Children are typically encouraged to ask questions and keep looking for answers until they find them. But as one ages, asking questions is often frowned upon, with some even tagging it as incompetence. For many, this is enough of a deterrent to their journey of learning.
Interestingly, the often-overlooked dimension of intellectual wellness can work like magic when it comes to one’s overall well-being. “If you are intellectually well you can focus better on taking better care of yourself, and it effectively bleeds through to all other aspects of life,” says Kochi-based mentalist and psychological illusionist Arjun Guru.
The journey of being a lifelong learner
Bengaluru-based Enoch Das had joined Infosys immediately after his bachelor’s and worked there for six long years before he went to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration. “My biggest concern was coping with the pace of the other much-younger students as most of them had joined right after their bachelors.”
To deal with the concern, Das took up courses in Accounts and other management subjects prior to his classes to mentally prepare for what was to come. As part of his preparation, Das had started reading up on some of the subjects in his syllabus, which helped him during his course. “This pressure pushed me to work on a sleep schedule that helped me wake up early and do a bit of extra studying,” Das says.
While Das’s focus was bumping up his curriculum vitae, intellectual wellness encompasses much more than academics.
The benefits of being a learner
When Guru was a full-time mentalist, he constantly worked on new material for his shows, and content for social media. “I had a lot of time to observe other performers and learn new things besides mentalism, like editing and marketing my videos,” he says. “Being observant is crucial in mentalism and it starts with being curious about the other person’s thought process.” And this learning continues for Guru.
According to him, intellectual wellness is about keeping one’s mind agile by constantly giving it things to think about and learn. “If I go long periods without active learning or problem solving, I tend to feel less agile mentally and have a brain fog,” he says.
Age is just a number
Kochi-based attitude coach Satish Menon says that one must not only consume knowledge but also use it. “Awareness is the first stage, and then it is action,” he says. “Holding a lot of knowledge does not make your life complete; it is acting on what we have gained that matters. The action eventually enables us to understand and delve deep into areas of our life that need change.”
The old-school mindset limits learning to academic certificates. But today, learning is not limited to taking up additional degrees; it can be on-the-job training, learning art, music, or even a board game. Menon is an example of relentlessly learning one skill after another.
He started learning how to play the sitar in his late 40s and at 50, he began taking vocal training. “Whenever there is a change, there are going to be challenges. Many ridiculed the idea of me taking up music classes at the age of 50 — it was a running joke in my family.”
However, despite the many challenges, he completed the course and is on to something new. “Currently, I am learning how to swim, and I can proudly say that I am doing quite well,” he says.
Menon believes that challenges are inevitable in the path of intellectual wellness. “The key is to never look at challenges as something negative. We should always try to weigh desire more than challenges. Focusing on improvements and solutions also helps in coping,” he says.
The 54-year-old is also an established painter who has hosted and participated in several exhibitions. Earlier this year, he co-authored a book of poetry with over 150 poems. “Learning is an ongoing and lifelong process. It is vital to constantly pay close attention to your body, mind, intellect, and surroundings. Picking up new skills is not limited to the young; it is also for the greyheads,” he says.
Life has taken a similar trajectory of new learnings for UAE-based Sollykutty Sunny. At 57, she started her diploma course in counselling after having worked as a nurse for over three decades. She found the classroom sessions refreshing and fun and got to interact with people of different ages and backgrounds.
Being a student has made her active both physically and mentally. “I have an interesting routine now; I enjoy it more than my mundane work life,” she says.
“I go out with my classmates during the weekends and after classes. Although we are studying to get a degree, there is no pressure to score high marks or be at the top.” This experience has helped Sunny reflect on her own parenting techniques. “I pressured my children to score high marks instead of learning; I regret doing that. At the end of the day, it is not grades or marks that matter, but what we gained in the process and how it improves the way we live,” she says.
Menon encourages his clients to play board or card games at least once in a week. “These games are a fun way to promote teamwork. There is healthy competition which enables one to not only work towards a collective goal but also deeply understand different emotions of people involved,” he says.
According to Guru, interactions with others are fodder for intellectual growth. “Being out and about forces you to consider other perspectives. It forces you to get outside your head and your comfort zone and be present. This in turn engages you intellectually.” He thinks that workplace training and brainstorming sessions are another great way for employees to grow intellectually.
Life lessons from Guru and Das
- Listen intently: An intellectually sound person would rather listen than speak, and then act on it.
- Learn and re-learn: Some skills or lessons may take time to learn. Be kind to yourself and re-learn the same concepts if necessary. Keep learning, explore what you are curious about and do something that makes you think deliberately every single day.
- Solve puzzles: If you don’t feel particularly curious, solve puzzles or play board games. Puzzles are excellent for problem-solving skills, and board games make you work with other players in a dynamic environment that has real-world applications.
- Ponder on new ideas: Keeping the mind engaged with thoughts that could aid in self-growth reduces the chance of negative thoughts filling up your head.
- Communicate well: Ask questions until you find answers but not in a derogatory or belittling manner. Practice being polite with your doubts with an intent to learn rather than to hassle or put down others.
- Make room for hobbies: Engaging in a hobby breaks the mundanity of work or studies, and channelises one’s energy to more relaxing yet productive activities.
- Read: Reading improves memory and acts as a workout for the brain. Besides gaining knowledge, it also significantly improves linguistic skills.
- Encourage self-learning: Learning things on our own is key. The best lessons are outside the classroom.