With the arrival of 2017, it's that time again when our thoughts tend to turn towards resolutions and bettering ourselves. But rather than setting overly-ambitious goals, why not focus on learning a skill that will help keep you motivated through the year, and perhaps even improve your life too?
Invaluable at any time of the year, research shows that people who learn a new skill can improve memory and even stave off cognitive ageing. Not only that, but taking up a new hobby acts as a creative outlets and gives you something to look forward to.
Practical, fun, challenging, mentally stimulating and stress-relieving -- here are 6 skills that you can learn in less than a year.
1. Learn How To Catch A Wave
A quintessential Aussie pastime, the benefits of surfing aren't only physical, Brenda Miley, founder and surf school director at Let's Go Surfing in Bondi Beach said.
"Surfing is a great way be present, mindful and stay focused on what you're doing. It's holistic, it improves your physical and spiritual wellbeing. You're in nature - you may even get to surf with a dolphin."
Brenda recommeds to begin on a large, stable board -- around 9-foot long -- and to take regular classes at your local surf school. She also says it's important to complement your practice by taking up other forms of exercise that will support balance and flexibility on the board, such as yoga and pilates, and practicing swimming to help improve your paddling and confidence in the water. While improving your technique is a lifelong task, regular lessons and practice will see you come on leaps and bounds in 12-months.
2. Learn To Speak Spanish
Spanish. It's second most used language in international communication, and one of the three most widely spoken languages in the world, allowing you to communicate with more than 500 million people worldwide. Kristy Manuel, director at the Adelaide Spanish School, recommends joining a group with an enthusiastic teacher as a starting point. "Between classes, listen to and read anything you can get your hands on in Spanish. Also practice with your classmates," Manuel said.
And once you have mastered the basics in conversation, Manuel explained that spending time in a Spanish speaking country improves speaking and comprehension.
"The icing on the cake is that studies have shown that the brains of bilingual people operate differently than the brains of single language speakers," Manuel said.
3. Learn Digital Photography
While courses might be a go-to for learning many skills, photographer and director at Lester Jones Photography, Lester Jones, said that sometimes it's best to just start shooting.
"Usually people think they need to study at a physical photography course or an online version, I suggest that you may not need to," Jones said. "A lot can be done in a year, and for those keen to get started my advice would simply be to just pick up your camera." Another misconception with beginners is the need for high-end gear, which can be expensive. Jones said that's not the case.
"Whether it's a point and shoot, DSLR or iPhone, there's something for all budgets," Jones said. And of course, mastering digital photography is a skill that will equate to well-crafted holiday photographs that can be shared -- via communities such as Instagram and EyeEm -- within seconds.
4. Learn How To Play The Piano
Though requiring serious dedication if you want to become reasonably proficient within a year, learning to tickle the ivories can result in serious benefits -- many of which you might not expect. Studies have shown that playing the piano can increase cognitive development, raise IQ levels, improve eye-hand coordination and can even reduce anxiety, stress and depression.
"The first and best advice is to listen, listen and listen," Wendy Anggerani, keys and piano teacher at the Australian Institute of Music said. "Learning to play the piano is about connecting your mind, ears and hands. Use different sources - teachers, books, online videos and colleagues - and don't give up!"
5. Learn How To Paint With Watercolours
While you may believe you weren't born a creative -- or perhaps you've just never given painting a try ----- Artist and Artable founder and teacher, Gillian Grove, said that painting with watercolours is a skill anyone can master with the right teaching and tools.
"With the right support..everyone can learn," Grove said. The best route is to take a weekly class, but -- for the time poor -- a weekend workshop, or even a painting holiday, are also good options."
Grove explained that the positive outcomes of adding this skill to your bow can actually supersede creativity. "Watercolours can be both relaxing and meditative -- it's great stress relief, but also time out from daily life." In addition to one-on-one courses, wannabe water colourists can bolster their skills by watching one of the thousands of tutorials on Youtube and reading books on the subject.
6. Learn How To Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden
There's nothing quite like growing your own food from a seed and while the obvious benefits are in the eating, that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to garden designer and gardening course instructor at the University of Sydney, Judith Sleijpen.
"Of course, growing your own veg means that you no longer need to buy them," Sleijpen said. "But also, unlike commercially-grown produce, you and your family know what you're eating. By using organic principles, you're removing the need for chemical fertilisers, adding definite health benefits."
"Also, it has been documented that connecting with nature creates a favourable psychological effect on your wellbeing. Gardening has been proved to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Not only that, but it also counts as exercise, which is a bonus!"
To get started, Judith explained that it's worth attending a course in your own area where local conditions -- topography, climate and soil -- are taken into account. And if you live in an apartment? No problem. "A novice gardener can easily grow a 'no dig' vegetable garden in containers," Sleijpen said. "(They are) perfect for inner-city dwellers."
At Johnnie Walker, we love sharing stories of personal progress, innovation and spirit. And why wouldn't we? Our own story is one of a pioneering spirit passed on from generation to generation. It's this belief in the philosophy of perseverance and progress that allows us to continuously share inspiring stories to all.