Intellectual challenges.
July 25, 2012 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Help me come up with some intellectual challenges to give my brain a work-out

So after some deep soul-searching, I came to the realization that I'm making my career path (including planned graduate school program) unnecessarily hard for myself just because I want an intellectual challenge. While one's career path can certainly be a great way to challenge oneself, I have been trying to gain work/life balance and I feel that shifting some of the focus off work for intellectual fulfillment will really help me.

Soooo can you please provide me with ideas for intellectual activities that I might derive a sense of accomplishment from? What works for you?

This is the beginning of a list. Some of this sounds broad and relates to gaps in my education (science/history)

1. learning russian
2. studying history
3. studying current events more closely
4. studying science
5. keeping bees and or chickens
6. having children
7. writing a book
8. singing lessons

Thank you for your ideas!
posted by saraindc to Education (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: one more thing I want to add- this is primarily to inspire myself not to pursue an extremely rigorous and expensive graduate school program. I'm not asking for arguments against pursuing such a program as we've seen lots of those, but I'm hoping this explanation helps explain why this is so important for me right now.
posted by saraindc at 9:34 PM on July 25, 2012

learning languages and music are said to have a very positive effect on brain function and health. i'm learning french and german now and it's a blast.
posted by facetious at 9:34 PM on July 25, 2012

Best answer: Learn a programming language. If you haven't before, getting started is way easier than you might think and it can be addictive for a brain that enjoys problem solving.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:40 PM on July 25, 2012

Hm. I don't know how I feel as "having children" as an intellectual pursuit, but if it is more a motivation to keep yourself away from a PhD program, I totally support keeping it on the list. Having a child and being in graduate school seem to be very difficult, from what I've seen from the parents in my department.

I am wondering how many benefits one gets from singing lessons vs. learning an instrument. I know learning an instrument is excellent for the health of your brain and improves learning in many other areas, but I think some of that is opening new neuropathways in your brain, learning to coordinate eyes and hands and engaging the mind and auditory abilities. I'm sure singing lessons are beneficial, too, but consider taking up an instrument.

The list is otherwise good. What about artistic or craft pursuits? A lot of my friends get a lot of pleasure from learning skills like metallurgy, woodworking or naalbinding. Learning forgotten arts and crafts also opens up new avenues of history and culture to learn.

Or something absolutely crazy, like spinning fire!
posted by peacrow at 9:42 PM on July 25, 2012

Best answer: One of the very few lessons I've learned in HR training sessions is to make lists like yours every year, except make the targets specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, i.e. SMART, because it promotes the sense of accomplishment you're aiming for.

As an example, "Read 8 books on the topic of 17th Europe within 6 months and critique them on Goodreads" is a goal roughly equivalent to taking a class, and your memory of achieving it would likely be more clear than that for "studying history." It's also nice to be released from goals that were too hard, either by getting through them or failing them unambiguously, so you can get on with the business of your next achievement instead of still wishing you were vaguely studying history.

Probably browsing a university course catalog could help you generate tons of specific intellectual achievement goals like that. Watching lecture series like Open Yale classes and whatnot would also be very doable, giving you the sense of intellectual engagement without the burden of school.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:31 PM on July 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

have children
posted by parmanparman at 12:16 AM on July 26, 2012

When you set out to learn a language, if you really want a work-out, try reading a foreign-language novel with a dictionary and nothing else. You'll have to stretch your brain trying to work out the story and the grammar and it is delightfully, painfully hard. That's partly how I learned my first year of German. If you have someone very patient who can speak to you only in the other language, that's also a very good way to start - how I started learning Khmer. Note that these are not particularly efficient or good ways to learn a language at all, but they are challenging and enjoyable.

#5 will keep you involved because otherwise, dead animals, and #8 will keep you going if you have regular lessons. Otherwise, these all depend on self-discipline. You will probably have better luck doing more than a month if you have a teacher or a shared goal of some sort for this, e.g. putting together a local history booklet with a deadline.

Having children does not do anything for your intelligence, especially babies. Babies, on top of sleep deprivation, need a lot of random interaction so you cannot plan for more than five minutes' concentration outside of naps. And some babies do not nap.

If you're thinking in terms of teaching/guiding kids, that can be intellectually challenging, but you would need a fair amount of training to be allowed to teach/counsel children in most places. You could offer to tutor a relative's kid if you enjoy teaching.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:57 AM on July 26, 2012

If you want a challenge, you'll want to get deep into something. If you want to get deep into something without all the support of formal structures (classes, assignments, deadlines, peers, team-mates, bosses etc) it better be something that is very attractive to you, or it'll be hard for you to keep going at it over a long period of time.

I say this because your list is such a mixed bag, and you don't sound like you're particularly excited about any of it. So my recommendation would be to go for whatever you'd really love to do. If you're not sure about that you can always try out a few things before deciding how far to take them. Basically, listen to your feelings, don't try to figure it all out.

I agree with everyone that no one I know who has kids considers that intellectually challenging, more the exact reverse. But it might be that the challenge you're looking for is not really an intellectual one, and raising kids or doing other things that have a big impact of some person's life can be very satisfying and certainly very challenging in other ways.

For me, if I was picking things just for intellectual challenge, the things that would do it most are math and chess. But that's me, and not for everyone.
posted by philipy at 7:19 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here are a couple of suggestions that could get you pretty far outside your comfort zone and likely provide a huge metal challenge:

The biggest short-term metal workout I've had was flying a plane.. I went to a nearby regional airport which has several flight schools. Most have introductory flights for $100-150. I've never had any pilot training. I walked in the door, spent 45 minutes in a classroom with my instructor going over the fundamentals of flying the plane, spent another 45 minutes in a simulator and then we went flying. Under the close supervision of the instructor, I taxied to the runway, took off, and flew around for about an hour and half. My brain was as challenged as it's been in decades and perhaps more than ever.

Learn to sail. (Maybe buy an used older model sail boat.) It will give you a major mental challenge, teach you a ton about yourself, and you will learn intimately about the forces of nature and their impact on man, self reliance, and more. The wind, the waves, weather, etc. There's a reason for the number of metaphors about life that come from the sailing world. It will test you.
posted by fueling depth at 8:32 AM on September 25, 2012

« Older Idiom? I thought you said something else...   |   Diarrhea, uh-uh. Diarrhea, uh-uh! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.