Hurry up and help me before I am not interested in an answer anymore!
May 31, 2011 6:32 AM   Subscribe

One of my few habits is that I have no regular routines/habits. Is this something I definitely need to change or is there a way to leverage this to do everything I want to do in life?

I can get intensely passionate about something of interest, but for a very short period of time (up to a couple months). Then some time will pass (usually a year or more) and the interest will re-kindle. I realize in the grand scheme of things, this is a habit/routine in and of itself but I would like to use it for good...

For example, last fall I was very interested in art and artists and spent about a month checking out books, reading about and looking at art, and enjoying the entire process. Then I stopped suddenly and now it doesn't interest me. However in a year or two, this interest will reappear as magically as it disappeared. I know this because several years ago I was into painting and art and in a very similar way. And then several years before that. ETC.

It's not just about art, and more specifically I don't necessarily even want my life to be about art. But I will go through phases of interest in a sport or a musical genre or with self improvement or a type of cuisine, you name it. Every different interest seems to have it's own "expiration" date and rekindling period.

Here's another example as it pertains to food. I will go through a phase of a month or so where I love macaroni and cheese, and love creating new mac and cheese dish variations -- like adding tomatoes or meat or pretty much everything. Then I will suddenly stop and then stare at the big box of uneaten mac & cheese packages I bought at Sam's Club during my phase.

So it all boils down to this: I am not sure I will EVER change this behavior. (I am open to suggestions of otherwise.) I have tried. Because of this I am wondering if anyone out there has been able to leverage this behavior to accomplish great things with their lives? If so, how?
posted by thorny to Human Relations (19 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Robert Heinlein said:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Try learning each of those things, a month at a time. Be a well-rounded dilettante.
posted by bcwinters at 6:48 AM on May 31, 2011 [13 favorites]

I've known several people who consciously organized their lives into very short-term projects focused on single topics or goals. They don't really master anything that way, but it's still satisfying. When the topics are extremely new/obscure or the goals are strange/unique/slightly absurd, they have sometimes achieved something worthy of note--e.g. a good summary blog post that gets linked a bit or something they later turn into an article in a hobby magazine.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:56 AM on May 31, 2011

Wow. Are you me? I could have written this.

I do the same thing. I get into something, get incredibly passionate about it, buy stuff to support my new hobby, focus on nothing else for a couple weeks, and then all of a sudden... nothing. No desire to do it anymore and I've moved on to something else. Repeat. In another six months, a year, or two years I'll pick it up again and it will become all consuming. For two weeks.

Hell, I bet I could go through my AskMe history and find a whole bunch of things I asked about but no longer care about.

So, what to do? Embrace it! Become a jack of all trades. Learn new skills, new hobbies. Learn them well enough to get by but not so much that you're an expert. It makes for great conversation. Some day you'll meet a guy who makes ships in bottles and you'll be able to talk about the time you made three and a half of them over the span of a month and about those awesome tweezers you have and one of these days you'll get back into it. Then you'll be at a party and see a guitar and you'll be able to impress the ladies by playing 3/4 of Stairway to Heaven. And, oh look! On the counter is that brand of olive oil you bought that time you were totally into olive oil! Which brings you to the topic of bread baking...

Yes, my ADD/short attention span does limit me sometimes. Everything I can do I can do passably, every topic I know about I know enough to get by but not enough to be an expert. Sometimes it would be nice to be an expert on something. But on the other hand, I can do all sorts of stuff that most people can't do. It's awesome.

Two weeks ago I re-leaned how to ride a unicycle. Before that I learned a bit of Python. This weekend I built something out of sheet metal. Sheet metal! I can only wonder what I'll be into tomorrow. I can't wait!

On preview: I have that Heinlein quote bcwinters posted hanging in my cube, as well as on my Facebook info page. I've never even read any Heinlein, (though I'm sure one of these days I'll be obsessed with him for three weeks) but it's one of my favorite quotes ever. It really is how I live my life.
posted by bondcliff at 7:04 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I do this. It's part of my ADHD. Medication helps, but it's also somewhat ingrained into my personality. The problem is that you can end up with no ability to progress to more interesting aspects of various interests. The benefit is that you can probably converse well with many different kinds of people. Having had a genuine interest in many things is a good party skill.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:10 AM on May 31, 2011

You might enjoy the book Refuse to Choose, or The Renaissance Soul. Both are books aimed at people who tend to have a lot of interests that might come and go over time, rather than a single guiding passion. I found both books useful.
posted by not that girl at 7:10 AM on May 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

I do this, because it turns out learning new things is my hobby. Not actually DOING them long-term, with a few notable exceptions. The only real downside is if you start buying things, so I try to either restrict myself to learning it all by reading, or I take a community rec class so I spend a finite amount of money and get to use OTHER people's supplies rather than setting up my own blacksmith shop.

Taking classes also allows you to meet new people and network. And, yes, learning random things for short periods gains you lots of interesting conversation topics. There's also a potential blog in there about your short-term fascinations, if that's your thing.

As far as doing great things, I think learning stuff is a great thing in and of itself. T.H. White wrote: "The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 AM on May 31, 2011 [17 favorites]

I do this too - and I've kicked myself before because I feel like a walking example of jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. Especially the master of none part. I know how to knit, but haven't progressed past basic stitches and scarves, and have a half-finished scarf sitting around for the past year. I make jewelry, but a really simple, basic kind, and the only reason I keep doing it is because I can place it at a shop and it occasionally sells. I got into collage, and now have a bunch of supplies, books, and some completed pieces with no idea what to do with them. And just yesterday, I was eying resin casting supplies, theoretically as an outcropping of my jewelry-making, but mostly because it would involve buying new things and throwing myself into it for a few weeks.

Reading the answers to your question, maybe I should embrace it and stop regarding it as a weakness of character.
posted by PussKillian at 8:31 AM on May 31, 2011

I'm like this to a lesser degree - my phases seem to last years.

I honestly believe it's a function of personality. I like Myers Briggs for the way it explains some of these traits. I'd guess you are an ISFP or ESFP based on your description (though not knowing you or having a lot of details to work with, I could be WAAAAY off). Others have mentioned how your description is similar to ADD traits, and several research studies have shown that people with S, F, and P tend to have ADD in higher numbers.

Have you taken the MBTI? Here's a link.

There are lots of resources out there if you want to do further research. Memail me if you're interested.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:51 AM on May 31, 2011

I've had a lot of enthusiasms over the years, and I've enjoyed all of them. Roses, California pottery, antique rugs--I don't think that delving into something, enjoying it and moving on is necessarily a bad thing. I agree that buying all the stuff at the beginning is an expensive idea, but no one says you have to keep all the equipment, after the passion has cooled.

My body of knowledge is pretty wide-ranging and on some topics, it's deep as well. But knowing a little about a lot is a good thing.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:51 AM on May 31, 2011

This is what became my specialty at work. I would be the teacher who was asked to teach whatever needed teaching. Teacher leaves suddenly, takes a year off, a new course is being introduced, ask bardophile to do it. It's a great deal of fun. Sometimes terribly exhausting, but I find that doing the same thing for long periods of time is utterly debilitating. My brain turns to mush.
posted by bardophile at 9:34 AM on May 31, 2011

Do you feel like you need to change this behaviour? Maybe you don't. The next time you get seized by an interest, just say to yourself, "Ok, given what I know about myself and my patterns and history, I'll probably be only interested in this for a couple of months. And that's ok." And just enjoy those couple of months. If you think about it, you could gain somewhat in-depth knowledge of about 6 things a year. That's pretty cool. So Jan/Feb, it's houseplants, Mar/Apr, extreme weather, May/June, ebay auctions, whatever.

Or, when you were interested in art, or mac and cheese, etc. did you pursue these things with the intent that they would be integrated more permanently into your life, or that you'd "do something" with them (i.e. publish a mac and cheese cookbook, make plants to travel to art galleries, etc.)?
posted by foxjacket at 9:42 AM on May 31, 2011

Seeing the word "habit" makes me think you're looking to be the type of person who does _some_thing_ consistently or with some discipline, despite otherwise having fickle passions.

I would suggest picking one positive trait or habit you would like to instill in your life. Is it cooking a meal for yourself 5 nights a week? Is it cleaning for 10 minutes every morning? Is it getting outside for an hour on the weekend? Maybe it's being the kind of person who finds a way to sincerely and elaborately thank one person each week.

Pick something, determine the specific action it would take to complete it, and practice it for a month. At the end of the month, decide if the action represents a change you like. Replace or repeat.

So even as you flit from neat project to neat project, you'll still be "the kind of person who _____." As for me, I'm the kind of person who leaves his house to be social or learn something new twice a week.
posted by jander03 at 10:03 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is great. Thanks for all the feedback. I liked the ideas about using interests as a way to network -- particularly because my current "enthusiasm," as one of you put it, is networking.

It's interesting to think about this as a form of longer term ADD, as well.

And thankfully, I'm sort of getting back into my recurring reading phase (half the year I wonder why in hell I bought a Kindle, the other half I don't know what I'd do without it), so I appreciate the reading suggestions as well.
posted by thorny at 10:38 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am the same way - there was an interesting blog post a little while back about "scanners" as a personality type, which sounds like you.

Check it out.

I read the article and immediately printed out a little fortune cookie sized slip of paper that says "Do everything and don't finish any of it." and have it pinned above my desk here and in my wallet in the little see through pouch overtop of my driver's license.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 10:46 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Refuse to Choose is definitely a great book that will give you some ideas for arranging your life to make pursuing multiple interests easier. I think the focus there is more on people with a lot of longer-term interests that don't wane very much, but it's still useful even if your interests are shorter term and you can't predict when they'll pop up again, if ever; it'll advise you on managing things as minor as hobbies, or even setting your life up so that you just have a series of short-term jobs so you don't get bored.

Okay, that endorsement aside, here are the thoughts I've had about this over the past several years, which should hopefully give you some peace and things to think about:

* There is an over-emphasis on consistency, discipline, and "seeing things through" in our culture that I don't think always makes sense.

We hear these things lauded so much, and we see people denigrated for falling short of these ideals so much, that it's easy to look at yourself and think, "I'm only doing things for a short amount of time and then giving up. I'm undisciplined, I'm inconsistent, I'm doing something wrong." But there's not a lot of nuance in this social noise about when it makes sense to be consistent and disciplined and see something through, and when it's just stupid -- and yes, sometimes it's just stupid.

Ask yourself this: are your basics covered (food, housing) and do you keep your obligations to other people? Then congratulations: you are disciplined enough, you see things through when it makes sense. You are free to be as flighty as you want in your interests.

And you are "seeing things through:" you are getting what you wanted out of the activity and then moving on. To do otherwise, in a lot of circumstances, isn't anything more than submitting to social pressure, which isn't all that worthwhile a skill and not one most people need to practice. You don't need to get a PhD in quantum physics to be enriched by learning the basics of quantum physics, for example, and for someone to essentially suggest that it's stupid to spend a couple weeks learning about quantum physics because you're probably never going to do anything with it is just absurd. It's even more absurd to suggest you ought to feel bad and force yourself to go further with it when you no longer feel any interest. Avoid the trap of beating yourself up.

Knowledge for its own sake is one of the most worthwhile things in the world; mastery for its own sake, if you have to force it, not so much. I have, at times, decided that I'm going to pursue a routine just to practice discipline, for example, and I can usually keep up something arbitrary for three months. And after trying this over and over, it hit me why I couldn't do it longer: because it was ultimately arbitrary, and it doesn't make sense to be disciplined about arbitrary things. It's actually pretty dumb because it just makes me feel bad while I'm doing it, because it's not enjoyable, and then I feel bad when I can't do it anymore because it means I'm "undisciplined." The activity was only useful in that it made me realize how useless it was -- which, honestly, was a very important thing for me to learn.

* There is also another side to this, and that's the idea that something isn't worth doing if you're not amazing at it, or that there's no point to having partial knowledge of a subject, or you're somehow disrespecting a subject or not doing it justice or some other nonsense if you only dip into it. Once we become adults, we feel the responsibility to manage our lives, and too often that means we become self-conscious about how we spend our time and how others will judge us for it.

If everyone took these ideas to heart, society would really suck. Society does not advance because people stick to narrow fields forever and never try brief excursions outside of it. To the contrary, society tends to advance when people with an unusual assortment of knowledge approach a longstanding problem with a new perspective and a willingness to disregard whatever has been taken to be gospel. This is not to devalue having achieved expertise in something, because that's often necessary, but it is to instead point out the value in having additional varied knowledge in other fields. All else being equal, imagine a room of PhDs in a subject: what distinguishes them is not the knowledge they share, but the knowledge they don't share, and the differences in how they think. Any problem that can be solved by the knowledge they share and conventional thinking is not nearly as sticky as the problem that cannot be solved by the knowledge they share and conventional thinking. (For the sake of simplicity, let's disregard times when it's more an issue of needing technology to catch up with something.) Often breakthroughs come from people who are not as expert, or have dabbled in something unusual.

It's not just valuable that people have partially developed knowledge in other areas, it is essential. We would not be where we are today if people didn't. And indeed, if you look over a list of influential people, most of them had wide or unusual interests compared to what they're known for.

Lots of people don't pursue creative hobbies because they feel embarrassed that they aren't "doing something" with them and thus it's a waste of time -- and so they lose out on all the huge benefits you really DO accrue from merely dabbling in creative hobbies, namely the creativity translating into other arenas and skills, being able to think in unconventional ways, being able to connect things other people may not, having an emotional outlet that improves your life in various ways, etc. I can't think of a single thing you could learn that would not have applications to other areas of your life; everything works some basic level of something, be it logic or motor skills or rhythm or spatial ability or whatever, and almost everything can later serve as a metaphor for you to understand something else.

Here are some examples, off the top of my head:

Even "loafing around" playing video games will teach you reflexes and problem solving and story telling or visual art or music or whatever your mind is latching on to at the moment. Video games have GREATLY increased my ability to do almost everything else, and are the main reason I got into the internet and programming before most other kids had a computer, and influenced my ideas of the possibilities of science and fiction when I was a child along with reading. Being able to program just at a intermediate level has vastly helped me learn other things. Playing MUDs as a teenager helped my writing ability greatly, and I've gotten writing awards since high school. Video game music fed my love for music in general, which helped along my singing, for which I've also won competitions -- and singing itself has also helped me understand even complicated academic concepts. Video game music also inspired me to dabbling in writing music, which I feel was valuable even though I didn't get far in terms of skill -- and as I sang more and recorded more, I learned things about sound production, which in term sometimes serves as a metaphor in my head for other subjects, and now I'm circling back around to writing music. A friend in high school that was obsessed with video game music learned to play the piano because of it, and learned to sing because of that, and today he is damn good at both, plus a ton of other instruments, and has a good band that gets steady gigs. He also writes songs. What's his job? A civil engineer. He's way more interesting than someone that wouldn't "waste time" on these things simply because he's not going to be a worldwide superstar. My husband works at NASA and a lot of his coworkers have musical abilities and play video games and go rock climbing and all sorts of stuff they aren't "masters" at. My husband is playing a video game as I type this.

Similarly, watching a movie or a TV show isn't "wasted" time for me, because the way my mind turns everything over I learn a lot of generalized concepts or ideas that apply to writing or it helps solidify some completely unrelated idea I'd been thinking about. At the very least, it's always inspiration for writing.

I recently started to learn to draw, despite having no skill whatsoever, and just the way it's expanded how I think is incredible; in a week, I was already seeing more things in movies, thinking about writing differently, thinking about singing in a different way, thinking about the brain differently, thinking about my life and how I make decisions differently, etc.

Nothing in life is wholly isolated. Partial knowledge is awesome, and being able to duck out when you've gotten all you wanted to know is almost always the most rational and efficient use of time. People like to say "a little knowledge is a terrible thing" but I think that's sloppy thinking: you're not looking up how to perform surgery and convincing yourself you can take out your own appendix. You like learning and having an obsessive week-long knowledge binge is hardly "a little knowledge" that will harm you. People manage to harm themselves knowing a lot of stuff, too; it's more a matter of judgment ability (being able to "know what you don't know") than it being a big problem to only know a little.

So don't let that stuff worm your way into your head and make you feel bad about liking to learn stuff.

* If you perceive that this is causing some problems for you, address how you can work with/around those problems instead of trying to change how you are or making yourself feel bad.

For example, you mention buying stuff and then not having the interest in it later. I totally used to have this problem, and I sympathize. Here's the solution: only buy the stuff you need for the next step of what you want to do. For example, years ago I got obsessed with making soap, and I thought I wanted to sell soap, so I bought a couple hundred dollars worth of soap-making supplies -- which promptly all expired years later because duh, I never did that.

What should I have done? Should I have felt bad about myself for being undisciplined? No, or not exactly; it's not very helpful to beat yourself up with no constructive solution, and if I beat myself up for being undisciplined, the implication is that I should have gone ahead and made a bunch of soap and tried to sell it and just been miserable instead of doing something I really wanted to do -- which would further give me a complex about pursuing anything I'm interested in because it would associate it with fear and anxiety.

Instead, the lesson I learned is this: when I need to buy something, determine what I need to buy for the next step ONLY and buy that ONLY. I should have bought far fewer soap supplies, and tried making and selling a few bars. As I'm learning drawing, I stuck to buying a drawing pad, an eraser, ONE type of pencil, and a pencil sharpener; I don't need to buy coloring supplies yet because I don't know that stuff yet, nor do I need fancy supplies when I suck too much for them to make a difference, and DEAR GOD NO I do NOT yet need to buy a drawing tablet for my computer, I will know if that's necessary when I get there -- and I might not. Similarly, I don't need anything more complicated than GarageBand for my recordings right now, because I haven't done everything I can with GarageBand to even name precisely what I'd need more expensive software for. I actually do anticipate needing something eventually because my interest in singing and music has never waned, but I don't need it right now. When I need it right now, I will buy it, and I will have a better gauge of what I need and why so I'm less likely to waste money.

Also try looking up alternatives that cost less money. For a while I was convinced I ought to just get a color laser printer for a project I was working on, and then I realized oh, I can use this and this and these people and it'll only cost $8 *and* be way easier than what I had in mind.

That being said, be honest with yourself about how much money you're losing and whether it's a big deal. Like a big box of macaroni and cheese? Depending on your budget, that's probably not terrible -- plus you can eat/use it later, probably even years later. If you want a lesson, maybe "only buy a week's worth of my cuisine obsession at a time" to minimize losses, but keep perspective so you don't feel like you can't ever buy anything to help your hobbies along. Knowing your interests wane suddenly means accepting two things: trying not to project that interest into the future overmuch, and accepting that you'll never accurately hit the mark entirely and some losses will happen.

Another thing is to consider whether something has multiple applications outside of whatever you want it for at the moment. My husband and I justified buying a soldering gun for one of his projects the other day because we both have things we may potentially use it for, and I still use a lot of my bookbinding supplies for other projects.

* Learning a bit of a lot of things makes you more interesting as a person.

As long as you're not an asshole or weird about it, anyway. People come to me for advice about unusual stuff, or are pleasantly surprised when they mention a problem and I can point them toward something to help them out. Enthusiasm and something new and non-mundane to contribute are both qualities people tend to like in other people, and people who are constantly learning have a steady well to draw upon.

Imagine how boring you'd be in conversation if you decided to be more consistent and disciplined. Screw that, right? You're fortunate to have an interest in so many things, and a lot of people wish they could enjoy learning like that, or wish they could quit caring what other people think enough to jump around like that. So embrace it! Don't let yourself feel weird because it's not what most people (seem to) do; I really think the majority of people would do something similar if they had the interest and felt they had permission.
posted by Nattie at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2011 [60 favorites]

Today I just realized one more thing I do to manage this. Are you worried about retaining things you've learned? When I learn something complicated, I take notes so I can come back to it later when my interest inevitably wanes and reignites again.

For example, I have a huge file of notes about bookbinding, and every time I've bound another book (roughly one a year, so far) I have to come back, glance over it, and do it again -- and I update the notes as needed. I've done the same thing with soapmaking, ebook formatting, cross-stitching original patterns, cooking techniques I rarely use, programming, etc. This saves me a lot of time and saves me from running into the same problems. Sometimes when I do something I will note that I ran across a problem, or something tedious that could be avoided, but my interest won't sustain me long enough that I try again a different way and come up with an actual solution -- and when I come across those notes, I come up with the solution the next year (or whatever) I try it.

When I start learning something new, I keep a file about the topic that includes links about it, book recommendations I saw somewhere, ideas I have for it, equipment or other stuff I might need to buy, etc. I keep track of how far I got with that topic so I can come back to it later.

I also take notes when I read nonfiction books, so if I go on a kick about one particular subject and then get back on that kick later, I can review what I already learned about it. Intro and intermediate level notes on broad topics are often helpful too, because they can tie easily into a lot of related topics. I sometimes take notes on podcasts or documentaries as well.

Not to mention you can retain things better if you not only read them, but take notes on them; your brain spends more time processing and reflecting on the same information in multiple ways. I also like to take note of my own questions, extrapolations, and ideas in the same file (though I clearly mark them as such, so I don't get confused and later think the author asserted something that was actually a vague extrapolation I was wondering about).

If taking notes will make you hate something, though, don't do it. I love taking notes and this works well for me, so it seemed worth mentioning. It also gives me something concrete to show for my time, which is helpful if you're battling the whole psychological aspect of feeling you're somehow not spending your time properly.

Tools for retaining information:
Notational Velocity (OS X) and SimpleNote: (I think there are Simplenote front-ends like NV available for other operating systems, but I don't know enough to recommend any of them; if this sounds like something you'd like but you don't use a Mac, try looking around.)

Notational Velocity is where I put the majority of my notes. I used to type notes in OmniOutliner, which is a great program, but I found I spent too much time fussing over formatting and file names and where to save stuff when it wasn't really necessary. Notational Velocity is text only and saves everything in a big database, and the line you use to type a new title also searches the whole database for a word which is a bigger deal than it sounds; you don't have to remember where anything is saved or even what you called it as long as you can remember a word from it, and typing a new note will often show you related notes as a result of the word search.

I use a variant called nvALT which supports Markdown for the minimal formatting I do need for visual clarity (different sized headings, lists, horizontal rules, blockquotes, and code). It's very fast and easy to find stuff, especially if you use tags or special words in your note titles. Notational Velocity actually is the backbone of a lot of the way I use my computer to manage everything, not just for this stuff.

SimpleNote is just a way to sync your notes or back them up online, and it's supported through Notational Velocity and nvALT. It's free, fast, and text-only. I used to use EverNote for this purpose, but EverNote deals in more than text and is considerably slower in comparison, and its frontends are clunkier, and some functionality isn't free. I use EverNote if something isn't text, and especially use the browser extension to clip webpages in case they change or disappear, but honestly, most things can be reduced to text or hyper links. I use the NV/SN combo multiple times an hour, whereas I use EverNote maybe a couple times a week. The SimpleNote app for iPhone is free, and I believe there is a free app for Android as well.

Spaced repetition software: Essentially a flashcard program that schedules reviews of flashcards based on a memory algorithm so you spend only the minimum amount of time studying needed to memorize something. If you want to retain something without having to look it up, your best bet is putting it in one of these programs. I would advise you to be realistic about what you actually want to have memorized versus what you only want to be able to quickly find again, though; I've found it easy to make a bunch of flashcards about stuff I honestly don't need memorized and then get irritated going through my flashcards.

I personally use Mental Case, which isn't free and is OS X only and has iPad and iPhone apps as well; it's the best looking and least buggy (come to think of it, it's never bugged out on me) spaced repetition software I've tried, and I've tried all the ones I'm mentioning here. Right now it's biggest downside is that each flashcard only has two fields (front and back), so if you want to learn a language with a different writing system it can be annoying (ideally you'd have three fields: word in its original writing, its pronounciation, and its translation). There are a lot of reasons you'd want other fields for other types of knowledge too. But anyway, they're apparently going to release a new version before the end of the summer where you can have as many fields as you want.

The original spaced repetition program (to my knowledge) is SuperMemo, which is for Windows. The current version isn't free, but I think past versions are. I used SuperMemo for a bit maybe four years ago, but the GUI is monstrous, it's very unintuitive, and it bugged out on me and wiped everything a couple times which is very frustrating. When it was the only game in town it was a lot easier to justify paying for it, but now I can't fathom it. There SuperMemo site, though, is full of information about memory and learning that's enough for a weeklong obsession, so if this topic interests you at all it's a must-read.

Anki is available for Mac, Windows, or Linux. It had some bugs when I used it years ago so I stopped, but it's been steadily updated since then. If you don't have a Mac or want a free program, this is what I'd recommend.

There's also Mnemosyne, another free program for all platforms, but it hasn't been updated for over a year and it wasn't impressive when I tried it.

These are by no means the only spaced repetition programs out there, so it's worth looking around more if nothing above suits your purposes.
posted by Nattie at 7:28 PM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

I just re-read my original posting after having bought and read "Refuse to Choose" which "not that girl" recommended. My post could have been one of the example letters in that book!

The biggest thing is that I realized it was okay to be how I am. This realization was solidified by looking back on all the things I've done in my life and it was quite a long list. I had done more than I thought I'd done, and definitely more than most people.

I started looking at my current job -- the one I was thinking I was starting to hate -- as my "good enough" job. It actually has a lot of flexibility and not bad moneymaking potential. I also have identified other revenue streams I would like to pursue as well.

I am not sure if the strategies mentioned in the book will stick or not but I am willing to try them. I am just happy my attitude about this personality/life trait I have has changed.
posted by thorny at 6:45 PM on July 29, 2011

regarding your question about whether one can leverage this behavior specifically to do great things with their lives: you could put some focus on interdisciplinarity. i realized a long time ago that i don't have the patience to excel or dive deep into any specific discipline, so i create my own whenever possible (if i create my own discipline, then how could anybody know it better than me). if you consciously think about disparate subjects you've learned as you learn new subjects, you will find yourself with a richer grasp of them, and will probably be able to explain them better. right now i'm fascinated by the bridge between crochet and math, and I find that when I read, I compare the narrative structure of a story or essay with the links in crochet.

this ADD/broadness can be extremely valuable if you harness it in that way, especially because so many people are so vertical (moving forward in one particular direction to be a master of one particular subject). I've noticed that where I work, most people are highly specialized, and therefore the few people who know how to do more than one thing, and who have a broader knowledge base than just the subject we're working on are that much more valuable (and interesting) as a whole.

one thing to be cautious about: i know that for me, while i don't feel any particular need to develop a mastery of anything, i find it dissatisfying when one of the subjects of which i grow enamored is all input, but no output. if you can manage to produce some sort of physical manifestation of each subject you take on, be it writing, a photojournal, a giant onion sculpture, or a painting, you might find that a) what you've learned is much more satisfying and b) what you've learned is more deeply engrained in you, and therefore easier to come back to in the future.
posted by taltalim at 8:18 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Coming back to this thread I want to note that the newest version of Mental Case has support for multi-sided flashcards, which makes it good for learning languages with different writing systems (the sides being definition, pronounciation in the writing system of your choice, then the native writing system)
posted by Nattie at 11:26 PM on January 1, 2012

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