By the time you get to Missoula, you’re really fit: the value of lifelong learning

On beautiful Friday or Saturday summer evenings, my wife and I like to hang out at the Memorial Union Terrace. The last time we were there, I happened to strike up a conversation with a guy sitting next to us. He ended up telling us that when he retired last summer, he gave himself a retirement present of biking solo across the country.

His original plan was to bike to Missoula, Mont., from the East Coast and then assess whether he felt good enough to go on. What surprised him was that when he arrived in Missoula, instead of being worn out and ready to end his ride, he felt stronger than when he started. He exclaimed, “By the time you get to Missoula, you’re really fit!” 

I think he said his ride ended up being 70 days long. I believe I could probably do any one of the days of his ride, but I can’t fathom being able to do the entire thing. However, just maybe I could. Maybe there’s something to be said about starting something and sticking to it. I’ve heard that even some Tour de France riders who aren’t totally fit at the beginning can “ride themselves into shape” during the tour. This always blows my mind given the speed they maintain and the grueling distance and terrain they cover.

I believe you can also increase the power of your brain in a similar way. And in today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving world, it’s critical for success and progression to continually work your brain and be a “lifelong learner.” We have someone at work who went back to school a few years ago to complete her college degree. Like the guy who biked across the U.S., she got stronger as she went along and concurred that the toughest classes were the first ones that she took. 

Even if you are not working toward a degree, taking classes can be a great way to exercise your mind. A good example is one of our directors, a former investment banker, who is currently taking liberal arts classes at a nearby university in an effort to exercise the other side of his brain. The beauty of taking a class is that it creates discipline. Classes meet at a certain time and there’s assigned homework with specific deadlines. That consistency is key, just like the discipline of going to the gym on a regular basis if you’re exercising your body.

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But challenging your brain doesn’t have to mean being in a classroom. You can also work out your gray matter by learning something new, like a foreign language (I tried to learn Spanish and failed — twice) or a new skill (I tried learning guitar but apparently lack the requisite rhythm). While those endeavors didn’t work out for me, I’ve found that books do work well.

People who are avid readers often continue to learn by reading books on a variety of topics. For me, reading a standard book doesn’t work from a time perspective, but I am able to listen to books and podcasts when I’m working out. I’ve listened to a lot of business books, self-improvement books, and interesting podcasts on health and nutrition by taking advantage of this time that occurs on a regular basis. You could also be doing this during any number of routine activities — when you’re mowing the lawn, walking the dog, or doing the dishes.

If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing the concept of lifelong learning resonates with you and you may have the discipline and a methodology for getting that done for yourself. If you don’t, I encourage you to try creating some consistent practice of mental exercise for yourself, so that by the time you get to Missoula, your brain is really fit.

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