IT Improvement Exercises – Engage Your Brain Often

 In TCM Post

In my earlier article Make an Immediate Change I said that “the more I worked, the more I wanted to work.” I created a cycle of self-improvement. You start by breaking the procrastination and use your mind and body often, and it makes you hungry to continuously improve. Change is not something that happens instantaneously. Think about working out and eating healthy food. You don’t get muscles and lose weight in a couple of days, or even a couple of weeks. It requires sustained and consistent discipline. Sometimes your brain gets sore, and you need to take a PlayStation break, or an extended beach or mountain vacation, but it’s easy to work out a toned muscle vs. energize an atrophied muscle. Once you get going, momentum is much easier to maintain, so let’s get the ball rolling.

People – Real, Physical People
One compelling way I found to stay engaged and not get lazy was to hang out with colleagues, friends, mentors, professors, bosses, managers, etc. that liked to have good, thoughtful, engaging conversations about computers, IT and business. I’m not talking about walking around the office all the time talking to people about everything from the latest TV show or football game. Find people that share the same passions as you or better yet, those that want to engage in technical discussions without making each other feel like they can’t express their opinions openly.

Many times I’ve heard personally, or I’ve seen on Reddit comments like, “I don’t want to hang out with my coworkers.” “Why do I need to go to lunch with my coworkers?” “I’m not into professional networking.” There is a vast difference between what sales folks do to network and drum up business and what you should be doing to keep your mind active and find people like you that will improve your career. Don’t overlook the value of having platonic relationships with coworkers that extend beyond your assigned duties.

Play Games
As is typical with us folks in IT, my coworkers and I were part-time gamers, so not only did we talk about the game we were playing, we’d also discuss our gaming rigs and hardware advancements and graphics engines, etc. that was interesting. After 16 years we’re still having the same debate about tactile input devices (keyboards and mice) versus Virtual-Reality devices (Google Glass, “air” keyboards, projectors, etc.) and which one will be the future of typing.

One Way Conversations
Something that I did not have when I started my career was Podcasts. Even though you are not part of the conversation, I have found that listening to other people have great discussions stimulates the brain in the same manner. While the Podcasters are talking to their guests, you are thinking, which is the point. There is a distinct difference between trash talk radio and Podcasts. If you pick the right ones, on subjects that interest you, they are very engaging.

Here are some of my favorites:

YouTube as a Tool
Looking way back to Creating New Habits article, I told you to remove bad habits like binge-watching streaming video. YouTube can be a colossal waste of time, but there are a ton of good, valuable videos on YouTube. You can learn almost anything from a YouTube video (and some things you probably don’t want to know). So again, this isn’t a two-way conversation, but watching an instructional video that engages your mind is a positive exercise.

How You Can Do More is a great place to start to meet people professionally for many different reasons. I like MeetUps to network, or to learn about topics that I don’t know well (like internet marketing as I started this blog). But you can use MeetUps for almost any reason you can think. Use it to have great technical conversations with like-minded geeks. Or talk to other small business owners about how to start and run a business in your local area. Or hone your social skills if you think it’s a weakness that you need to improve. As with everything in life, some Meetups are better than others. One thing is guaranteed: if you want to be an entrepreneur and you sign up for an entrepreneur MeetUp, you’re going to meet some like-minded individuals.

Find Stimulating Activities
I have been a fan of The UFC for almost ten years now. At its core has been merely my entertainment splurge. My grandfather watched boxing, and my friend and I ordered some big boxing fights, but it wasn’t that great. I turned to the UFC as they were transitioning from a ton of ground-game (“two dudes rolling around on the ground”) into a great mix of stand-up boxing and kickboxing, to what it is today of a very high level, MIXED martial arts (MMA). In a recent article, I mentioned that I started taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, mostly because I’m not getting any younger and I am getting more out of shape.

What I found though is that BJJ is very cerebral. While my body is creating muscle-memory through repetition and I’m working on my cardio, my brain is thinking through multiple-step moves, thinking about defense and how to transition to offense, and I look ahead to many years of constant challenges. BJJ is not about the most in-shape hyper athlete. It’s more about technique, relaxation, and feel. These are all things that I have to use my brain while I’m also getting a good workout, stretching my aging muscles, and learning some practical self-defense. So find stimulating activities in your other areas of interest that might not be so obvious.

Another Example
As part of my volunteer work sponsoring Capstone teams in the IT Department of a major university in Virginia, I would regularly meet with other sponsors – members of the community. These were additional IT executives, business owners, mentors and of course entrepreneurs. On one occasion I found myself at a dinner table with a Retired 4-Star Army General, a 30-year tenured professor – head of the IT Department, an owner of a $20 million business who was rapidly expanding to a $100 million company, and a high-level executive consultant and data scientist. Then there was me. At first, I felt out of place, “How did I end up here” I asked myself. I ended up at that table because I was interested in improving myself, I was interested in technology, and I followed my gut to volunteer. The one common thread among all of us that night was that we wanted to listen and learn from the others in the group. It was a very engaging and enlightening conversation!

Other Benefits
The other significant benefit of MeetUps or meeting people in-person, face-to-face, is networking. So while you are engaging your mind, staying sharp, you are not only advancing your knowledge you’re also developing your career. You have to do this in person to be effective. Let me say that again. Networking is an IN PERSON activity. Too many times I see people using only technology and “hiding” behind the screen. On a recent Reddit thread that I participated in, I saw many technology-specific answers to the question, “How do I Network?”. Some were amusing methods, but all of the answers were about TOOLS. The primary activity of networking is speaking to other human beings IN-PERSON, FACE-TO-FACE. Texting, emailing, using LinkedIn or Facebook are all TOOLS to assist in the networking process, but none of those tools replace in-person meetings.

I will dive deeper into the topic of interpersonal communication in the next article. Stay tuned!

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