I’ve often found myself wondering what to do next. Maybe I’d just finished revising for Uni lectures, tidying up the house or watching my favourite TV show. Sometimes, it seems there is nothing else you can to do. I have been in this situation so many times, and I struggled to discover new ways to keep myself busy. While writing this post, I’m quarantined in my hometown. I’ve been stuck inside since the 11th of March 2019, so I felt my life was pointless on multiple occasions.
As I briefly discussed in my post How To Schedule Your Routine (link), I decided I needed to find a solution to this idleness. After allowing the mornings for the most pressing matters – revising lectures in my case – I stopped and thought about those activities that make me happy and keep me occupied. Here is a list of pastime that have helped me achieve fulfilment.
Start an online course
Those of you who are close to me know I love to learn new skills. If you had the chance of hang out with me, you will have seen me coming up with the weirdest questions ever. And then, when riddled with curiosity and trying to find the right answer to those questions, I will have taken my phone out and typed my question in Google. Probably using the phrase: “Let’s discover it together!” While writing this, I see myself from the outside, and I can’t refrain from laughing out loud. I’ve always been inquisitive, and I carried this feature into adulthood.
It was during one of those quests for knowledge that I discovered Coursera. Some might have learned I’m researching for an extra writing project. I was desperate to find a good Psychology course to help me with character development and behaviour. My friend Niki – bless her – sent me the link to this website she had recently come upon. Little did I know that it would become one of my primary sources. But before I tell you what this has helped me with, I will describe the website for you.
Coursera is an online resource for those who want to learn a new skill or want to enhance their understanding of specific topics. Top Universities from around the world offer free courses on different areas of knowledge. Most of the programs offer videos and reading resource and tests. For a small sum, you can get a certificate of successful completion. Although the upgrade is unnecessary, it’s useful if you want to get a tangible benefit. Some workplaces accept these qualifications and reward them, so keep this in mind.
As I mentioned above, I started the Introduction to Psychology course from Yale University. With approximately 3 to 4 hours of work needed per week, I can get a basic grasp on the psychological processes in the human brain. After finishing the first module, I completed a quiz that gave me an insight on how well I’m doing. I have four more weeks to go, but I’m already satisfied with how the concept works. Using this time off of lectures, I’m learning how to use OneNote, which I’m planning on utilising to make notes during the next academic year. My plan is to further my knowledge by carrying on to completing other courses in the same area.
Do I recommend it to everyone? Yes. Even if you are still learning English, there are courses that target the basics of the language. When you are more confident, you can think about other courses, depending on your preferences.
Read a book
Everyone can enjoy dipping into an excellent book. Scientists have proven that the simple act of doing it helps not only the mental but also physiological health. Multiple articles develop this concept in more detail, such as this one, where MRI scans of the brain were taken to figure whether reading impacts the complex networks of neurons. Although the article is for more advanced readers, the key concept is that reading improves and strengthens the connections in our brains, helping with fluency, naming and vocabulary.
After this short scientific break – I apologise, but I find Neuroscience fascinating and I needed to share it with you – let’s go back to the purpose of this section. Although taste is subjective, I want to give you the titles of the latest books I’ve read, hoping to inspire you to start your reading adventure.
The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Great for those who like mystery novels. It keeps you stuck to its pages. I couldn’t put it down until I discovered what it was all about.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, by Haruki Murakami. It’s conceptual and surreal. I didn’t know what was going on until halfway through, when I realised I needed to look at it from a more metaphorical point of view. To like this book, you need to be an advanced reader and – let’s be honest – weird.
The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins. Recommended for those who are scientists in training or curious about the mechanism of evolution. It’s perfect for both audiences, as it describes the concepts of Neo-Darwinism in a clear language.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Based on the true crime story set in 1843, it focuses on the life of Grace Marks, an Irish girl who finds herself accused of murder. The most interesting aspect of this novel is the way it’s narrated, as it’s done through a stream of consciousness. It was translated into a Netflix series – this is how I came to read the book.
Harry Potter & The Philosopher Stone, by J.K. Rowling. Although this title is familiar to everyone, I didn’t get the chance to read it when I was younger. My mom is learning English, so we thought we could both enjoy a reading new to both and suitable to a beginner. Perfect for those who love magic and mythological creatures.
No matter your favourite genre or author, this is one of the top activities I recommend doing. If you can’t get a hold on a book – most shops, online and physical, are closed – consider buying e-books, which you can read on computers, tablets and even phones.
Learn a new language
If you enjoy gaining more knowledge about other cultures, you are interested in knowing how their language relates to their traditions or you want to have an extra skill to put on your curriculum, then learning a new idiom is the right choice to spend time.
When I was told I would spend an entire year in Argentina for my exchange program, one of the first things I did was buying 2 or 3 language-learning books. It may surprise you to know that I did not finish one of them. To be honest, I don’t particularly like this way of studying. I’d rather watch videos and tv series or read a book in my target language, then spend hours on a grammar book. This is exactly what I did to learn Spanish: I learnt by imitating others.
If you don’t have anyone to practice with, my Brushing Up On Your English article should help you answer this question, and many others about your first approach to a new idiom. Although it’s mainly targeted at those who would like to improve their English, I would recommend following the same principles for every other language.
The key aspect I want to convey is you don’t need to pay for expensive courses, grammar books or online tutorials. As I briefly mentioned before, Coursera also offers language programs that start with the basics. Alternatively TV series on your preferred streaming platforms or YouTube videos spoken in your target language are perfect for the job. At first, you might use subtitles in your own idiom, then changing them to the one you want to learn, until you can gradually get rid of them. Music is another great resource, both for listening and reading – you can listen to the song and read its lyrics at the same time. If you are like me and you learn by watching and listening, these are the best tools.
Join Facebook groups
Becoming a member of a Facebook group can be a great pastime. If you want to find people who share your interests and hobbies, they are an excellent place of gathering.
Recently, one of my lecturers at University started a group called The dinosaur on your window sill, where the topic of discussion is the natural world and how we can enjoy being a part of it. I didn’t expect it to be so pleasing, as I thought it was mainly targeted at elementary students. It started small but, in the meantime, undergraduates from all over Uni joined it, and made it become what it is today. Apart from sharing pictures of the animals found in their gardens or at the park, people post resources for children and for scientists in the making, or articles about the most recent discoveries about life on our planet. The group is friendly and encourages interactions between the members. My take-home message from it is that, at times like this, when we are forced to stop almost all human activities, we can still enjoy nature and what it offers.
There are thousands of themed groups. I joined some for writers, bloggers and podcasters. Although they are usually enjoyable ways to communicate, sometimes posts turned into major arguments. As with everything in life, be aware of the pros and cons of sharing your thoughts. The internet can be a place of connection, and an excuse to unload personal frustrations. I would lie to you if I said I didn’t leave some of those groups. The key aspect is to discern the positive groups, those that are a learning resource, and the negative groups, only for people who like venting and offloading their problems at the expenses of others.
Facebook groups can be a good resource. However, compared to the other activities I recommended, there is slightly more work to do to find a good one.
During my quarantine, I used the tips I just gave you. I’ve been studying on Coursera and reading a lot – apart from my usual commitment to this blog and the podcast. I will have to focus more on lectures in a while, but I’ll allow some time to enjoy my favourite activities. Even though this guide is most useful in while I’m writing it, you can use it whenever you need a fresh start.