The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Keep Your Mind Nimble. . .


How does an average guy, who is working to kick up his everyday style several notches,  exercise his mind and keep it nimble?  Not by dulling out on whatever loud and lengthy professional sporting event happens to be on the idiot box, or online, at any given moment.  Neither do you keep your mind in fighting trim by surfing internet porn sites, or killing 'people' and stealing their virtual stuff with any of the apparently hundreds of computer games available for Playstation or Xbox (or their online cousins).  Nope.  How about instead trying the following to raise your level of mental acuity, maturity, engagement, and awareness, making yourself a more interesting and well-rounded person in the process?  


1) Readings is fundamental.
As the old RIF public service announcements on Saturday morning kids' TV used to say.  Reading is an excellent way to engage and broaden your mind, but read books about something else besides sports, the American Civil War, Vietnam, or anything by Dean Koontz or Lee Child.  All are done to death.  There is a great deal of interesting and thought-provoking fiction and non-fiction out there, and that's just considering what's available in English.  And by the way. . .

2) Learn another language.
And learn it well enough to have an unscripted conversation in it.  Ths will take a few years, but doing so will open up new worlds, experiences, and ideas to you in the meantime, and enable you to make better sense of your own mental place in the world.  It might be better to take a few classes to get started though.  Self-study is also an option, but beware of the various DVD packages on the market.  Not all are created equally.  Rosetta Stone packages are, for example, pedagogically weak and overpriced.  Since the advent of the web, accessing actual cultural materials, so called 'realia', is easier than ever, and along with the right kind of self-study tools, they can be really helpful in learning the ins and outs of another language and, by extension, culture.  In any case, listening to online radio and TV in your target language (even when you don't understand much at first) as well as looking at online versions of newspapers, magazines, and catalogs will support your class time/self-study efforts.  Before you know it, you'll be able to do more in Urdu or Swahili than simply ask for a beer and where the nearest public toilet is located.

3) Do crossword puzzles.  
Not always easy and sometimes maddening beyond belief, but you learn as you go, get better over time, and add appreciably to your working vocabulary, which ain't necessarily a bad thing.  Nope.  Not at all.

4) Have more conversations.  
Actual conversations where you are looking at the other person or people involved and truly listening rather than talking at each other as you stare like moon-eyed zombies at the flat-screen TV mounted on the wall.  Sound familiar?  I encounter men of various ages all of the time, who have difficulty with even simple conversations.  My wife and I often chuckle about a student trip we led to the annual German Christmas Market in Chicago about ten years ago, which concluded with a lovely evening meal at an old German restaurant downtown.  At my end of the long table, I sat next to a charming young lady of 22 or 23, from our own university, on one side and her high school boyfriend, who attended a different university in Chicagoland, on the other.  She was gregarious, amusing, full of plans for her future, and could easily carry on a conversation.  He, on the other hand, was like talking to a tree stump.  Monosyllabic responses about Baseball and his upcoming Certified Public Accountant exam were about it.  No more than that.  The point is, you've got to be able to carry on interesting conversation for longer than 90 seconds.  And don't you dare talk about sports or whatever tripe you've heard recently on talk radio.  Speaking of which. . . 

5) Listen to something else besides talk radio.  
Ever tried to have a conversation with someone who subsists on a steady diet of talk radio?  Regardless of whether their particular source of infotainment is slanted politically to the left or the right, these people seem able only to parrot back whatever the latest on-air rants might be for a given week.  Not only does this kind of programming provide the absolute wrong kind of model for public discourse and discussion, but for God's sake, moderate your sources of information and resist the tendency to use talk radio as a form of self-affirmation!  You know the sort of thing I mean.  "My own uninformed, poorly supported, off-the-wall opinion MUST be right because there is a radio host who says so, and there are other ignorant, narrow-minded wackjobs calling in who think the same way!"  Try, instead, getting your information about the world, events, developments, and people from various different sources once in a while instead of continuously listening to the blowhard-of-the-moment who is pushing some kind of bizarre, unbalanced, and one-dimensional sociopolitical agenda.

6) Broaden you palate.  
Sure, we've all got our favorite foods and drinks, but there is so much else out there that's tasty and interesting.  Food and beverages are interesting subjects in their own right.  So, how about eschewing the usual beer, burgers, pizzas, and generic Olive Garden food for a bit, hmm?  If you want something different, it's also a good idea to skip microwaveable crap like Hot Pockets, Slim Fast meals, or Pizza Combos.  Likewise, you might want to look beyond the ubiquitous Chinese and Tex-Mex too.  How about considering slightly more esoteric cuisines like Nepali, Thai, Indian, Turkish, Persian, Afghani, Korean, East African, North African, or Middle Eastern instead? All of these look delicious and smell delightful when they are brought to the table, and the various flavors will knock your socks off.  That's not to suggest the level of piquancy, necessarily.  It's simply a figure of speech.

7) Develop several different consuming interests.  
I've mentioned this before here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style, but it bears repeating.  You need something to think about  and occupy your mind besides work, TV sports, or mindlessly surfing the web.  Average guys working to kick up their everyday style several notches should keep that in mind.  And no.  Sorry, boys.  Sex doesn't count either.  Unless you actually aspire to be like Dirk Diggler in the film Boogie Nights.  Then by all means.  Carry on.  Kidding aside, there's actually lots else out there in the world that is interesting and will help you develop and maintain a nimble mind.  Just look around.  Take some enrichment classes in the evening at your local college, university, or community center, go to museums, take up fly-tying, learn to paint with watercolors, join a book discussion group, or visit your local library if you're coming up empty.

8) Volunteer your time.  
How about giving freely of yourself without expecting anything in return?  Churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, community centers, scouting, boys clubs, animal rescue centers, adult literacy programs, elder hostel programs, Habitat for Humanity, and the like are all viable options for volunteering.  All might welcome an extra set of hands and/or mind and simultaneously provide you with interesting new perspectives about the world and the people in it. . .  plus your own life and values.

9) Work with animals.  
Training animals like horses and dogs is highly interesting and immensely rewarding.  I urge everyone to give it a try and make a concerted effort to learn how it's done properly.  And hey, one less untrained dog leading its owner by the leash down the sidewalk would be a step in the right direction for everyone concerned.

10) Listen to different kinds of music than you usually do.
Popular forms of music are fine, and there are many terrific artists, past and present, out there.  But how about giving jazz and/or classical music a try.  They are infinitely complex, challenging, and demand active engagement on the part of listeners.  I guarantee you'll hear something new each time you give a listen to Coltrane, Mingus, Baker, or Desmond.  Or perhaps Bach, Strauss, Mozart, and Vivaldi are more to your liking?  Of course, you could always try your own hand at learning to play an instrument well yourself.


There we are.  At least ten different ways to keep your mind nimble regardless of your age and specific interests.  And remember.  Your mind is much like a muscle.  If you don't use it and challenge it beyond what is comfortable, it will atrophy, and you too will risk turning into that very tree stump I describe above.  Push yourself to try, accomplish, and achieve new things in your personal life.  Always.  Now, what are you waiting for? 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

2 comments:

Matt said...

Very sound advice. May I add a conversation is a process designed to share ideas by listening as well as saying your bit. It is not two people just waiting their turn to talk.

Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

Agreed! Equally sound advice.