Just Keep Swimming

We’ve all heard that sharks have to continuously move forward or they will die—at least some types of sharks (American Museum of Natural History).  When my grandfather retired, I asked him why he was constantly gardening and doing housework, why he wasn’t relaxing, and he explained to me that it was because if he stopped doing stuff he’d start dying.  I was probably eleven or twelve years old at the time, and I didn’t quite understand, but since then, I have seen the truth in it.

What I didn’t realize until recently, however, was that it is not just a matter of physical deterioration, but mental as well.  I spent about six months after receiving my Bachelor’s degree before I began going stir crazy (working a job that didn’t challenge me mentally) and my wife told me that I had to do something else, so I decided to go back for my Master’s.

I’ve been done with school for about six weeks now, and on days when I do nothing, I can feel mental atrophy begin to kick in.  I’m sure you know the feeling, a day when you don’t read, or engage in any meaningful conversation, or get any other mental stimulation, you get a feeling of mental numbness.

I happen to be home watching my nine-month-old son while my wife is at work, so it can be difficult to find time to exercise my brain.  Filling out job applications can tend to further exacerbate the situation, as it tends to eat up time.  What I have to do is, sneak into the other room, and read a couple of pages of a book, or when he’s taking a nap, I sit down and write.  I try to write at least five hundred words a day, it might not seem like much, it’s only about two pages, but it helps with two things: keeping my brain at least mildly stimulated, and also allowing me the feeling as if I accomplished something everyday.

Accomplishing anything extra—when I’m with my son, and I have job applications to worry about— can feel insurmountable but it isn’t.  Five hundred words a day, seven days a week will be 182,500 words in a year.  That’s roughly the length of two novels.  Sure, not every day’s writing turns out to be good, and there is revising and rewriting, but still it’s a feeling of accomplishment, and it keeps my brain stimulated.

Since I’ve begun doing it, I have noticed that my writing has improved, but also, I have found that my brain is firing on all cylinders.  I’m thinking about things to write about, or trying to figure out my way around writing obstacles that I hit the previous day.  I’m doing less random Facebook surfing, and more research into the topics that are interesting me to write about.  I spend almost as much time on Apple Maps as I do on any other app on my phone (currently I’m writing a novel about a road trip). 

Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but I think that you will feel more fulfilled, and accomplished at the end of the day if you find your thing, that thing that makes your brain work (maybe it’s a sudoko puzzle, or maybe it’s a foreign language app) and you will be able to feel your general attitude toward life improving.

So what is your thing that makes you feel as if you’re improving?  Tell me in the comments below.

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