So much of self care is self-focused, whether it’s an indulgence such as a nice bath or work such as making yourself a doctor’s appointment. But what happens when you take the focus off yourself for a minute, and learn how to do something that exists for its own reason? Drive stick, learn to knit, bake some bread.
I’m a collector of skills myself. I never really thought about why, until I read Kelsey Osgood’s essay about mastering micromastery (she created a club with a friend; their first project was mending clothes).
There’s reason to believe that engaging in a project can put in you in a meditation-like flow state that’s helpful to mental health. Finishing the project, or mastering the mini-skill, can boost your confidence. And each mini-skill handily boosts your ability to learn the next one.
Take mending clothes, for example, the one Osgood started with. I learned a few things about sewing from my mother, and a few more in a high school home economics class. Each mini skill prepared me for the next, and now I am the kind of person who cackles with glee upon finding a rack of dresses all discounted to $3 because their zippers are broken. (True story.)
Last week I patched my son’s threadbare pyjamas with a Japanese mending technique, sashiko, whose hashtag I’d been stalking on Instagram for a little while. It took a bit of reading and experimentation to figure out, but I enjoyed learning it and now that’s another mini skill in my collection.
Learning a new skill is a multi-layered exercise for your brain. For example, you’ll probably need dexterity and motor memory to do the movements involved, short term memory to keep track of what you’re doing, and an inquiring mind to research the history and science behind your new skill. (Whether all this brain exercise helps your cognition in the long run is not really known, but it sure doesn’t seem like it could hurt.)
So, consider learning a new skill — it’s also a great respite from the news cycle or other always-on sources of stress. Sew a button, code a bot, work on a new yoga pose, learn to whistle.