How to Build an Anti-frail Mind: Combine Ikigai with Self-Directed Learning

By using your hobbies to inspire your education, you protect your mind as you age while enhancing meaning in life.

You are always a student, never a master. You have keep moving forward‘ – Conrad Hall.

A depressing fact is that our mind declines as we age.

Fortunately, many studies have shown that a college or university education protects you from age-related cognitive decline.

Unfortunately, a college education is out of reach for many people.

But don’t worry, just because you didn’t go to college doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the joy of learning!

Read on to see how you can craft an educational journey that is meaningful, joyous, and (most importantly) within your grasp.

Ikigai, Meaning in Life, and Hobbies

But first, why should you engage in the hard work of learning?

Ikigai is the uniquely Japanese concept of a life worth living. The philosophy of Ikigai is to derive joy and meaning from your everyday experiences.

Most Japanese people report experiencing Ikigai within their career, hobbies and, family. Because hobbies are intensely personal and engaging activities, hobbies provide the perfect motivation for further education.

Furthermore, Ikigai provides significant protection against depression (1). Minimizing your experience of depression is crucial for maintaining your intelligence and creativity as you age because depression contributes to cognitive decline (2).

Thus, engaging in hobbies motivates you to learn, protects you from depression, and helps provide meaning in life. Not too shabby!

Increasing Your Cognitive Activity Protects you from Cognitive Decline

Many studies have shown that education protects you from cognitive decline.

For example, a recent study examined how education affects the cognitive functioning of siblings  (3). Strikingly, siblings with more education displayed significantly improved cognition than their less-educated brothers and sisters (3), suggesting that education preserves cognitive function over and above the effects of genes and environment.

But do you have to go to an expensive college or university to enjoy the protective effects of education on cognition?

Hell no!

Stieger and Colleagues showed that people without a college degree could nevertheless protect their cognitive functions from degrading by increasing their mental activity (4). Activities such as reading, writing, engaging in cognitively challenging games, and attending education lectures and courses preserved cognitive function (4).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, research has revealed that using the internet increases the cognitive functioning of older adults and protects them from cognitive decline (5). Further, for older adults living alone, internet use also reduces their social isolation, loneliness, and depression (5).

Putting it All Together

What I’m proposing is that you use those hobbies that provide you with the greatest joy as a springboard to becoming a self-directed, life-long learner.

For example, let’s say you enjoy cooking. In this case, pick a particular cuisine (for example, French) and then initiate a self-directed learning project into French cuisine and culture. Here the internet is a goldmine for education and creation.

You could start by learning something about French history and how French cuisine developed over time. Next, consider learning to speak and read French, as learning a new language is a great way to keep your mind active!

Then there’s the art of cooking, a never-ending source of engagement. Knowing the traditional ingredients, proper combinations of flavors, and understanding the chemistry of the cooking process provides plenty of topics with which to engage.

Cooking is just one example. The point is that you pick the hobbies that interest you most and use your interest to drive your journey of learning and creativity.

Take-Home Message

Engaging in education protects you from cognitive decline, keeping you sharp and creative as you age. Traditionally, university and college have been the preferred path for adult education.

However, recent research has shown that self-directed learning also protects your mind from cognitive decline. In addition, by using your hobbies to inspire your education, you protect your mind while enhancing your meaning in life.

Combine Ikigai With Online Learning To Stay Smart

References and Further Reading

1.            R. Nakao et al., Factors related to ikigai among older residents participating in hillside residential community-based activities in Nagasaki City, Japan. J Rural Med 16, 42-46 (2021).

2.            L. Zacková, M. Jáni, M. Brázdil, Y. S. Nikolova, K. Marečková, Cognitive impairment and depression: Meta-analysis of structural magnetic resonance imaging studies. Neuroimage Clin 32, 102830 (2021).

3.            J. Fletcher, M. Topping, F. Zheng, Q. Lu, The effects of education on cognition in older age: Evidence from genotyped Siblings. Soc Sci Med 280, 114044 (2021).

4.            M. Stieger, M. E. Lachman, Increases in Cognitive Activity Reduce Aging-Related Declines in Executive Functioning. Front Psychiatry 12, 708974 (2021).

5.            Y. K. Kim, S. H. Han, Internet Use and Cognitive Functioning in Later Life: Focus on Asymmetric Effects and Contextual Factors. Gerontologist,  (2021).

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Disrupted sleep increases anxiety and depression. Yoga Nidra is an effective method that has helped many people overcome insomnia.

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