Free Improvement

Right after I write this, I’m going to go eat at Chipotle.

On the train ride over there, I’ll be doing Mandarin flashcards on my phone. The ride is less than ten minutes, but I usually have to wait five minutes for the train back, so that’s twenty five minutes of flashcards.

It’s usually cold at night. In the winter it gets down to the forties or so, but right now it’s probably just the fifties. Most other people will be wearing jackets or hoodies, but I have no jacket, am wearing sandals, and have my sleeves rolled up. I’ll be a little bit cold.

When I order my burrito bowl, I always get hot salsa. I don’t really like hot salsa, but I get it every time.

What do these three things have in common? I’m getting free improvement out of all of them.

I know what I would otherwise do on the train. I’d stare into space or maybe read. Not bad activities, but with so much else going on, it’s hard to fit in my flashcards. So now I learn or brush up on a couple dozen characters per day, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Last October I was in China. As I walked down the street in Beijing I was really cold, even though I was wearing a jacket. Other people were wearing similar amounts of clothes, but seemed warmer than I was. What sort of weakness was this? I figured that I must be too used to being warm, so now I modulate my clothing so that I’m always a little bit cold. Not freezing, but chilly, just to build up a tolerance. It’s been eight months now, and I barely ever get cold. Except for when we went sledding, I didn’t wear a jacket for the two weeks I was in the northeast over Christmas, and I was fine.

And the salsa. A while back I ordered something at a restaurant and didn’t realize that it was spicy, so my dinner ended up being fairly unpleasant. To begin to build up a tolerance, I started ordering spicy salsa every time at Chipotle. It’s really not that spicy, but I notice it less and less each time, so I must be building up a tolerance.

These are three really small improvements. Major forks in my life won’t be decided over salsa, temperature, or Chinese characters. But that’s sort of the point– building these little skills doesn’t cost me anything, so I can justify doing it. And besides the tangible benefits, I’m getting better at getting better, which will help me with anything else I do. There may not be a free lunch, but there are free improvements to be had.


Photo is a random photo from the China trip mentioned above.






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