To Truly Improve Yourself, Spend Time In This One Uncomfortable Space
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” — Socrates
We all want to discover and pursue our true passions in life. In a now-famous post by former palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, the number one regret of the dying was that they had not lived lives that were ultimately true to themselves.
For many of us, the interests that now capture our attention are ones we were oblivious to for many years. (Plot twist: You’re probably still oblivious to some of them.)
Imagine that this circle drawn on a sticky note represents all knowledge:
Knowledge can be divided into three categories. First, there is what you know you know (“KK”).
You know how to type on a keyboard, you know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know how to browse movies and TV shows on Netflix.
Then there’s what you know you don’t know (“KDK”).
You know you don’t know how to fly a plane, you know you don’t know how to read or speak a certain other language. When we know we don’t know something, we can take steps to learn it and become masterful over time.
However, a massive trove of knowledge exists that absolutely dwarfs each of the previous categories: Information, interests, and passions you don’t know you don’t know.
We can’t contemplate this scope of knowledge, but it’s safe to say it is many, many times greater than everything we’ve learned so far in our lifetimes.
To truly improve yourself, you must find a way to expand into the space of that which you don’t know you don’t know.
How do you improve yourself on things which you cannot ponder to begin with? It’s a paradox, but one worth pursuing, and there are ways to tap into this seemingly infinite realm of knowledge and wisdom.
To get better and reinvent yourself, relinquish control.
I went to school for classical music and spent many years training to play in professional orchestras. The pressure to play perfectly all the time was oppressive, and some days were riddled with anxiety and judgment.
A friend who observed my rollercoaster of emotions day in and day out had invited me to a yoga class several times, and one day I came around and said yes.
I was sweating buckets by the end of class. Perspiration aside, yoga piqued my interest in many ways I had never pondered before:
- At the time, my exercise regimen was running a few times a week; yoga made my runs better and more enjoyable because I became aware of my breath and body.
- The yoga teacher at the front of the room was essentially giving a performance by leading the class, which inspired me.
- The “audience” actually wants to be there, rather than the audience for an orchestra concert often being kids on a school trip or patrons who fall asleep and start snoring halfway through.
- In 2010, interest in yoga was expanding and interest in classical music was contracting.
I began doing yoga all the time. A few years later, I was teaching yoga and loved being the ‘performer’ at the front of the room without all the pressure of being perfect. A few years after that, I was helping yoga businesses market themselves using my marketing skillset.
Yoga was a fulfilling activity I didn’t know I didn’t know. I would have never discovered this personal passion, which also influenced my professional pursuits, had I not taken a leap of faith and gone to a class.
To access knowledge and passion you don’t know you don’t know, you must relinquish control about how productive your time will be. We love setting goals and creating action steps to feel productive; when you decide how the future is going to unfold, however, you close yourself off to potential new experiences that can improve or even completely reinvent yourself.
You won’t know if you’ll like these new pastimes or interests until you go out and try. But there are a few things you can do to maximize your time spent in this growth space.
How to learn what you don’t know you don’t know:
Be intentional with time and attention.
Bestselling author and podcaster, James Altucher, made a commitment to learn one new thing each day.
Since you’re trying to tap into information or experiences you don’t know you don’t know, you can’t really plan for what those experiences might be. You can make time for them, though.
Block off the necessary time, attention, or resources you may need in order to put yourself into new and interesting situations.
It’s important that this discovery time not breed resentment, especially if you’re a type-A personality and want to get value out of every minute and hour of your day.
Why are you committed to personal growth in the first place? What can you do to create something new? If you approach your blocked-off discovery time with an attitude of “I have to” rather than “I get to” or “I want to”, you’ll be less open to new experiences and what they have to offer.
Make some of your efforts analog.
When we spend time doing activities with our hands, we trigger different neurochemicals that help to balance the creative and analytical halves of our brains. Consider incorporating offline activities into your discovery time to keep yourself mentally balanced — especially if you spend a lot of time reading or working online.
It’s good to set goals and keep your eyes on the prize. Be mindful, though, that in the context of all the knowledge and purpose the world has to offer, you know almost nothing. Allocate time to explore new passions and pursuits and you’ll transform yourself along the way.
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