress. Don't let failure dishearten you. You don't have to implement all these strategies at once, and some of them may not work for you; that's okay.
If you found these tips interesting or useful, sign up for my email list so I can let you know when I post! If you have any strategies for your intellectual wellness that I missed let me know in an email.