For a long time I used to consider myself talent-less because I didn’t have an exceptional skill and boring because I didn’t have any hobbies to speak of. But it turns out I actually had lots of talents and several hobbies. I could demonstrate exceptional skill in a variety of activities. I just wasn’t doing it on purpose.
A Twitter Revelation
One morning not long ago, I woke up about an hour before I was supposed to. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I picked up my phone from the nightstand and started scrolling through Twitter. An hour and a half later I’m still reading, but now I’ve lost sleep and I’m late getting up.
I started thinking about all the ways I could have spent that time. I could have started reading the stack of books I’ve been meaning to get to. I could have practiced the languages I learned in seminary last summer but have all but forgotten. I could have done some writing.
I realized in that moment that I had been practicing a skill. I had spent 90 minutes learning how to scan 140 characters for bits of interesting information. I had been getting better at skimming brief blog articles for helpful tips and thought-provoking ideas. The skills I sharpened by reading Twitter may be positive and helpful. The problem is I didn’t want to get better at those skills. Instead I had to being more intentional about how I spent my time.
We Get Good at Whatever We Spend Our Time Doing
As much as we lament the lack of hours in a day, we’re always spending our time doing something. Whether its catching up on social media, reading a favorite blog, talking on the phone, watching TV, or playing with the dog I don’t know many people who literally do nothing. Our minds are too exquisitely complex and inquisitive to remain idle for long. But we need to pay attention to how we spend our time.
We get good at whatever we spend our time doing. So if you spend a lot of time playing golf, you’ll get better at playing golf. If you find yourself spending hours playing video games, you’ll get good at playing video games. The problem is that many of us don’t spend time doing the things we actually want to get good at doing.
When we say something is a waste of time we’re really saying, “This activity is not advancing my goals.” Or “This is not worthwhile because it doesn’t help me get where I want to go.” That’s because we’ve passively fallen into practicing skills that are easy, convenient, and somewhat mindless. When I decided to spend my time on Twitter that morning rather than on any number of more personally fulfilling tasks, I was making the choice to do what was easy rather than deliberate.
If we want to get good at the activities we value, then we have to make the choice to spend time doing those activities. We need to decide what we want to get better at doing and spend our time doing it. Do you want to learn how to speak Russian? Then practice speaking Russian. Do you want to improve your jump shot? Then spend time shooting basketballs? Do you want to read with more comprehension? Then spend time reading and reviewing what you’ve read. Decide what you want to get good at and spend more time doing it.
But it’s easy to sit back and dream about new skills you’d like to have and knowledge you’d like to acquire. The hard part is doing it. That’s the subject of my next post.
You’re getting better at something everyday. The only question is, “Are you doing it on purpose?”
Discussion Question: Have you ever thought about what skills you’re improving? Are you doing this intentionally or unintentionally?